Citrus Trees for the Everyday Gardener

November 8, 2012

When many of us think of citrus, we think of massive orange groves, warm weather and abundant sunshine.  While it is a beautiful mental picture, get those ideas out of your head because growing citrus trees is accessible to the everyday gardener!

The biggest enemy of a citrus tree is frost.  Even USDA Hardiness Zone 8 is pushing it.  I have a small orange tree in the backyard here in Las Vegas and when winter is approaching, a watchful eye is kept on the weather.  When overnight freezing temperatures are coming, I wrap the trunk of the tree with burlap to help protect it from damage.  (Around here, I affectionately call the burlap my tree's woobie.)

So what if you live where there are winter freezes?  Container gardening is your answer!

There are a plethora of dwarf citrus trees on the market, nearly all of which are suited to life in a container.  One of my favorites is the dwarf Mexican lime tree.  I've grown it in a pot 18" in diameter for a year and half and the tree is happy as can be.  And the limes are delicious - a favorite in our house squeezed over traditional Mexican dishes.

What do I do with the lime tree in the winter?  It spends the cold months in the greenhouse.  But you don't need a greenhouse to overwinter citrus trees.  A sunny south-facing window will do the trick!

Here is everything you need to know to grow your own citrus tree:

  • Select Dwarf Varieties
    Large trees in containers require a lot of maintenance and are very difficult to move.  Even semi-dwarf varieties can get huge!  Stick to dwarf or ultra-dwarf varieties to make it easier to move.  Sometimes these small varieties are referred to a "patio trees".
  • Plan Ahead
    Since you will need to move your tree for the winter months, make sure to pick out where it will live before you start shopping for a tree.  Select a sunny spot outdoors for the warm months and indoors for the cold months.  Decide logistically how you are going to get the tree from its outdoor location to its indoor location.  A container full of soil and a tree gets very heavy, employ a hand truck or dolly to make the job easier.  Keep in mind that going up or down stairs can be extremely difficult or even impractical.
  • Fertilize
    Citrus trees like to be fed three times a year in late winter, late spring and early fall.  A handy rule of thumb is to fertilize on the three US holidays: President's Day, Memorial Day and Labor Day.  I choose an organic fertilizer formulated specifically for citrus trees.
  • Remember to Water
    If you have a drip irrigation system, this makes watering a cinch when trees are outside.  I have an emitter that I put on the lime tree and then close the emitter when it is time to move the tree indoors.  If you don't have an irrigation system, make sure you remember to water!  Citrus are not overly tolerant of completely drying out between watering.  On the other hand, make sure you aren't keeping your tree soggy either - this will just encourage rot.

Keeping a citrus tree in a container in cold climates is more work than just growing a tree out in the yard, but I think it is worth it.  The blossoms smell amazing and the fruit is delicious!  I would love to hear from you if you grow your own citrus and the varieties you grow.

Give your green thumb a workout and grow some citrus!

Pin It

Like this article? Follow Hilery Hixon on Google+

Free Newsletter

Enter your email address to receive our free monthly newsletter brimming with gardening tips, news and how-to articles.

T-Shirt Shop