Citrus is the most common fruit tree planted by homeowners in southern Louisiana. The fragrant flowers, evergreen aromatic leaves and enticing fruit which stores well on the tree make it a favorite.

Mid-January through early March is the best time to plant citrus in our area. Young citrus can be damaged or killed by cold weather, so planting after the coldest part of winter has passed gives the trees a season to establish before the next cold hits. In our area, we can grow (listed in order of cold tolerance) kumquat, satsuma, orange, grapefruit, lemon and lime.

When planting citrus, site selection is very important. Citrus requires full sun, good drainage and prefers soil high in organic matter and a pH around 5.5 to 6.5. You also need to consider the size that your citrus tree will be. Oranges and grapefruits need a 30-40 foot diameter circle of growth space, satsumas need 20-30 feet and kumquats, lemons and limes require 15-20 feet. You can grow the trees in a smaller space with regular pruning or by growing in containers to limit root development. These smaller versions usually aren’t as productive.

After selecting and preparing the site (addition of any needed amendments), dig a hole 2-3 inches larger than the rootball diameter. The tree should be planted at the same depth that it is currently growing. Remove the tree from the container and examine the rootball. Cut or prune any circling or J-roots to prevent future root-girdling of the tree. Place the tree in the hole and backfill. Water the tree thoroughly to settle the soil and finish filling. Put at least 2 inches of mulch around the tree to retain moisture and heat and prevent weeds. Do not fertilize the tree at planting; fertilize with about ½ pound of a balanced fertilizer (e.g. 8-8-8) around mid-March or when the tree shows signs of new growth.

Though it may be hard to do, another recommendation is to remove any flowers or fruit from your citrus tree its first year to encourage strong root and top development.

The LSU AgCenter in conjunction with the New Orleans Botanic Garden will be holding a “Home Citrus Workshop” class from 9 a.m. to noon, Saturday, Jan. 13 at the Botanical Gardens Garden Study Center in City Park. Cost of the workshop is $25 and pre-registration is required. To register, email Susan Capley at scapley@nocp.org or call (504) 483-9473. Registration and workshop attendance includes a copy of the LSU AgCenter publication, “Louisiana Home Citrus Production.”

You can get a free subscription to the electronic version of the GNOGardening Newsletter by sending a request to GNOGardening@AgCenter.LSU.edu. Send your gardening questions to AGCenter@theadvocate.com.

Q: In an earlier article on bulbs, you mentioned refrigerating tulip bulbs and waiting until later to plant them. Is now a good time? — Jeremiah

A: Now is the best time to plant your pre-chilled tulips and hyacinths in our area. Plant them about 4 inches deep in your beds. Now is also a good time to plant the tulips and hyacinths in containers if you want to use them as gifts or mobile decorations. They can be grown in soil or in bowls filled with pebbles and water. Keeping the containers in a cool location will make the flowers last longer once they begin blooming.

Joe Willis and Anna Timmerman are Louisiana State University AgCenter agents. Questions? Email agcenter@theadvocate.com.