Planting a grapefruit tree in your yard can provide you with delicious fruits throughout the autumn and winter, fresh from your own tree. You’ll find them in areas where the summers are hot, and winters are mild, USDA zones 9 and up, as these trees love the heat but don’t tolerate cold. Available from garden stores and tree nurseries, with some care, you’ll soon be harvesting abundant fruits. Let’s discover more about how to plant a grapefruit tree.
What You'll Learn Today
- How Hard Is It To Grow A Grapefruit Tree?
- Planting A Grapefruit Tree
- What Is The Best Soil For Grapefruit Trees?
- When Do Grapefruit Trees Bare Fruit?
- Varieties of Grapefruit Tree
How Hard Is It To Grow A Grapefruit Tree?
Although grapefruit trees are not hard to grow, you will need to take care of them until they become established, and older trees need a little love too.
To keep your grapefruit trees healthy, strong, and producing abundant quantities of grapefruits, you’ll need to water, feed, prune and mulch them.
Before you plant them, there are a few things you’ll need to take into consideration:
- Soil – ideal soil is loamy and well-draining. If it isn’t, amend it first
- Location – the best place to plant your tree is in full sun, away from other trees and buildings
- Planting time – If you live where winters are very mild, you can plant your young tree in the fall. If winters are a bit cooler, it’s best to wait until after any frost has passed in the spring
- Water – You need to be able to water your tree without too much difficulty, particularly in its early years, so ensure there is access to water nearby
In this video, you will be shown some of the most common mistakes people make when growing citrus trees. There is some good advice here you may want to take into account before planting a grapefruit or other citrus tree of your own.
Planting A Grapefruit Tree
You have a lovely young grapefruit tree that you want to plant in the ground. First, find the perfect location with full sun, on ground that doesn’t get waterlogged and is protected from the prevailing winds.
The ideal soil is rich and loamy with some sand content, so it drains freely and has a neutral pH.
Digging The Hole
Once you’ve found that ideal spot, you’ll need to dig a hole that is slightly larger than the root ball of the tree. Start by removing any turf and putting it on one side. Mound the rest of the soil onto some sheeting or into a wheelbarrow.
The hole should be square and not round to prevent the roots from spiraling and balling.
If you’re planting more than one grapefruit tree, ensure to leave at least 15 feet between each one, so they have room to grow as they mature.
Watering The Soil
Once you have the perfect hole, fill it with water and allow it to drain. This ensures the deep soil is good and wet and will be less likely to leech the moisture from the soil you put around your tree’s roots once planted.
Placing The Tree
Now it’s time to place the tree into the hole. Remove it carefully from any container it’s in, being careful not to disturb the root ball too much.
You can tease any of the roots around the edges and bottom so that they are spread out.
Put the tree in the hole, ensuring that the place where the trunk met the soil in the pot is the same place where it will be below the soil once planted.
You can check this with a piece of wood placed across the hole from one side to the other. If the bottom of the wood lines up with the place on the trunk where it went below the soil then it is perfectly positioned.
Make sure the trunk is upright and not at an angle.
Place a long wooden stake into the hole with a diameter of at least two inches and five feet or more in length. It should be approximately four inches away from the tree.
Backfilling The Hole
Backfill the hole using the same soil you dug out from it. Don’t add any furtilizer at this time.
If you want to improve the quality of the soil, because it is too sandy or lacking in nutrients, then you can add a couple of buckets of well rotted compost or citrus fruit potting mix to the soil before putting it back into the hole.
As you put in the soil, be sure to tamp it down carefully around the roots to prevent any air pockets being left.
Water half way through filling the hole before completing the task of backfilling. This helps to further prevent air pockets from forming.
Tamp the soil down well and remember that it will sink a little over the next couple of weeks and may require topping up, so keep any soil you have left over for the job.
Once the hole is full, water thoroughly and deeply. This means providing a slow, gentle stream of water over a prolonged time rather than a more powerful gush for a short period.
It’s normal to create a raised ring of soil around newly planted fruit trees. This is not recommended for citrus trees due to the potential of roots becoming too wet and rotting.
If the soil is particularly sandy and fast draining, then you can put one in place. To do this, place your ring of soil around the tree at a distance of three feet in diameter, three inches high, and three inches wide.
This will then act as a water barrier that focuses the water around the root zone of your young tree for its first year of life.
The ring will slowly degrade and disappear over time. You can choose to renew it if you think it is necessary, and it can be helpful to make it wider in subsequent years as the root zone grows.
Mulching Your Young Tree
The next job is to place a thick layer of mulch around the base of your tree. Ideally, it should be around two inches thick.
Use organic mulch or compost for this job and take it right out to the water ring if you have one, so it is covering the root zone of your tree.
Mulching does many useful jobs. It prevents weeds from growing around the base of your tree. Insulates it from cold and hot temperatures. Retains moisture, so the soil doesn’t dry out so fast, and as it rots, it feeds the tree and improves the soil texture.
Sadly most grapefruit trees don’t live a very long life due to prevalent diseases that attack them.
- Disease – Asian citrus psyllid is a bacterial disease that makes the fruits bitter, and citrus greening can reduce the lifespan of the tree to an average of 15 years, and no treatment is yet available.
- Weather – Although grapefruit trees love the heat, they cannot survive hard freezes. If the winter is unusually cold, you can try covering your tree in special tree fleece and making sure there is plenty of compost mulch around the base, as this generates some heat.
Do be sure that any mulch is always three inches from the trunk of the tree to avoid fungal and rot problems.
Unfortunately, as our climate becomes more and more unpredictable, it’s easy to get caught out.
Cold snaps in Florida, where most commercial grapefruits are grown in the US, have damaged groves there.
What Is The Best Soil For Grapefruit Trees?
