Citrus Tree Plant Growth Stages: A Comprehensive Guide

Ella Earth
16 Min Read
Photo by Egor Litvinov on

Citrus Tree Plant Growth Stages

Citrus trees are beloved for their fragrant blooms, colorful fruit, and vibrant foliage. But did you know that these trees actually go through distinct growth stages throughout their lifespan? Understanding each stage helps gardeners properly care for their citrus trees to maximize health, productivity, and enjoyment. Let’s explore the six stages of a citrus tree’s growth cycle.

Key Takeaways

  • Citrus trees go through six distinct growth stages throughout their lifespan: germination and early development, vegetative growth and expansion, bud development and flowering, fruiting and maturation, harvesting and enjoyment, and dormancy and renewal.
  • Understanding each stage helps gardeners properly care for their citrus trees and ensure optimal growth, health, fruit production, and flavor.
  • Proper nutritional needs, pruning, irrigation, pest and disease management varies according to the tree’s current life stage.
  • With the right conditions and care, citrus trees can produce fruit for decades, providing years of culinary and aesthetic enjoyment.

Stage 1: Germination and Early Development

Citrus Seeds

Most citrus trees are propagated from seeds, though some popular varieties must be grafted to ensure true-to-type traits are passed on. Citrus seeds vary in viability but generally germinate within 2-4 weeks when planted immediately after harvesting. Seeds should be planted 1/4 inch deep in seed starting mix and kept warm and moist.

Citrus VarietySeed ViabilityGermination Timeframe
Orange50-75%2-4 weeks
Grapefruit30-50%3-6 weeks
Lemons20-40%4-8 weeks


When the seed begins to sprout, take care not to overwater the small seedling, which is susceptible to fungal diseases in wet soil. Provide bright, indirect light and keep the soil lightly moist until the radicle and plumule emerge.

DescriptionSeed takes in water and activates growth processes
Timeframe1-2 weeks after planting
ChangesRoots emerge, shoots develop

Root Development

The radicle will develop into the primary root while the plumule grows into the embryonic shoot. Roots serve to absorb water and nutrients from the soil to support photosynthesis and above-ground growth. Strong root development at this stage establishes a foundation for a vigorous, well-rooted tree.

StageRoot Development
DescriptionRoot tip elongation and branching
Timeframe2-6 weeks
ChangesRoots gain length and mass to support plant

Early Shoot Growth

Once sprouted, the plumule develops into true leaves which are much different in shape than the seed leaves. Steady growth should be observed weekly as the shoot lengthens and additional leaves form on gradually elongating internodes. This establishes the juvenile tree phase above ground.

StageEarly Shoot Growth
DescriptionStem and leaves break soil surface
Timeframe4-8 weeks
ChangesFirst true leaves form on upright shoots

Stage 2: Vegetative Growth and Expansion

Leaf Formation

As juvenile structures mature, branching begins and more leaves form on lengthening shoots. Citrus leaves come in various shapes depending on variety but all perform vital photosynthesis to fuel growth. Ensuring good growing conditions at this stage supports robust leaf canopy development.

StageLeaf Formation
DescriptionProduction and enlargement of leaves
TimeframeMonths 1-6
ChangesMore leaves unfold to carry out photosynthesis

Stem Development

Secondary branches develop from the initial flush of primary branches/scaffold limbs. Spurs and water shoots also start to form, contributing to an increasingly complex branching structure. Proper pruning at this stage trains the young tree and encourages strong structural growth.

StageStem Development
DescriptionElongation and thickening of stems/branches
TimeframeMonths 3-12
ChangesSkeletal framework builds for future growth

Nutritional Needs

While seeds contain stored nutrients, young trees now rely on external sources to support multiplying cells, tissues and structures. Apply balanced, organic citrus fertilizer periodically per label instructions, preferably formulated for young trees. Avoid excessive nitrogen which favors foliage over fruit production. Well-draining, nutrient-rich soil is also important.

StageNutritional Needs
DescriptionSupplying macro/micronutrients to tissues
ChangesEnhanced growth and defense against stress/pests

Stage 3: Bud Development and Flowering

Floral Initiation

After one to several years of growth depending on climate and variety, citrus trees achieve reproductive maturity and start forming flower buds. Cool winter temperatures along with decreasing day length triggers floral initiation deep within growing tips and specialized spurs/thorns.

