While grapefruit trees are not necessarily the easiest fruit trees to grow, they can be incredibly rewarding when planted and cared for in ideal conditions. Hobby growers the world over love this unique fruit tree for its large, tart-but-sweet fruit and big, waxy dark green leaves.
Grapefruit trees are evergreen, subtropical citrus plants that fare best in consistently warm weather. Their fruit, which is bitter with a sweet tang, varies in color from yellow to orange with tones of pink and contains edible, segmented fruit flesh that can be eaten and prepared in dozens of ways.
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The History of the Grapefruit Tree
Grapefruit trees (citrus x paradisi) are thought to have originated in Barbados due to an accidental hybridization of a sweet orange tree and a pomelo tree. Both of these plants had been introduced to Caribbean islands by the late 1600s, and crossbreeding likely happened sometime after that.
The first known record of the grapefruit was written in Griffith Hughes’ 1750 text, The Natural History of Barbados. He referred to it as a “forbidden fruit tree” and described its fruit as being larger than oranges (but bearing similar flowers) with a delicate taste.
It is unknown whether the fruit he was describing is the grapefruit we know today, but it is clear that it must have at least been closely related.
In 1814, John Lunan coined the term “grapefruit” to describe a similar plant he came across in Jamaica. It is speculated that he chose this name because of the grape-like taste of the fruit or because of how the fruit grows in bunches in a manner visually similar to grapes.
In 1923, the grapefruit tree was introduced to Florida by Odet Phillipe. Today, it is popular all over North America and the world at large.
Identifying a Grapefruit Tree
Grapefruit trees are breathtaking, which is another reason why hobbyists love them so much. They are large, with mature trees reaching heights of up to 20 feet tall (6 meters), and they can be identified by their dense mid-to-dark green foliage. Their leaves are shiny and hairless, and they produce clusters of small white five-petaled flowers before fruiting.
The fruits of these trees are quite big, generally between 4 to 6 inches (10 to 15 centimeters) in diameter. They are brightly hued in tones of yellow-orange or orange-pink, and the fruit’s flesh is edible.
They have an exceptionally long gestation period, and fruit will only ripen after eight months in some zones and up to 14 months in others. Ripeness is indicated by a change of color from white or green to yellow or orange.
Grapefruits grow in clusters on their branches and are round and heavy in appearance.
Why You Should Grow Grapefruit Trees
Happy, healthy grapefruit trees produce an abundant harvest of fruit. Grapefruits are packed with nutrients and minerals, making them a popular choice of fruit for their remarkable health benefits. Indeed, grapefruit can be used for juicing, cooking, and baking.
The trees themselves are also beautiful and can pass as ornamental additions to a landscape. They are large and provide plenty of shade in the garden.
When to Plant a Grapefruit Tree
Grapefruit trees do best when planted in spring or fall, depending on the region you’re located in. Evergreen citrus trees planted in spring must adjust to their new environments during the heat of summer, so this is a good option only if you live in a temperate area. Similarly, grapefruit trees planted in fall must deal with the chill of winter, so regions with warmer winters work better for them.
Remember, these are tropical plants that flourish in areas with warm days and moderate nights. Ideally, they should be grown in plant hardiness zones of 9 and up.
Choosing a Grapefruit Tree
Because grapefruit trees are so fond of heat and sensitive to the cold, hobby growers will need to be selective when choosing cultivars for the home garden.
Among the most low-maintenance varieties are the Oroblanco and Melogold varieties, which are not as heat-dependent as their cousins. The Ruby Star or the ruby red grapefruit tree is also excellent for hotter regions and will thrive once established.
Most grapefruit trees bear fruit within three years of planting.
How to Plant a Grapefruit Tree
When you have purchased your chosen grapefruit tree, you can get down to the business of planting it. Most fruit trees have specific needs when it comes to planting, and the grapefruit is no different.
To start, you need to identify a suitable spot in your garden to plant your tree or trees. They grow to be very big, so where you situate them is crucial. Of course, they also require full sun (at least eight hours per day) and maximum protection from harsh winter winds and frost.
Consider an area that is south-facing from your home so that the building can protect it and at least 12 feet (4 meters) away from any buildings or structures.
Preparing for Planting
Once you have chosen a spot for your citrus tree, you need to prepare the bed. Dig a hole that is deep and wide enough to accommodate the plant’s roots when they are spread out. This will allow it to settle in and boost its growth.
Grapefruit trees like loamy, well-draining soil that is rich in minerals. Acidic or limey soil is not ideal and may inhibit your fruit tree’s growth.
Spacing Your Trees
If you are planting more than one tree, be considerate of the spacing between them. Because grapefruit trees grow so big, there should be a minimum of 15 feet between trees (4 meters).
Placing Your Tree in the Ground
When you have prepared the hole for your new grapefruit tree, it is time to transplant it from its container into the ground. Gently place the tree in the bed with its root structure spread out evenly and fill the hole halfway with soil. Water it thoroughly to allow the soil to settle, and then fill the hole completely.
Soil should be packed around the tree firmly, but it should not be compacted. Keep it level around the base of the tree so that water can drain evenly.
Mulching Your New Grapefruit Tree
Mulching is an integral part of keeping your fruit trees healthy and is especially vital for young plants that are not yet established. It prevents unwanted weeds from growing, protects the plant from the cold, and retains moisture.
To mulch your newly planted grapefruit tree spread a layer no thicker than 2 inches (5 centimeters) around the base of the plant. Organic mulch or compost is ideal. Spread it out quite a way around the tree, as you don’t want to encourage root rot by piling it up.
