Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Put 'Em In The Ground

I have had a few people tell me they love that you can grow Citrus in Containers, But then they ask, will they grow in the ground in South Carolina? YES!
This is the information sheet that I give to everybody that attends my lectures.
This is good information for anybody that lives in a Zone 8 or warmer.


Citrus are subtropical or warm temperature plants adapted to growing in sandy soils along floodplains. To a degree, many parts of the Southeast greatly resemble the native habitats of citrus. Rainfall patterns are similar to Southeast Asia, the native habitat of citrus.
Like many plants, citrus prefer well drained, loamy soil. Citrus can succeed in heavier clays as long as they are well drained. No citrus can stand wet feet and will rapidly decline under persistently wet conditions. That being said, citrus need to be well watered at all times. They can be somewhat drought tolerant depending upon variety, but all will do better if given sufficient moisture. Remember, Winter is the drier season and special attention will need to be given to citrus during this time.
When planting citrus it is always a good idea to have your soil tested. Citrus appear to be more sensitive to deficiencies and when they enter a new flush of growth, the new growth will immediately show the deficiencies. Correcting them is a challenge after that! Slow release fertilizers with a ratio of 8-8-8 are excellent, especially if it also contains micronutrients such as iron, magnesium and manganese. A foliar feed (spraying the plants so the leaves absorb the food) with fish emulsion is also a good idea.
When it comes to where in your yard you should plant a citrus, there are a few factors that can come into play. South Carolina does occasionally have some really cold snaps, below 28 degrees. A southern or western exposure is the best. If you can plant it close to the house or a brick wall, this will give you some extra protection. The building or wall will absorb heat during the day and give it back to the tree at night. A mature citrus tree will handle down to 28 degrees or lower for a brief period of time. All of this is subject to how long the freeze is and how much time the tree had to go dormant prior to the freeze event. Younger trees should have some additional protection. One of the most festive ways is to get some C-7 or C-9 Christmas lights, the old ones, the new ones don't put off any heat. Wrap them around your tree and then place a plastic sheet over it. This will give you a few extra degrees of protection, which is sometimes all you need. Just remember to remove it at sunrise or you risk the chance of burning your citrus or having it break dormancy. A southern or western exposure will also give you the 8-10 hours of sunlight that citrus enjoy most of the year.
There are many varieties that will do well in a zone 8, given the help and protection listed above. Kumquats will do very well because they go completely dormant in the winter. Satsumas are actually a “class” of mandarin oranges. There are several cultivars that do well in South Carolina. Some examples are Kimbrough, Owari and Early St. Anne. There are many other early sweet oranges, sour oranges, limes, lemons and grapefruit that will do well. It is just a matter of finding the right cultivar that ripens early. It is also important to find trees grafted on Poncirus trifoliata or Flying Dragon as this will give you more cold hardiness.

Want some proof?

This is the fruit and tree from my friend Kathy. (Thanks Kathy!) As you can see she got quite the harvest of Oranges and Satsumas and has to use a ladder to pick the fruit.
So if you don't like the looks of containers or are afraid they will be a little too much work, Put 'em in the ground!
Happy Growing!


  1. why do you not plant your plants in the ground? This is not a sarcastic question. I live in Cottageville and I would like to plant mine in the ground, but I wonder if this is best thing to do. thank you

    1. There are a few reasons why I don't put them in the ground.
      1) I rent where I live, so when/if I decide to move they will come with me. If I owned the house, I would plant them in the ground. That is probably the main reason.
      2) I work at a nursery, so it is easy to obtain pots and soil.
      3) I like to re-arrange my yard every so often, it is MUCH easier in containers to do that. Besides, the yard is always changing anyway, the place that had great sun last year might be shaded now due to trees getting larger around it.
      4) I like to push my trees a little. I can protect them in my greenhouse in the Winter and continue feeding them and watching them grow. Also, some varieties like Valencia Oranges ripen too late for here, I can get them to ripen in the G-house.
      If you are in Cottageville, plant them on the south or west side of your house or in some other semi-protected area. As long as we don't get too many more icepocolypse or snowmeggedens, they will be fine.
      Hope that helps?!

