MeyerLemonTree Tree Care
Growing Citrus in Containers
Citrus trees are especially suited for container growing as they can be kept at manageable sizes. People enjoy their trees in decorative pots on a patio or apartment balcony. Many customers have cold winters will need to bring their citrus indoors during freezing weather. These tips can help you on the way to successful citrus growing in containers:
How to Plant in Containers
We recommend using commercially available potting mixes. Using dirt (native soil from your yard) in a container is not advisable. We also advise against putting gravel 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. Soils that are too heavy can be amended with about 1/3 – ½ volume of 1" redwood shavings, hardwood chips or cedar hamster bedding. Pine and spruce shavings tend to break down more quickly, so are not ideal. Place prepared soil mix in the bottom of your new container. Gently slide tree roots out of the old container, and detangling any circling roots so that growth into the new pot will not be impeded. Place the loosened root mass into the new container and gently fill with your fresh planting mix, packing down lightly to remove large air spaces from the root zone. The top of the roots should be just beneath the soil surface, and crown roots (root collar area) should show above the soil line. Water deeply. Stake loosely with green tie if needed. It’s a good idea to repot every year or so, or when you see roots peeking through drainage hole.
Selecting a Location for Indoor/Outdoor Containers
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 whether or not it is thriving.
Consistency is the key with citrus watering. 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 have to guess about whether or not a plant needs water. See also: the dowel method, item 7 above. A wilted tree that perks up within 24 hours after watering indicates the roots got too dry. Adjust the watering schedule accordingly. A tree with yellow or cupped leaves, or leaves that don't look perky AFTER watering can indicate excessive watering and soggy roots. Give your tree water less often. Citrus prefer infrequent, deep watering to frequent, shallow sprinklings. Deeper watering promotes deeper root growth and strengthens your tree. Generally, once or twice a week deep watering works well for container specimens. Be sure to adjust based on weather conditions!
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. (16:8:8, 24:10:10, 14:6:5, and 18:6:6 are examples that will work well.) 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. We prefer slow release fertilizers in the granular form rather than fertilizer stakes. Follow rates on the package carefully as fertilizers come in different strengths, release rates, and application schedules. We recommend that you fertilize more often than recommended with most slow release fertilizers. Yellowing leaves indicate lack of fertilizer or poor drainage.
Know where the graft union is on your tree. It can usually be seen as a diagonal scar between 4 and 8 inches from the soil. Remove all shoot growth below the graft. These so-called "suckers" take vitality from the top of the tree (the fruiting wood). Especially on young trees, they are very vigorous. Remove suckers as soon as they are observed.
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.