Although grapefruit trees are not cold hardy, they are quite tolerant of a range of soils.
Their preference is a rich, sandy loam capable of holding moisture without drowning the roots. This type of soil doesn’t become compacted and allows air and water to circulate around the roots freely, while allowing excess moisture to drain away.
Clay soils are more problematic as the structure of clay soil causes it to compact easily, and this can make it difficult for the tree to get moisture in hot weather and will cause it to become waterlogged with no air circulation in wet weather.
It is possible to improve clay soil, but it is a fairly long and complex process as you can’t simply improve the soil in the hole you dig for the tree.
The reason for this is that the surrounding clay soil acts like the walls of a swimming pool, not letting excess moisture to escape. In periods of rain, the hole will fill with water and drown the tree.
Therefore you need to improve the soil with plenty of organic matter over a much larger area and to a depth of several feet or more to have any real effect.
One way of getting around this problem is to plant your grapefruit tree in a pot or on a mound of good soil you have placed on top of the clay.
Sandy soils can also be a problem if they are very sandy or have salt contamination, for example, if you live near the coast.
Very sandy soil dries out too quickly, not retaining sufficient moisture for the roots of the tree, particularly in hot or dry weather.
Another issue is the lack of nutrients available in sandy soil. The tree will quickly use up any available and will then become sick from a lack of nutrients.
This is far more easily helped by using a good quality compost or potting mix mixed in with the soil when planting your tree. Continued mulching over many years will further improve soil texture and provide nutrients in the long term. Additional feeding with a slow-release fertilizer will also be required.
Moist not wet
Citrus tree roots like to be slightly moist but not wet. Too much water will cause them to rot or drown if they don’t have access to any air. This is why organic matter in the soil is so important. It can hold onto moisture like a sponge.
During the hotter months of the year, you’ll need to water your tree regularly. You can find out all about the correct watering amounts in our article How To Care For A Grapefruit Tree.
Potted Grapefruit Trees
If you have your grapefruit in a pot, then you can use potting soil designed for succulent plants, as it will give the right conditions for the roots to thrive.
Potted trees need transplanting into larger pots as they grow. They also require watering more regularly than those planted in the ground, so check the soil by sticking your finger into it up to the middle joint. If it feels damp, all is well; if dry, water.
When Do Grapefruit Trees Bare Fruit?
Grapefruit trees bear fruit in the late summer. However, this is NOT the best time to pick them. By leaving your fruits on the tree, they will continue growing, becoming larger and sweeter. This is great as it allows you to take one when you want to eat it all the way through to the following spring.
Once grapefruits are picked, they no longer ripen and just slowly start to decay, so be wise and leave them on the tree.
Young trees start fruiting around their second or third year. However, it is better to remove any flowers from the tree in the first few years. This is because you want the tree to put its energy into growing strong and healthy and not into growing fruit.
Once it is well established, it will provide you with more abundant fruits without harming the tree.
It takes around seven years or more for a tree grown from a grapefruit seed to start fruiting.
Varieties of Grapefruit Tree
There are many varieties of grapefruit trees for you to plant. All having slightly different fruit qualities, tree sizes, and shapes.
Some were discovered as “sports” ; this is when part of a tree mutates in some way and changes the characteristics of the fruit.
Ruby Red, marketed as Ruby Sweet, is a well known variety. They were a sport from a Pink Marsh tree. These fruits have red flesh on the inside, thin skin, and yellow peel with a red blush. It is to be noted that the flesh color can fade over the season.
Foster is another sport of the Pink Marsh tree. It has pink flesh and is seedless.
Two Ruby Red sports are Henderson and Ray, they are almost identical, and their red flesh retains its redness for longer than Ruby Red. They are, however, still marketed as Ruby Sweet. Some Henderson fruits are called Flame.
Another Ruby Red sport that came from irradiated budwood is Rio Red, marketed as Rio Star. Its flesh is deep red and retains its color throughout the season. Rio Reds can have problems with their stems.
Other notable varieties include:
- Garner Seedless – A white-fleshed grapefruit that has some cold hardiness if it is grown on its own root stock and not grafted.
- Duncan – A white seedy grapefruit.
- Marsh – A white seedless grapefruit, which some people say has better flavor than any of the red varieties.
- Star Ruby – created from the irradiated seed of the Hudson grapefruit. It has an erratic growth habit and can be rather poor at fruit-bearing.
- New Zealand Grapefruit – also called Poorman Orange, is a more unusual, orange-fleshed variety that is earlier maturing and has low acidity. There is some debate as to whether it is a true grapefruit or, in fact, a hybrid pummelo (Pomelo).
- Oroblanco – A hybrid grapefruit x pummelo is sweet and not bitter. It is slightly larger than a grapefruit and has thick greenish-yellow skin, more like a pummelo. Its fruit is late maturing and ripens in late winter.
- Burgundy – Another Pink Marsh mutation with deep red flesh that holds its color well. The fruits don’t mature until spring of the following season.
- Chironja – a suspected hybrid of a grapefruit and an orange, has large, orange-colored fruits that don’t have the bitterness of grapefruits.
There are various ways of getting a grapefruit tree of your own. You can buy one from a garden store or tree nursery, take a cutting from a mature grapefruit tree and get it to root. Graft a cutting onto rootstock. Air layering, or growing one from seed.
However your young tree was grown, planting it into the ground or in a pot is the same.
You need to take a few things into consideration before planting:
- Space required – at least 15 feet from other trees or buildings
- Sunlight – full sun is best for grapefruit trees
- Climate – Grapefruits need a hot climate with warm winters
- Water – They need regular watering, particularly when young
- Soil – A slightly sandy loam soil is best. Clay is bad
We hope you’ve enjoyed reading about how to plant a grapefruit tree. We have other articles in the series that you may also find helpful.