Gardeners have been growing citrus in containers for thousands of years. The attractive and edible fruit combined with intensely sweet flowers makes citrus a prized potted plant. Some gardeners grow citrus outside in pots in tropical zones while others grow citrus inside in pots in northern climates. Whether or not you live in a temperate or tropical climate or live in an apartment or home, growing citrus fruit successfully in containers has a few common cultural requirements.
Sun, Sun, and more Sun
Make sure you have a sunny area. Light level and light intensity have a lot to do with growing citrus successfully. Citrus plants need at least 6 hours a day of sunshine and temperatures above 65˚F is a plus for rapid growth.
Choosing Your Container
Glazed, plastic, terra cotta (clay), cement, wood are all viable choices. However, if you grow in anything but terra cotta, you must be careful and accurate with your watering. We recommend using clay or terra cotta so the soil can dry down between waterings. Otherwise, moisture stays on the inside of the pot and this can invite in root disease. This rapidly turns into root rot and can kill the plant. Also, pot size is something to become aware of. Do not over pot (choose a pot too big, too fast). This also can lead to over watering and again invite in root disease. Also, citrus like to be somewhat root-bound in a pot. We've grown some of our most productive Meyer Lemon plants in 8" pots for years.
We use a standard soil-less mix of peat moss, perlite, vermiculite and composted bark. Limestone is added to bring the ph up to around 6.
Accurate Watering Is Needed
The biggest threat to growing citrus is over watering. Citrus benefit from being grown in soil that is brought to near dryness between waterings. As a general rule, water only when the surface of the soil mix appears dry and the plant shows a little wilt. Otherwise, as mentioned under containers, root rot can set in.
Feeding Your Plant
Citrus benefit from regular applications of a balanced fertilizer. Slow release fertilizer can be used as well as organic fertilizer blends. Both are sprinkled on the surface of the soil and give many weeks of nutrition to the plant. Most fertilizers contain trace minerals necessary for healthy growth. However, many citrus varieties are prone to iron chlorosis, an interveinal yellowing of the young leaves. This most often happens during the winter when growth is slow and temperatures are cool. Adding chelated iron as a foliar spray will correct this problem. The general rule is to feed plants when they are actively growing and discontinue fertilization during the winter months. It is best to reduce fertilizer as late summer approaches to allow the new root and leaf growth to harden off. Citrus plants stop growing in late fall and early winter as the days shorten and excessive nutrients cause weak or soft growth especially in the root system and that can lead to root diseases. Once new growth is visible in late winter, you can begin your fertilizer program once again.
When grown in containers, citrus need occasional pruning to help maintain a nicely shaped plant. Often a branch will reach out or rise up giving the plant an unsightly look. These branches can be trimmed back. Also when plants are young, some strategic pruning can help create a full form and good plant structure as the plant matures. Generally, little pruning is needed. Remember that the flower buds for the next season's crop often form on the late summer's growth and over pruning at this time can cause a diminished crop. For this reason the best time to prune is right after the fruit is picked.
Enjoy the harvest at the end of the season but more importantly enjoy the journey along the way: the fragrant flowers, the ripening fruit colors and the delicious taste of your own freshly picked citrus.
Logee’s Greenhouses was started by William D. Logee in 1892 in Danielson, Connecticut. He started as a cut flower business and soon became interested in tropical and unusual plants. Since that time's it's become one of the top nurseries in the United States specializing in plants for the home and garden, specializing in fruiting, rare and tropical plants.