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.
Shop for trees at least two to three years old — the age when they're mature enough to produce and support fruit. Garden retailers know this information, so you don't need to become a pro overnight. Trees may seem small now, but even with dwarf varieties and regular pruning, most container citrus trees will eventually measure near 6 feet tall.
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 Pennington Ultragreen Citrus & Avocado Plant Food 10-5-5 used at planting and for ongoing feedings, provides the special nutrients citrus trees need. Supplement with kelp- or fish-based products such as 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. Citrus-loving insects, such as thrips and spider mites, can cause fruit and leaf damage to your tree. If pests strike outdoors, apply a light, even layer of Sevin Sulfur Dust. The dust starts killing insects immediately upon contact and will not harm your citrus tree.
With container citrus trees in your home, you'll enjoy the sweet fragrance of late-winter citrus blossoms. By the time winter rolls around again, you'll be feasting on fruit. Let premium products from Pennington, Lilly Miller and Alaska brands help your container citrus trees look and produce their very best. When fragrance fills the house and fresh fruit hits the table, you'll be glad you gave container citrus a try.
*Not for use in organic crop and organic food production.
Alaska, Lilly Miller and Ultragreen are registered trademarks of Central Garden & Pet Company. Pennington is a registered trademark of Pennington Seed, Inc. OMRI Listed is a registered trademark of Organic Materials Review Institute.
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Sevin is a registered trademark of Tessenderlo Kerley, Inc.