Everyone loves citrus fruit. They’re great as a snack, or as a side for a meal. Since they’re tropical plants, not everyone knows that you can grow citrus trees anywhere in the country. Just pot them up as a patio plant, and then bring them indoors during the cold months.
That way, no matter where you live in the country, you can grow your own citrus trees. Here’s how!
Choose dwarf varieties for container growing so that they’re maintainable when you bring them indoors. Also, look for pest resistant varieties (to avoid spraying) and cold hardy plants. Low-maintenance varieties like the Improved Meyer Lemon Tree or Key Lime Tree are ideal.
Any container will work, keep the weight of the pot in mind. Remember, you’ll be moving this plant indoors during the winter. Water remaining in the bottom of the pot will rot roots, so make sure the pot has sufficient drainage holes. Choose a large container allowing lots of room for roots to grow. Plan on repotting the citrus plants every 3-4 years as it grows larger. Increase pot size by 20-25% each time.
Use well-drained, soilless potting mix for outdoor plants. Avoid those with high levels of peat and dense material. Bagged potting mix is fine if it contains perlite or composted bark for drainage. Feel the bag. If it’s hard and dense, don’t use it. Perlite and double or triple shredded bark added to a standard purchased mix (such as Miracle Grow potting mix or Pro-Mix) works fine. Mix in green sand, an organic soil amendment mined from the ocean floor full of minerals and trace elements. Finally, add Mycorrhizae to this mix to help the plant produce fine hairs on the roots for more efficient uptake of fertilizers and water.
Citrus plants should be fertilized in the spring and not the fall (which forces new growth which can be harmed by lower temperatures or stresses the plant at a time when it should rest). Use a slow release fertilizer on the soil surface or carefully brushed into the mixture and water well. Avoid plant stakes that can damage or burn roots.
Plant one plant per pot and make sure the crown roots are slightly above the soil surface. In a large pot recycle package peanuts in the bottom for drainage and to make the pot lighter. Spread out or cut through any roots that are circling in the original pot and spread them out inside their new home on a mound created in the pot and fill in the rest of the mixture. Press the soil down so it is firm around the roots. Water well.
Citrus plants need 8-10 hours of direct sunlight a day. Less will produce spindly weak growth and less fruit and put it at risk for diseases and pests. When first placing the potted citrus out in the yard start with part shade and gradually move to full sun over a few days. Indoors they need a south window or better a greenhouse. In regions with cold winters, make sure it is moved outside in the summer, but remember to acclimate it to the full sun it gradually.
Lots of water is needed to grow great juicy fruit. Water when an inch or two of the soil is dry, less when it is resting. Test daily and don’t guess. Size of plants, container, temperature, humidity and wind affect how much water the plant uses. Also, don’t let the plant stand in drainage water.
Prune weak growth, damaged limbs or any rubbing branches. Rule of thumb is never more than a 1/4 to 1/3 of the plant at a time. If you want to keep the plant a certain size, periodically remove the plant from the pot (another reason for dwarf varieties) and prune back the roots 2-3 inches and repot…a good time to also add more mycorrhizae.
Watch the weather, especially nights. Move citrus to shelter if the temperature dips below 32 degrees. Remember potted plants are more susceptible to cold temperatures.
Remove some of the small immature fruit the first few years. This keeps the plant from a cycle of overproducing and resting.
If you follow these tips, you’ll be on your way to enjoying a lifetime of juicy citrus… no matter where you live!
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