Do you love the look, smell, and convenience of having citrus trees around your home, but don’t have enough space in your yard to plant one? Never fear – you can grow many of them quite well in containers or pots. Plus, if you move, you can bring them with you! Here’s what you need to know about growing citrus trees in pots or containers. 

large pin image showing several citrus trees growing in pots with text overlay reading "how to grow citrus in pots"

Choosing the Right Citrus Tree

Selecting the right citrus tree is a crucial first step in container gardening. Consider the climate of your region and choose a variety that thrives in your specific conditions. Common choices include lemons, limes, oranges, and mandarins. It’s a good idea to choose something you’ll regularly use in the kitchen!

Dwarf or miniature citrus trees are a great choice as they are better suited for container growth, and especially convenient for small garden spaces. Make sure you understand how big the full-sized tree will be, and that it will fit comfortably on your patio or balcony. 

potten lemon tree on kitchen counter
Photo source: Terrain

When choosing fruit trees to grow, make sure you opt for one with healthy leaves without discoloration, visible new growth, and no signs of disease. Citrus trees are susceptible to many different types of diseases, so it’s important to start with a healthy plant. 

Selecting the Right Container

The next step is choosing a container that’s right for your tree. Make sure the container has plenty of drainage, as citrus trees need to be in a fast-draining environment with proper aeration for their roots. Also, make sure it suits your home’s vibe!

lemon tree growing in a pot with ripe and unripe lemons on the branches
Photo source: Fine Gardening

A ceramic pot is a great choice. Fine Gardening recommends using a terra cotta pot, but feel free to get creative and choose one that suits your personal style. Be cautious of large plastic pots because they don’t always hold up well over time, and it’s a big pain to repot a large plant like a citrus tree. Make sure the container is big enough for the tree’s roots, with plenty of extra space for growth. 

Potting Your Citrus Tree

Potting your tree is probably the most important part of growing it healthily in a container. Here’s what to do: 

  • Select a well-draining potting mix specifically formulated for citrus trees, as it drains well and has the right nutrients.
  • (Optional): Place a layer of rocks or broken pieces of terra cotta at the bottom of the pot. Some swear by doing this with any plants that need extra drainage while others say it’ll do more harm than good.
  • Carefully remove the tree from its old pot without the roots. Center the tree in the new container, ensuring it sits at the same depth as it did in the original pot.
  • Gradually fill the container with your potting mix, making sure to pack it gently around the roots. Leave about an inch of space from the top of the container to allow for watering.
  • Water the tree immediately after potting to settle the soil. Ensure that water drains freely from the bottom of the container, indicating proper drainage.
  • Apply a layer of organic mulch on the surface to retain moisture and regulate soil temperature. This helps in conserving water and promoting a healthier root system.

Positioning and Sunlight

Citrus trees traditionally grow in warm, sunny climates, and yours will be happiest if it’s in a location that gets at least 6-8 hours of sunlight each day. Be mindful of the specific microclimates in your space and shield the tree from strong winds and extreme temperatures, especially during frosty periods, to prevent stress on the plant.

Rotate the container periodically to ensure that all sides of the citrus tree receive equal exposure to sunlight. This helps in maintaining balanced growth and uniform fruit development. If you’re worried the tree isn’t getting enough light, place reflective surfaces, such as light-colored walls or mirrors, strategically around the container.

Watering and Feeding

Even once they’re established, citrus trees will require more frequent watering and feeding than those planted directly in the ground. The amount of water your tree needs will depend on your climate, the soil, the container size, and how much sunlight the tree gets each day. 

Check the moisture level regularly and water when the top inch of the soil feels dry. Make sure you are watering the plant thoroughly and deeply, allowing water to drain freely from the bottom of the container to prevent waterlogging. 

small citrus tree in a terra cotta pot indoors
Photo source: Gardener’s Path

Use a balanced citrus fertilizer to provide essential nutrients. Home Depot usually these available but there are many other options if you want to try out different brands. Follow the recommended application rates and timing based on the variety of citrus tree you’re growing and the directions for the specific fertilizer you’re using. Apply fertilizer during the growing season for best results and delicious fruit!

Apply a layer of organic mulch around the base of the tree to retain soil moisture, suppress weeds, and regulate temperature. Mulching contributes to overall water conservation and supports a healthy root system.

Pruning and Maintenance

Some citrus trees grow quite quickly and will need regular pruning, while others are slower-growing. Make sure you prune your citrus tree as required, removing dead or diseased branches, and shaping your tree nicely as you go. 

Remove over-crowded branches for better sunlight penetration and airflow, improving your tree’s overall health. Wondering when to prune your tree? Get your shears out after harvest, so that you’re not missing out on any tasty fruit! Homes and Gardens has some great pruning tips if you’re looking for more detailed instructions.

various citrus trees growing in pots
Photo source: Getty Images

Other citrus tree maintenance includes removing any suckers or shoots emerging from the base of the tree, and re-applying mulch periodically to keep the weeds away and stop the soil from drying out so quickly. 

Winter Care for Citrus Trees

Depending on your climate, winter can be a tough time for citrus trees. If you live in an area where frosts are common in winter, you may need to move your citrus tree indoors or into your DIY greenhouse to protect your tree over the cooler months. 

Even if you don’t get frosts, make sure your citrus tree is protected from wind and heavy rain. Reduce your watering (or stop watering entirely) if the soil is constantly damp. If you do move your tree inside, make sure it’s still getting enough sunlight, and keep an eye out for pests that may thrive in an indoor environment. 

Harvesting Your Citrus

The best thing about having a citrus tree is that it doesn’t just look pretty on your balcony, it’s also an edible garden addition! Understand what to look for in ripe fruit, as it will vary from plant to plant. If you’re not sure, just harvest one fruit and see whether it’s ripe. Most citrus doesn’t continue to ripen once harvested, so wait until they’re fully ripe for the best flavor.

Photo source: Getty Images

Don’t pull the fruit off – use garden clippers or kitchen scissors. Clean them before and after use. Harvest fruit regularly to encourage your tree to keep producing. Most citrus fruit lasts pretty well after you harvest it, and should keep indoors for at least several weeks. You’ll be surprised how many fruits you can get from just one tree once it’s mature!

Grow Citrus Trees Even When Your Garden is Full! 

All you need is a sunny balcony to keep a citrus tree healthy and happy. Citrus trees are beautifully decorative, delightfully fragrant, and produce versatile, juicy fruit that you can use in 100 different ways. Even if you don’t have a lot of space, a citrus tree is a great addition to your home garden. Good luck! Want another fun container garden project? Try growing tomatoes in pots this summer! Then, be sure to check out how to grow mushrooms to really get your kitchen garden going! And don’t forget to plant some vegetables for a fall harvest– those are often my favorite!

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