One of the most important factors with regards to citrus tree planting is ensuring good root health. There are multiple factors which affect this including proper soil, container size, avoiding any over or under watering, and proper nutrition. Of course secondary problems like root rot because of fungal infections and other pathogens can affect your root system.
However, I believe that for the average gardener will face a much more significant issue when they transplant their tree. Without proper planting into the initial pot, the roots will never go out into the soil and will not develop, this will lead to a stunted tree.
A stunted tree has characteristic signs and symptoms, it will not die, however it will sustain a prolonged state of smaller growth with occasional shoots of new leaves but without any vigorous growth. Also if you pull on the base of the trunk of the tree anytime after a few weeks, it will easily pull up. This is a clear sign that the tree never took proper root into the soil. Unfortunately at this point, there is NO hope for the tree, it is best to discard of the tree and start over and not waste more time, that is why proper initial planting is so important!
I have planted many trees in my backyard in West Texas. Unfortunately for myself, but fortunately for you I have made this mistake enough times that I thought it would be very important to share in this blog post!
Of course, when planting your new citrus tree you always want to have a proper size container, at least 5 gallons in size and have proper potting soil. One tip is to always use new potting soil. If you use old potting soil from a tree that was previously planted in the area, the dirt has become impacted around where the root was. Unless you fully take out the soil and break it all apart and then put it back in it will be very difficult for the roots to go into the new soil because it is not light and aerated. So, I always recommend just using new potting soil. This is especially important to remember if you are replacing a tree.
Secondly, it is important to open up the root system of the new tree. Use your fingers to pinch open the roots, this will help the roots have a proper orientation and surface area contact to grow into the pot. However, do not strip the roots of all the soil, just pinch enough to loosen it. Also if you keep the roots submerged in water, even overnight, this will kill your tree! Run some water into the tube if you are not ready to transplant, about 4 ounces a day and transplant as soon as possible!
Third, it is impossible to have good growth of a citrus tree if there is not proper depth to the container. I have been tempted and have attempted to plant citrus trees into very nice decorative pots that were too shallow and short. The way you can tell if it is too short is if you stand the cone onto the bottom of the pot, the height of the pot should be at least a bit taller than the plastic cone portion of the tree. This is because the cone contains the roots of the tree and this soil must completely cover all of the roots and you should still be able to push in the roots slightly. I have NEVER had a citrus tree do well in a container that was too shallow. 100% of these became stunted and a few months later I would pull on the base and there would easily pull up without any good root catching into the soil.
Fourth, push and make a hole into the center of the container with your plastic tube, this will create a perfect size planting hole for your tree. When you plant your tree into the hole, give it a firm push and then gently push some soil around the top of the root system to really have it nice and covered.
Only plant one plant per container! No negotiation on this!
Of course, maximize sunlight for your tree, use a grow light if you do not have access to a very warm window, or if your tree is not outdoors, protect it from cold. Water at the base of the trunk every day at least 1 gallon, for 1 month.
Afterwards, in about 2-3 weeks it is very satisfying to see new leaf/coming from your branches and trunk. At this time you can give a firm tug to the base of the trunk and it is also very satisfying to feel a very firm resistance, indicating that your root system is thriving in that you are doing a great job!
When you are at this point, you are well on your way to decades of harvest of delicious Meyer lemons, Eureka lemons, Kaffir limes, Persian limes, Australian finger lines, Calamondins, Kumquats, Rio Red Grapefruits, Pineapple oranges, Navel oranges, Valencia oranges and Blood oranges!