Monday, January 18, 2010

Growing Citrus in Containers

As many of you know, I grow most (okay, ALL) my Citrus in containers. I have a number of reasons for doing so.
I rent, so if I should move anytime soon they can all come with me.
If I don't like where something is, OR, it doesn't like where it is, I can move it.
I can control the soil PH, water, and fertilizers better.
If we happen to have some REALLY cold weather, like the 18 degrees we have had this Winter, I can move them safely into the Greenhouse.
It's easier to toss something away that happens to die. I don't have to dig and dig to get the stump out.
These reasons go for all my plants that I grow in containers, which are many.
In the above picture, you can see all my Citrus to the right, A yellow Brugmansia top left and some of my Tomato plants bottom left. Yup, all of these are in containers.

One of the first questions I get is, Do you actually get any fruit?
YES! This is a picture of some immature Meyer Lemons. They were in a 30 gallon pot when this picture was taken.
Would you like to try your hand at Containerized Citrus growing? Here is all the How's to do it.

Container Citrus
Many types of Citrus can be grown successfully in containers, if you have a large enough pot. Don’t expect as big a tree as one grown in the ground however. Also, it is very important to find citrus trees grafted onto Poncirus trifoliata or Flying Dragon. This type of root stock dwarfs the tree (still giving you full size fruit) and gives it a few extra degrees of cold hardiness.
The biggest advantage of containerized trees is that they can be protected during freezing temperatures by temporarily storing them in an enclosed area. A nursery standard 15 gallon pot would be a good one to start out with. Once the tree out grows this one, you can move it up to a 30 gallon. A piece of advice though, either build a relationship with some really big, strong men or put casters of some kind on a 30 gallon, it gets pretty heavy. If you happen to see a landscape company working in your neighborhood, stop and ask if they happen to have any and if you can have one or two of either of these sizes. Many times they are more than happy to get rid of them. They won’t have to haul it back to their shop.
Be aware that plastic containers retain moisture longer than other types of pots. As with most plants, allow the upper surface of the soil to become dry to the touch and maybe an inch down, then water thoroughly. Citrus need lots of moisture, but don’t like wet feet all the time.
The potting mix you use is really a personal choice. Any good, well draining mix will work. I have found that a Cactus soil works well. A good blend of Peat, Sand, Perlite and Vermiculite will suffice. I have heard of people using Coconut Husk Chips, this author has no hands on experience with this however.
Good nutrition is essential but over fertilization can result in excessive vegetative or leafy growth, poor fruiting and possible death due to fertilizer salt accumulation. Salt accumulation is a common problem, often indicated by a white crust on the soil surface and around the drain holes. Slow release fertilizers with a ratio of 8-8-8 are excellent, particularly if it contains trace elements such as Iron, Magnesium and Manganese. An occasional foliar spray (spraying the leaves) with Fish Emulsion will also benefit the tree. If you are planning on moving the tree indoors during very cold nights (below 32) You can fertilize every three months and foliar feed every two weeks with a liquid fertilizer or the fish emulsion.
Citrus love sunlight, 8-10 hours if possible. Even in Winter, if the temps drop at night and you bring it in, bring it back out during the day after it warms up. If you forget or there is a long cold spell forecasted, don’t worry, your citrus tree will be fine for a few days in a garage or other sheltered spot.
Summer time can bring other problems with container citrus. The temperature in a black pot, outside in 8 hours of sunlight can easily reach 120 degrees. Two ways to alleviate this. First, shade the pot with low growing plants in other pots. This will give you a chance to have some flowers around your tree and make a very nice display. Second, paint your pots white. There are many paints designed for plastic, get some of them and paint them white. The white surface will reflect the rays of the sun and keep your roots many degrees cooler.
Container citrus have the same pest problems as their in ground counter parts.
I hope this has inspired you to try your hand at some Citrus in containers. In upcoming entries I will discuss pest problems, highlight some of my favorite varieties, some unusual varieties and some stuff you probably have never thought of trying to grow yourself.
Happy Growing!


  1. Thanks. Nice encouraging advice. Wonder why my Improved Meyer Lemon, 4 yr in a container on my balcony here in San Mateo, just south of San Francisco, has many little dark green lemons (during a particularly cool spring and summer--its now August), but a scarcity of leaves? Last seasons' lemons were micro-minis and really not worthy of being harvested. This year lemons have potential, but I worry that the tree may not survive long with minimal leafing and no signs of new leaf growth. I've been adding tiny capfuls of fish emulsion to my large watering cans when watering lemon tree.

  2. Hi, I would like to permanently espeliar citrus against a fence in containers. I have to grow in containers as the soil is crap. I don't want to have to keep replacing the container as this would disrupt my plants too much, what size container would you suggest. I am planning on using dwarf apples, the fence will be 1.8m high.

  3. I would aim for at least a 30 gallon. That will give you many years of growth. If you can find a 45 gallon, even better. Ask around with some of the local landscapers. Many times they are putting in trees and will have a couple of either of the above sizes.
    Happy Growing!

  4. I have a Japanese Yuzu that is in its 3rd year. It definitely needs fertilizing but I can't seem to find 10-15-15 that is recommended other than in Jobe's spike's. Have you any ideas about how to convert these spikes into a more useable form for my potted Yuzu tree (we carry into the house when it frosts in the winter as Seattle is too cold for citrus).

    1. Anonymous, who is recommending a 10-15-15? That doesn't even make sense.
      See if you can find some Espoma Citrus Tone. It is a 5-2-6 which is actually the best ratio.
      If you can't get that, Miracle gro for acid loving plants will also work. ANY fertilizer that is close to the 5-2-6 something like a 7-3-4 will work, or whatever you can find. The numbers themselves are not as important as high Nitrogen and high potassium.

  5. Hello Darren,
    do you know by any chance if grown from seed Satsuma mandarin produce fruit in the future? And I also have a Kishu grafted mandarin which I grow on the south exposure window and under the grow light but in cold Wisconsin, at one point it lost leaves, but then again sprouted some leaves, but still is growing very slow and producing any flowers hence it's 3 years old. I use Epsoma organic Bloom booster liquid fertilizer and sometimes the same Epsoma grow fertilizer. My grafted Meyer Lemon is fruiting and blooming very nice at the same time but Kishu is very slow. It looked the same for 2 years now .
    Thank you very much

  6. Hello Darren,
    I forgot to ask how to get rid of scales, I tried pretty much everything neem oil, alcohol to wipe them off, but still my Kishu mandarin is getting scales hence it's growing inside of house and came from nursery.
    Thanks again

  7. Hello, Ruzanna.
    Absolutely, your Satsuma will produce fruit.
    From seed, it will take 5-6 years before it produces fruit, under best horticultural conditions.
    The Espoma products are good for the Kishu, however, you might want to switch over to Holly Tone or Citrus Tone. The bloom fertilizer is probably heavy on the Phos and Pottasium, it might need some more Nitrogen.
    If you have done all of that for the scale, are you sure they are still alive? The dead carcasses might still be there, but they are not feeding. Rub some of them and see if they are dry and flaky, or if they squish.