StageFloral Initiation
DescriptionHormonal triggers prepare tree for blooming
TimeframeLate fall to early winter
ChangesInternal processes ready flowering system

Bud Formation

Over winter, small floral meristems develop inside swollen buds as hormones regulate genetic programming toward flowering. Come spring, chilling requirements must be met for successful bud differentiation and bloom. Proper dormancy supports this process.

StageBud Formation
DescriptionDiscrete flower structures form inside buds
TimeframeLate winter to early spring
ChangesFlower parts condense inside protective scales

Bud Differentiation

Cold temperatures signal accumulated within buds to complete floral development internally as days lengthen. Nutrients stored during prior growth are crucial for bud fertility and future crop yield depending on pollination success.

StageBud Differentiation
DescriptionPetals, stamens specialize in individual buds
TimeframeLate winter to spring
ChangesBud morphology reflects cultivar’s flower type


With warming spring weather, colorfully scented blossoms burst forth on flowering branches wherever buds have fully differentiated. These hermaphroditic flowers self-pollinate through wind and insects to set fruit. Some varieties require cross-pollination.

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Stage 4: Fruiting and Maturation

Fruit Set

Once pollinated, ovaries within citrus flowers swell and begin developing into immature fruitlets. Initial fruit set can be low, so thinning may be needed to concentrate the tree’s energy into fewer, larger fruits. Proper irrigation and fertilizing supports this energy-intensive stage.

Fruit Development

Over several months, fruitlets expand rapidly as they accumulate sugars, acids, vitamins and flavor compounds through photosynthates transported from foliage. Unlike other fruits, citrus fruits do not ripen after harvesting.

Fruit Maturation

Near harvest, fruits achieve optimal internal qualities and color pigmentation depending on variety. Acids decline while sugars rise, producing a balanced, delicious flavor. Oranges typically require 9-10 months on the tree after flowering to reach full maturity.

Stage 5: Harvesting and Enjoyment

Harvest Time

After a full season of growth, it’s time to gather ripened citrus bounty! Harvest based on fruit characteristics like color change, texture, flavor and aroma rather than calendar dates which vary yearly. Optimal harvest supports continued tree productivity and fruit quality.

Harvesting Techniques

Snip fruit cleanly from branches using pruning shears so as not to damage the plant or fruit. Handle fruits gently to prevent bruising. Leave a short stem attached for longer storage. Pick only ripe, blemish-free fruits and leave immature fruits to fully ripen on the tree.

Enjoying the Fruits of Labor

After months of growth and development, it’s truly gratifying to taste sun-ripened citrus culled from one’s own trees! Savor the sweet rewards of the harvest season through fresh eating, juicing, baking and more. Freezing sections also preserves flavor for later.

Stage 6: Dormancy and Renewal

Leaf Senescence

As daylight shortens after harvest, trees undergo physiological changes to prepare for winter. Leaves naturally yellow and abscise (drop) due to hormonal cues as the tree resorbs nutrients before dormancy onset. Rake up fallen leaves to promote air circulation.


Without the energy input from photosynthesis that ceases in winter, trees enter a resting state of suspended growth and transpiration under cool temperatures. This dormancy requirement rejuvenates trees before the next growth cycle.

Spring Awakening

When chilling requirements are met from sufficient winter dormancy, warming spring weather signals trees to break dormancy through an intricate cascade of physiological events. New growth buds swell and burst into foliage and flowering the following season, restarting the annual cycle.

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The Citrus Tree’s Life Cycle

Citrus trees are long-lived perennials that faithfully repeat these six growth stages year after year, with some variations due to climate, cultural conditions and scion/rootstock combinations. Understanding each phase helps ensure optimal care, productivity and enjoyment from trees that can bear citrus fruits for decades given the right conditions.

summarizing the key stages of citrus tree growth:

StageDescriptionKey Events
1. Germination and Early DevelopmentSeed sprouts, root and shoot growth beginsSeed germination, root establishment, early foliage
2. Vegetative Growth and ExpansionTree heightens and spreads leaves/limbsIncreased photosynthesis, branching, larger canopy
3. Bud Development and FloweringHormonal changes initiate flowering processBud formation, bud differentiation, blooming
4. Fruiting and MaturationPollinated flowers develop into ripening fruitFruit set, growth, color change as fruit ripens
5. Harvesting and EnjoymentFruit is ready for picking at peak maturityHarvest fruit carefully to eat or preserve
6. Dormancy and RenewalPlant halts top growth and sheds leaves for winterTrees rest and overwinter before spring resurgence