    2. My husband started a tree from the seed's from cutees oranges we bought for their size and taste. Its about 4ft tall and ready to go out side. Any suggestions? I live in Moncks Corner SC.

    3. Plant it so it gets as much sunlight as possible, preferably on the South or West side of the house.
      As long as we only go down into the upper 20's you should not have to protect it much, maybe a sheet and some old time Christmas lights.
      Make sure it gets plenty of water during this heat wave.
      If you have any other questions, please feel free to e-mail me:
      Just as a side note, I will be coming to Moncks Corner in February to the Old Santee Canal State Park for a Camellia Expo.

    4. I just moved to Lexington from new Orleans and the pots my tree are in didn't fair well. Should I buy new pots and wait until spring g, or can I plant them now? I have two Meyer Lemons, two pomegranate, two olive trees.

    5. If you can find new pots now, Go ahead and repot.
      What exactly happened to the pots?

  2. I am interested in starting my citrus stage in gardening my yard this year. Where do you get your starters? Do you have any seedless varieties?

    1. Some of the seeds I used came from the grocery store, Asian market and friends.
      Some of them came from
      There is also a place online called There are many people on there that are willing to share and swap seeds.
      Thos would be the best places to start.
      As for any seedless varieties, I have one called a Seedless is my wife's favorite.

    2. Thank you, very helpful. We really enjoy using the seeds from things we get from the store, and my last batch of cuties had 6 seeds in it, so wish me luck, we're planting them this weekend :-)

  3. I've had my Meyer lemon in the ground for two years now. I live in moncks corner SC. I noticed today that it is blooming. Should I be concerned. When it gets really cold and possible for frost, I cover it. Especially at night. I wrap a blanket around the bottom and have built a mini green house cover for it.

  4. Hi Darren - I planted a few citrus trees this year at my West Ashley home in Charleston and it looks like some of my Brown Satsuma Mandarins are getting pretty orange colored - any recommendation as to when it is best to pick them - it is only a little tree and doesn't have too many oranges on it this year so I was hoping to maximize my culinary pleasure and avoid picking any too early - thanks, John ps - do you know where you can buy any of those old style Christmas lights that I can use to try to help the trees make it through the winter?

    1. If they are turning Orange, they are good to go! Don't be too disappointed if they are not fantastic this year. If it is just a small tree, it may need some time to mature. The fruit will more than likely be good, but the possibility does exist. As for the lights, from what a little birdie told me, you can actually buy them now at any of the big box stores. I have not looked, but it came from a reliable source.

  5. I have just purchased 4 citrus trees in 10 gal. containers, they are about 4 feet tall. Should I keep them in containers in the ground, or plant them? I have 4 other citrus bushes that did well until the last freeze in 2017. I think the ground was too dry and should have well watered them just before the freeze. Although two of them were full of blossoms, I am afraid the whole bush was killed. I don't want to do the same thing to my new trees. Help

    1. Hello, Lorie.
      You did not mention where you live, so I am going to go on some basics.
      You probably should have watered it before the freeze, but, being that you didn't, we are where we are.
      To see if it is dead, start at the highest point you can reach and scrape some bark. If you see green, it is alive. If you see brown, move down until you see green. If you get to the ground and still all brown, then it is dead.
      If you plant them in the ground, do it on the south or west side of the house. Close to a wall if possible.
      You can grow them in large containers for many years. That way if it does get cold, you can move them into an unheated garage.
      Hope that helps?!

  6. Hi,Darren! Today I purchased a small Navel Orange tree knowing I probably do not have a spot with enough sun to get fruit. My plan is to pot it and keep it on my East facing porch with about 3 hours of direct morning sun and to be able to enjoy the scent of Orange blossoms.Do you think I am dreaming?Should I start with a small pot and increase size as it grows?