| 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,
- 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
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