Top tips for growing a healthy and productive citrus tree | Gardening 101 | Gardening Australia

Top tips for growing a healthy and productive citrus tree | Gardening 101 | Gardening Australia

Guest presenter Palisa Anderson visits a citrus nursery in Brunswick Heads, to learn all the tips for growing a healthy and productive tree from expert commercial grower, John Mills. Subscribe 🔔

John Mills takes Palisa around his commercial citrus tree orchard to talk all things citrus.
John started as an apprentice to a citrus grower over 40 years ago.  John grows nearly 60 varieties of fruit, including figs, mulberries, olives and loads of citrus. A huge number of trees for the retail garden market. 

Even growing trees on such a big scale starts small, and in some cases with a seed!  Most fruiting plants are grafted, where the fruiting top of the tree is grafted onto a hardy rootstock, some of which is raised from seed in-ground.  They use 5-6 rootstocks for different reasons including compatibility with the fruit or soil type.

Should people ask what roots their tree is on?  “Some orchardists might be fussy about what their tree is grafted onto, if it has a reputation locally. But the most versatile for the home garden is trifoliata, that is what most home garden trees do well on”.   

Once they germinate and establish, the root stock is dug up, potted and grown on, until they reach a size that they can be budded. They are lifting rootstock at the moment, which will be budded in May.     

At this time of year they are focused on T-buds, where the bark of the rootstock is opened like a t-shirt and the fruiting bud slipped in – making sure the cambium of both is making contact.  The union is covered, and the tree mollycoddled until the graft takes off – establishing into the tree you find at the nursery.   

A healthy & productive citrus tree is a garden goal for anyone, whether you have one tree or ten!  John still gets a thrill when he sees a good backyard tree.

He reckons success starts at planting.  “People often ask if you can grow them in pots, and yes most will grow in pots, but for a productive tree they will be much better off in the ground”.  

 A warm, sheltered, frost-free spot is important of course, and a decent hole.  “I dig much wider and deeper than the root system and it has to be square! If you dig a round hole you might end up with the roots running around the edge, a square hole directs them to the corners where they can escape”.    

Soil needs to be well drained but rich, compost will help. To produce loads of fruit, they also need loads of food.  Adding potassium will also sweeten the fruit.  

– Dig the hole twice as big as the pot.
– Place the plant in and as you backfill, make sure the soil is clear of the trunk and the graft.
– Keep an eye on it initially, any growth from below needs to be removed.  In most cases it will be distinctly different in form to the desired fruiting top – i.e trifoliata.   Cut with sharp secateurs.

Water is key to a good citrus tree, they are relatively shallow rooted and making fruit is thirsty work!  For fruit, you need to be consistent.   

Featured Plants:
LIME ‘TAHITIAN’  – Citrus cv. 

Gardening Australia is an ABC TV program providing gardening know-how and inspiration. Presented by Australia’s leading horticultural experts, Gardening Australia is a valuable resource to all gardeners through the television program, the magazine, books, DVDs and extensive online content.

Watch more:


This is an official Australian Broadcasting Corporation YouTube channel. Contributions may be removed if they violate ABC’s Online Conditions of Use (Section 3).


  1. The Elusive Me on May 16, 2022 at 7:41 pm

    Tell me about your hole

  2. The Prime Minister of the Block on May 16, 2022 at 7:44 pm

    Why do they do that business with the rootstock and the buds. Why not just grow your citrus from seed?

  3. An Bi on May 16, 2022 at 7:48 pm

    Repurposed Clothesline Trellis

  4. Dr PK on May 16, 2022 at 7:50 pm

    No such thing as Tahitian lemon.
    Its actually Persian lemon, It was evolved in Southern Iran hundreds of years ago.
    Americans renamed it.
    That guy is a great man.

  5. Tay Home on May 16, 2022 at 7:54 pm

    Fun to learn about the citrus trees

  6. ksenija vojisavljevic on May 16, 2022 at 7:57 pm

    How neatly cared property

  7. Paul's Green Space on May 16, 2022 at 7:58 pm

    Love growing citrus trees
    I’ve got a Meyer Lemon and a Washington Navel Orange
    Both doing very well

  8. Shane Forsythe on May 16, 2022 at 7:59 pm

    i have 4 finger limes 1 i grew from seed, yellow, red champagne, round red fingerlimes , a: pomello, nagami kumquat, meiwa kumquat , variegated kumquat,, Jamaican tangerine, emperor mandarin, imperial mandarin, engall’s mandarin, clementine mandarin, hickson mandarin, afourer mandarin, pink grapefruit, blood orange, naval orange, eurika lemon, lisbon lemon, meyer lemon, tahitian lime, buddhas hand ,

  9. Joseph U Peterson on May 16, 2022 at 8:00 pm

    What a wonderful teacher!

  10. jamshid nikkerdar on May 16, 2022 at 8:02 pm

    Great 👍

  11. Sam Perras on May 16, 2022 at 8:10 pm

    Great show

  12. Burn Dog Australia on May 16, 2022 at 8:12 pm

    has he got Honey Murcott mandarin ?
    can I buy 1 please

  13. leslie devlin on May 16, 2022 at 8:12 pm

    Great show people 😊😊😊💯💯💯💪💪💪Les from Perth

  14. Margaret Enriquez on May 16, 2022 at 8:17 pm

    Do you know if I can use gorilla hair mulch on citrus and fruit trees?

  15. Evan channel on May 16, 2022 at 8:18 pm

    Pembibitan bosqu, 🙏🇮🇩

  16. Syazwan Abdullah on May 16, 2022 at 8:21 pm

    what is the distance of the lemon plant as in this video?

  17. sidboraus on May 16, 2022 at 8:31 pm

    Great 👍 I wonder why my mandarin tree hasn’t had fruit.its 10 yrs old

  18. Adam Kaplan on May 16, 2022 at 8:33 pm

    If Johnny Mills only knew how inspiring he is over in the UK. Excellent to see him being recognised for his talents. 10/10

Leave a Comment