How to Care For a Grapefruit Tree
Planting your grapefruit tree correctly is the first step of your care regime. Bountiful trees will require consistent attention to ensure they stay happy and healthy. The best way to care for a grapefruit tree is to equip yourself with the knowledge to be mindful of its needs. Below, we’ll look at how to care for this evergreen citrus tree.
Watering Your Grapefruit Tree
You need to water your grapefruit plant thoroughly once to three times per week for the first year after planting. In the summer, in particular, it will require a deep water session as soon as the topsoil layer becomes dry. To test this, insert your fingertip 1 centimeter into the ground. If you can’t feel moisture, your plant is probably thirsty.
Once your tree is established, you can reduce the frequency of your watering sessions to once a week or whenever you feel that the soil has gone too dry.
Feeding or Fertilizing Your Grapefruit Tree
As is the case with most citrus trees, you should feed your grapefruit plants every month or so during their growing season and less frequently during the colder seasons.
With that being said, it also depends on the overall health of your trees. A lush, thriving grapefruit tree that is budding and producing fruit likely doesn’t need additional nutrients and is receiving enough sustenance from the ground and water.
Pruning Your Grapefruit Tree
The grapefruit plant is a fast-growing tree that does require occasional pruning. The best time for this is in early spring. Prune your tree by removing dead or dying branches, which promotes renewed growth. You can also trim away any suckers.
Inspecting Your Grapefruit Tree For Pests or Diseases
A crucial element of grapefruit tree care is regularly checking to ensure no threats are present in the form of pests and diseases. Mites, thrips, and aphids love grapefruit trees, but if caught early on can be dealt with by using an organic pesticide.
Similarly, you want to keep an eye out for any sign of disease. Overwatering, for example, can lead to root rot. Wounds or cuts in the tree’s bark can attract pests and should instead be cut away.
Protecting Your Grapefruit Tree From the Cold
Evergreen grapefruit trees suffer when exposed to cold temperatures and can become damaged if the air and ground temperature drops below 25°F (-4°C). To try and prevent cold damage, you can mound mulch around the base of your trees during winter and even cover younger trees with tarps to protect them against frost.
Pollinating Grapefruit Trees
Fortunately, grapefruit trees are self-pollinating and are helped along like beneficial insects like bees. If you suspect that your tree is not fruiting due to a lack of pollination, you can help this process along in one of two ways.
Firstly, you can plant companion plants close to your grapefruit trees known to attract pollinators. Lavender, daisies, or other flowering plants are great options.
Secondly, you could hand pollinate your trees by gently transferring pollen with a paintbrush or earbud from one flower to another. Pollen must be lifted from the anther of one flower and placed on the yellow stigma of another.
How to Grow Grapefruit Trees: Three Methods
Grapefruit trees are often purchased as saplings from nurseries or garden centers and transplanted into garden beds. However, there are different ways to grow these exciting fruit trees, whether on rootstock, from seed or even in containers.
Growing Grapefruit on Rootstock
Often, a grapefruit tree is grafted onto the rootstock of a hardy citrus plant to give it its best chance of thriving. This is the process whereby the bud of a specific cultivar of grapefruit plant is inserted into the bark of a rootstock stem. With proper care, the bud will begin to grow into a healthy grapefruit plant, and the stem of the rootstock located above the bud union will be removed.
To prevent the rootstock from overpowering the new plant, newly-formed suckers below the incision site should be regularly removed.
How to Grow a Grapefruit Tree From Seed
To grow a grapefruit tree from seed, start by removing the seeds from a grapefruit and washing them thoroughly. Then, fill a moderately-sized container (with draining holes) with high-quality, nutrient-rich soil. Insert one seed into the center of the ground to a depth of about 1 inch (2 centimeters).
Water the soil and cover the pot with a layer of plastic to simulate a greenhouse environment.
Finally, place the pot in a spot that receives plenty of bright, indirect sunlight that retains a consistent temperature of around 75°F (23°C). Monitor your seedling to make sure the soil remains moist but never soggy.
Once your seedling has outgrown its container, transfer it annually to a new pot until it is of sufficient size to be transplanted to your garden beds.
Growing Grapefruit Trees in Containers
If you don’t have a sprawling garden, you can still achieve success in growing grapefruit trees in containers. They are just unlikely to reach the same size as their garden-bound cousins. In fact, some dwarf varieties are perfect for this exact purpose.
To grow a grapefruit tree in a container, first select a pot at least twice as big and twice as deep as the plant’s roots. Make sure it has adequate drainage holes and is filled with top-quality soil. Place the container in a sunny spot and move it around to chase the sun if need be.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: How long does it take for a grapefruit tree to bear fruit?
A: On average, a grapefruit tree will take at least three years to produce quality fruit for consumption. Before this, growers should remove any budded fruit so that the tree’s energy can be utilized for growth instead. The fruit is likely to be unpleasant and of low quality at such a young age.
Q: How often do grapefruit trees produce fruit?
A: These citrus trees only produce fruit once per year. Fruit is usually ready to harvest from October and may continue to bear until May. This is due to the long gestational period of the fruit.
Grapefruit trees are stunning additions to any landscape and are rewarding to grow due to their delicious fruit harvest. While growing them might be a little tricky, the process is made infinitely easier with proper care.
What are your experiences growing grapefruit? Let us know in the comments below!
Want to learn more about grapefruits? Next, visit our grapefruit trees page to learn all about this big citrus: planting, growing, caring, cooking, and more!