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Growing Citrus in Containers

 

Citrus trees are especially suited for container growing as they can be kept at manageable sizes.
Trees planted in decorative pots are attractive on a patio or apartment balcony.
In colder zones or during freezing weather, take the tree indoors.
These tips can help you on the way to successfully grow citrus trees in containers:
For directions on planting in zones 9-11 only- https://lemoncitrustree.com/store/growing-citrus-ground

 


1. Pot Size
Select the right sized pot with adequate drainage holes (see recommendations below).

Do not re-pot until you have had the tree at least 2 weeks.
Never plant a tree is a container larger than a 10-gallon pot ALWAYS water according to pot size.

2. Soil
Use a soil mix that is lightweight and drains well. Use a root stimulator in the first few applications, if desired.
We recommend using commercially available potting mixes. Miracle-Gro Palm, Cactus,  Citrus soil is a good product.
We advise against putting gravel or stones or any other material on the bottom of the pot, as this negatively impacts drainage over time.  The perfect high porosity soil mix can be hard to find, but we have found rose garden soil mixes (formulated for outside use) work well.

Place the prepared soil mix in the bottom of your new container. Gently slide tree roots out of the old container, and detangle any circling roots so that growth in the new pot will not be impeded. Place the loosened root mass into the new container and gently fill with your fresh planting mix. Lightly pack down the soil to remove large air spaces from the root zone. The top of the roots should be just beneath the soil surface, and the crown roots (root collar area) should show above the soil line. Water deeply. Stake loosely and secure with a tie if needed.

DO NOT PLACE DECORATIVE ROCKS ON THE TOP OF THE SOIL!- Those will impede pot drying and can cause root rot.

 

3.Root Crown
Never cover root crown with soil or mulch
Plant the tree so the root collar (crown root) show above the soil line and the top of the fibrous root mass is just below the soil surface. Make sure that soil or mulch is not pushed up against the trunk of the tree.
Root crown photo here-  https://lemoncitrustree.com/store/pest-disease

4. Watering
Consistency is the key when watering citrus. Citrus trees require soil that is moist but never soggy. Watering frequency will vary with soil porosity, tree size, and environmental factors.
DO NOT WATER IF THE TOP OF THE SOIL IS DRY WITHOUT CHECKING THE SOIL AT ROOT LEVEL!
A simple moisture meter, available at garden supply stores, will read moisture at the root level. This inexpensive tool will allow you to never guess whether or not your tree needs water. 
Citrus trees prefer infrequent, deep watering.
Deeper watering promotes deeper root growth and strengthens your tree. Be sure to adjust your watering regimen based on weather conditions!

With a meter that reads from 1-10 water on 4  and check the tree after watering to make sure the meter reads 10.
Never leave the meter in the pot when not in use!
Set-up ideas for your potted tree can be found here- https://lemoncitrustree.com/store/citrus-blog/2016/12/16/easy-setup-ideas-for-indoor-citrus-trees/

5. Sunshine- Lighting
Provide eight or more hours of direct sunlight per day. If less than six hours of natural full sun is provided, supplement with
grow lights. Usually, an unobstructed south or southwest facing window is ideal. Suggestions on lighting can be found here-  https://lemoncitrustree.com/store/citrus-blog/2015/10/05/winter-recommendations-for-inside-citrus/

6. Selecting a Location
Sunny, wind-free locations with southern exposure are the best. If in doubt, leave the tree in its plastic container and place it in the spot you have in mind. After a week or two, you should be able to tell if the tree is thriving.

7. Fertilizing

Citrus trees feed heavily on nitrogen. Your fertilizer should have more nitrogen (N) than phosphorous (P) or potassium (K). Use at least a 2-1-1 ratio.
In some regions, you may be able to find specialized citrus/avocado fertilizers. Any good citrus formula will contain trace minerals like iron, zinc, and manganese. Many all-purpose and commercial organic products will work.
Never use fertilizer stakes for a tree planted in a pot, fertilizer stakes can burn fine root fibers.
Fertilizers come in different strengths, release rates, and application schedules, so follow package instructions carefully. We recommend that you fertilize more often than recommended due to nutrients getting washed out of the pot when watering.
Yellowing leaves indicate lack of fertilizer, overwatering or poor drainage.

For fertilizing suggestions -  https://lemoncitrustree.com/store/citrus-blog/2015/08/11/feeding-recipe-for-a-happy-tree/


 

 

Selecting Planting Containers


 We recommend a 6-9 inch container for one-year trees, a 10-14 inch container (5 gallons) for our 2-3-year-old trees, and a 16-24 inch container (10 gallons) for the 3-4 and 4-5-year-old trees.  A variety of decorative plastic containers are available at reasonable prices. Clay pots and wooden containers are attractive but less mobile choices. When selecting a container, be sure there are sufficient drainage holes. Drilling extra holes is an easy way to improve drainage with wood or plastic. As the tree grows, increase the container size (the next pot size up). Do not start with a pot that is too large as it makes soil moisture levels harder to control with small trees.

 



Suckering


Know where the graft union is on your tree. It can usually be seen as a diagonal scar between four and eight inches from the soil. Remove all shoot growth below the graft. These "suckers" take vitality from the top of the tree (the fruiting wood). The growth of suckers is especially vigorous on young trees. Remove them as soon as they are observed.
Photo of Graft here- https://lemoncitrustree.com/store/pest-disease



Thorns


Thorns are removed from rootstocks when they are grafted. Juvenile fruiting wood will sometimes have thorns; this is a young plant's way of defending against grazing animals. As the tree matures, thorns will not appear as often. Prune off thorns if desired.


 

Pruning 


Citrus can be shaped as desired and will look fuller with occasional pruning to shape leggy branches. Pruning is fine any time of year, except in the winter for outdoor trees. Some trees may develop erratic juvenile growth above the graft. If so, prune for shape and balance. Prune away any erratic branch that is too irregular or crossing another branch. Other fruitful branches will replace it. Any growth above the graft can eventually bear fruit. Well-pruned trees have higher fruit yields and are less prone to branch breakage.


Pollination 


Citrus are self-fruitful indoors and don’t generally require pollination to be productive. Some people enjoy pollinating their trees, using a small soft brush or cotton swab to transfer pollen among the flowers.

 



Beneficial Insects

 

Most insects do no harm to citrus trees! Lady beetles, lacewings, and praying mantis are among the beneficial insects you may see around outdoor citrus trees.



Pest Insects


If you find harmful insects like scales, aphids, or mites, a household spray bottle of water with some mild dish soap could be all you need. Orange TKO, an organic cleaner, works very well at a diluted rate. You can also find specially formulated horticultural soap products at local garden centers. Use a soft toothbrush to scrub away adherent scale insects and recheck in a week to see if another treatment is needed. If scale insects persist, the usual nursery treatment is a 1% solution of light horticultural oil.



Winter


Over-wintering your citrus trees indoors will be necessary if you live in a colder region.  When temperatures fall below 50 degrees at night place your tree indoors in a southern sunny window.