How to Grow Citrus in Pots Indoors

You don’t have to garden in warm climates to raise lemons, limes, and oranges. These simple techniques will keep your trees small but still prolific.

| Winter 2017-2018

Dwarf Citrus Trees

Dwarf citrus trees are well adapted to container growing conditions.

Photo by Adobe Stock/Locrifa

As a gardener, I’m always tempted to try something new to challenge my skill set. You might say I’m always reaching for the fruit hanging just out of reach. For most parts of the United States, growing lemons, limes, and oranges is very far out of reach. Cold climate, poor soil conditions, lack of sunlight, and limited yard space can keep you from trying to grow citrus. But raising a dwarf citrus tree inside a pot will make the dream of homegrown citrus more attainable.

Adding your own lemons to a beverage or salad is a thrill. It’s very rewarding to see your own citrus in a jar of marmalade or floating in a glass of lemonade. Fresh lime leaves for your Thai stir-fry can be just a few steps away from the kitchen.

Dwarf citrus trees are well adapted to container growing conditions. In some parts of the country, folks can grow potted citrus outdoors most of the year, while others will need to grow them in a sunny window for all but a few summer months. Citrus is self-fruitful, meaning you don’t need a second tree for pollination. All will bear after a few years, giving you the scent and taste of a warmer climate. The blossoms will fill a room with an alluring sweet scent, and the fruit is bursting with flavor.

Get Serious About Citrus

You can buy dwarf citrus at your local nursery or online (see “Citrus Sources,” at the end of this article). Be sure the tree you’re buying is well-adapted to container growing, such as ‘Improved Meyer’ lemon (Citrus x meyeri) , Thai lime (C. hystrix), ‘Bearss’ lime (C. x latifolia) , Key lime (C. x aurantiifolia), Satsuma mandarin (C. unshiu) , Calamondin orange (x Citrofortunella microcarpa), and ‘Trovita’ orange (C. sinensis). One-year-old trees come in a small pot or may be sold bare-root. Two- to three-year-old trees are usually offered in a larger pot as well.

After you’ve obtained your tree, it’ll need to be potted up. A 10- to 14-inch pot is ample for a one- to three-year-old tree. As the tree grows, you’ll need to increase the pot size to 16 to 20 inches. Don’t put a small tree in a large pot because it’ll be too difficult to regulate soil moisture levels. Plastic pots are the lightest options and it’s easy to maintain proper soil moisture inside them. Clay and wood are heavy and less ideal for managing moisture levels. Choose a pot with lots of drainage holes, or add more holes yourself. Avoid black nursery pots because they may overheat in direct sunlight and cause the roots to die. A smaller pot can be nested inside a larger decorative pot for appearance and to provide some insulation from excess heat.

Citrus Soil Requirements

Citrus require good drainage, so choose a light but rich outdoor potting mix that drains well. Avoid indoor potting mixes because they often contain water-retentive chemical wetting agents and fertilizers. An outdoor rose garden soil mix is ideal. To ensure proper drainage, add 1/4 to 1/3 of the soil’s volume in cedar or redwood shavings or 1-inch hardwood bark chips. Mix it all together thoroughly.

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