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What could be better than having fresh lemons or oranges at your finger tips? Despite what you might think, citrus plants are easy to grow on your own patio in containers.

What Can You Grow?

Dwarf varieties are best for containers as they will grow slowly and you can control their height and width through pruning. The favorites for containers include:

  • Meyer lemons, which are thinner skinned, less acidic and more juicy than typical grocery store lemons
  • Satsuma mandarin oranges, which are nearly seedless and have a sweet, delicate flavor
  • Bearss limes, which are seedless and very juicy.

Where Can You Grow Them?

Citrus can be grown in a wider area than you might think, although they are particularly suited to the southeast, southwest and west. They need 8+ hours of direct sun and a relatively wind-free southern exposure. Most citrus will thrive in climates that have warm to hot summers and mild winters, as they cannot withstand freezing temperatures. In areas where winters are cold, shelter the plants in a garage or basement that gets good bright light or bring them indoors and place no farther than 6 feet from a sunny window. The prolonged exposure to freezing temperatures is more harmful than a brief dip in temperature. If you only get occasional freezes, you can just wrap them with a frost blanket.

What Container To Choose?

Any container will work for your citrus as long as itís big enough and has enough drainage holes. A 15Ē x 15Ē pot is a good size to start with if youíre buying a young tree. Donít start out with too large a pot as it will be difficult to control the moisture levels. Plastic or ceramic containers will not dry out as fast as terra cotta or wood. The size of the tree will be greatly influenced by the size of the container, so you will need to move your citrus to a larger container every few years as it grows. Youíll know itís ready for a larger pot because the leaves may start to drop or turn brown. At this point you can either move the tree to a container than is about 25% larger or if youíre happy with its size, take it out of the existing container, cut off about ľ of the roots, re-pot in new soil and prune 1/3 of the foliage.

How To Grow Them

Use a soil mix that is lightweight and drains well, as citrus need to be moist but not soggy. Being gentle with the root ball, set it in the bottom of the new container on about an inch of soil mix. Press more soil around the root ball and fill the container. Loosely stake the tree if necessary and water well. Do NOT let it sit in a saucer of water! Raise the container off the ground, either by putting it on a wheeled platform or on small, upturned saucers or pots, so air will be able to circulate.

How To Maintain Them

Watering consistency is the key to having a healthy citrus tree. If the tree wilts and then perks up after watering, the roots have gotten too dry. If the tree has yellow or droopy leaves after watering, itís getting too much water. Fluctuating moisture levels can promote fruit splitting. Citrus prefer infrequent but deep watering as this encourages deeper root growth. Try to water in the morning, one to two times a week, depending on your conditions.

Citrus are heavy nitrogen feeders, so your fertilizer should be at least a 2-1-1 or 3-1-1 ratio. There are specialized fertilizers on the market for citrus which contain the proper balance of nitrogen and other nutrients like iron, zinc, manganese, molybdenum, copper and boron. I prefer a slow release fertilizer which typically is applied every 2-3 months. Discolored or misshapen leaves or sluggish growth can indicate a nutrient deficiency.

Pruning can be done anytime except winter. To round out the shape of the tree, pinch back tips of new growth, which will force the growth down lower on the plant. If there is any fruit on your newly planted tree, remove it so energy will be directed into new growth rather than fruiting.

Citrus have very few pest problems. Scale, aphids or mites may invade, but adding parsley, dill, yarrow, alyssum, coreopsis and other plants to your garden that attract beneficial insects should control the pests. If necessary, spray aphids off with a strong jet of water or pinch them off with your fingers. Remove scale with your fingernail or a sharp knife. Scale and mites can be controlled by spraying light horticultural oil.

Take the plunge. Plant a beautiful and fragrant citrus tree on your patio, because there is nothing quite like picking that sparkling fruit youíve grown yourself!

For additional information on growing citrus in containers or to purchase dwarf citrus trees online, see Four Winds Growers, http://www.fourwindsgrowers.com/growing/containers.html

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