Celebrating the Citrus Tree’s Enduring Beauty and Culinary Significance

From ancient origins, the citrus tree’s evolution and spread across cultures has been interwoven with humanity. Whether admired for bright blooms, tasty gifts bestowed in winter, or memories intertwined with life’s sweetest moments, citrus trees continue providing aesthetic delight, culinary blessings, and botanical inspiration generation after generation. May their beauty and bounty ever be appreciated.

Harvesting Guidelines

FruitRipeness IndicatorsHarvest WindowHandling Tips
OrangesDeep color, easy to twist off treeOctober – MarchTwist gently to avoid breaks, keep at room temperature
LemonsLight yellow color, crack skin easilyMay – SeptemberClip stems, refrigerate up to 2 months
GrapefruitYellow-orange peel, heavier weightNovember – AprilTwist off stem, store in refrigerator
LimesDark green becoming yellow, easily twist offJune – OctoberCut stems, store in crisper drawer

Summary of Citrus Tree Plant Growth Stages

By understanding the six distinct phases that citrus trees progress through annually, gardeners can offer optimized growing conditions, nutrition and practices tailored to trees’ changing needs over their lifetime. This comprehensive guide provides invaluable insights for successfully raising home citrus over the long-term.

While different citrus varieties and cultural conditions may result in variations from what is outlined here, the core growth stages will remain consistent. With periodic pruning, irrigation adjustments as trees mature, and pest/disease monitoring throughout their lifespan, meticulous care will be rewarded with radiant displays of blooms each spring and bushels of delectable fruits come fall.

Persevering through occasional setbacks is part of the learning process and labor of love that comes with nurturing these ornamental edibles. Their longevity also offers continuous opportunities to pass on valuable botanical knowledge to younger generations as the trees themselves are passed down. Ultimately, the satisfied smile of someone enjoying a sun-ripened fruit picked fresh from your tree is payment enough for the gardener’s efforts.

With proper understanding and implementation of these best practices, home citrus trees will thrive for decades to nourish both body and soul – a reminder of nature’s bounty and our role as stewards. May this guide aid many more in cultivating that special connection with these vitally important plants that have given so much to the world.

Related Article: Apple Tree Growth Stages

Resources for Further Information

For those looking to expand their citrus growing knowledge, the following resources provide more in-depth information on topics featured in this guide:

  • Citrus Growing in Florida – As the top US citrus producer, UF provides excellent climate-specific tutorials addressing everything from soils to solutions for common pests and disorders.
  • University of California Citrus Information – Extensive citrus cultivation resources from researchers.

With diligent care informed by these additional resources, home citrus growers can enjoy decades of bountiful crops and year-round greenery from their nutritious, low-maintenance perennial trees. May your citrus orchard bring many delicious seasons of homemade delights!

Frequently Asked Questions on Citrus Tree Plant Growth Stages

Q: How long does it take for a citrus tree to bear fruit?

A: Most citrus trees will produce a small, exploratory crop within 2-3 years if grown from nursery stock. Full, reliable production generally occurs within 4-6 years once trees have established a good framework and reserve of nutrients. Dwarf varieties often fruit sooner.

Q: What is the best fertilizer for citrus trees?

A: Organic, balanced citrus fertilizers specially formulated for acid-loving trees are recommended. Apply according to label directions, preferably in fall/winter and spring to nourish trees without promoting excessive foliage. Well-timed applications support growth, flowering and fruit fill.

Q: My citrus tree isn’t producing. What could be the issue?

A: Check that your tree is receiving 8+ hours of sun, well-draining soil, adequate irrigation and pest/disease control before assessing other potential causes like insufficient winter chill, nutrient deficiencies, overbearing, rootstock/scion mismatch or improper pruning affecting fruitwood production. A soil test and visual tree inspection helps identify problems.

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As a passionate gardener, I can often be found tending to my plants and flowers. My garden is my happy place, where I can escape the stresses of everyday life and connect with nature. I have a green thumb and take great pride in my work, carefully nurturing each plant and flower to help them thrive.