Getting the Right Tree for Your GoalsStandard citrus trees grow too big for indoors, but dwarf varieties are grafted onto special roots that limit their size and speed up fruiting. Growing them in containers keeps them smaller, too. If you're new to growing citrus, start with dwarf types known to flourish and fruit well indoors. Easy-to-grow favorites, such as Improved Meyer lemon, Makrut and Key limes, kumquats and Calamondin oranges, fit the bill.
Choosing Pots to Suit Your TreesImages of potted Mediterranean citrus can steer you toward big pots, but start small instead. Extra soil around trees complicates moisture control, so work your way up in pot size as trees grow. For small trees, a 12-inch-diameter container — what nurseries call a five-gallon pot — is perfect for starters. Mature trees need pots double that width and at least 18 to 24 inches deep. This gives roots growing room and prevents tippy, top-heavy trees.
Perfecting Your Soil and Planting Style
Citrus trees prefer their soil evenly moist and never soggy. Soil that stays too dry or too wet spells trouble. Commercial potting mixes labeled for cactus, palms and citrus provide a good balance of ingredients to retain moisture, yet drain freely and quickly. Mix in extra organic matter* with earthworm castings to help keep nutrients available.
Caring for Container Citrus Year-RoundWith the right soil and container, citrus trees aren't that different from other houseplants — except for fragrant blossoms and fruit, of course. Provide these simple needs, and reap the rewards:
- Light: Citrus needs at least six to eight hours of bright, daily light— more is better. Placing trees near southern or southwest windows works well. Remember, natural light shifts with the seasons, so adjust accordingly. If you're short on sunlight, grow lights can make up the difference.
- Water: Never let pots dry out completely, but avoid overwatering. Allow the soil to dry about two to three inches deep, and then water thoroughly so water runs through the drainage holes. Test your soil by hand or use a soil moisture tester, available in home and garden stores. During active spring and summer growth, containers may need water daily. In winter, water just enough to keep soil moist.
- Fertilizer: Citrus trees need generous amounts of nitrogen plus essential trace nutrients. Needs increase as trees mature. Because of the extra watering containers need, fertilizers can leach away. A citrus-specific plant food such as Lilly Miller Citrus & Avocado Food 10-6-4, used at planting and for ongoing feedings, provides the special nutrients citrus trees need. Supplement with kelp- or fish-based products such as Alaska by Pennington Pure Plant Kelp Food 0.13-0-0.60 or OMRI-Listed Alaska Fish Fertilizer 5-1-1 for extra nutrients citrus trees appreciate. Limit fertilizer during fall and winter as growth slows.
- Pruning: Regular pruning helps limit tree size and promotes bigger, better fruit. Don't be shy about pruning — just wait until trees flower and set fruit, so you don't accidentally prune away your treats. Trim off thorns and any roots or shoots that form near the soil.
- Temperature: Normal household temperatures suit citrus fine, and most withstand brief, near-freezing cold. However, avoid placing your tree near drafts or heating and air conditioning ducts. Container citrus can summer outside, but keep them inside until frost danger passes in spring. Then move them gradually, so they acclimate over several weeks, or they may drop their ripening fruit. Move them back inside before fall frost strikes.
- Pests: When trees summer outside, pests can seize the opportunity and even hitch a ride into your home come fall. If pests strike outdoors, a combination fungicide/insecticide, such as Lilly Miller Sulfur Dust, makes treatment easy and keeps your citrus ready for the move back inside.
*Not for use in organic crop and organic food production.
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