PERFECTING YOUR SOIL AND PLANTING STYLE
Images of potted Citrus can steer you toward big pots, but start small instead. Extra soil around trees complicates moisture control, so work your way up in pot size as trees grow. For small trees, an 8-inch-diameter container — nurseries call a two-gallon pot — is perfect for starters. Mature trees will need pots double that width and at least 16 inches deep. This gives roots growing room and prevents top-heavy trees.
Consider weight and movability, as well as beauty, when selecting your pot. Ensure pot has a tapered side wall, this eases removal of plant when time is right to upsize. Any pot material works, as long as there are ample drainage holes in the bottom. Earthenware allows helpful air movement through the sides, but larger pots can
be heavy when planted. Placing a wheeled plant dolly underneath simplifies handling and moving trees. Lightweight resin or fiberglass planters offer good alternatives. Note: container must be impervious to light.
Pair pots with firm, deep saucers to prevent accidental spills. Avoid dark colours as they can absorb sun and generate heat. Citrus like cool roots, so ensure shade for the container. Citrus trees prefer their soil evenly moist and never soggy. Soil that stays too dry or too wet spells trouble. Commercial potting mixes labelled for cactus, palms and citrus provide a good balance of ingredients to retain moisture, yet drain freely and quickly.
Citrus roots need air, so planting depth is important. The area where the tree trunk starts to flare out at its base should always be slightly exposed. When replanting, firm the soil underneath, so you can accurately judge your planting level. As you fill your pot, leave plenty of room at the top for watering. Give your citrus a post-planting boost with a suitable Tomato or Citrus food to prevent transplant shock and deliver special micro-nutrients that help roots get established.
CARING FOR CONTAINER CITRUS YEAR-ROUND
With the right soil and container, citrus trees aren’t that different from other houseplants — except for fragrant blossoms and fruit, of course. Provide these simple needs, and reap the rewards:
•Light: Citrus needs at least six to eight hours of bright, daily light— more is better. Placing trees near southern or southwest windows works well. For every foot away from double glazed windows the usable light level/intensity drops by 20% so near means close. Remember, natural light shifts with the seasons, so adjust accordingly. If you’re short on sunlight, grow lights can make up the difference.
•Water: Never let pots dry out completely, but avoid over-watering. Allow the soil to dry about two to three inches deep, and then water thoroughly so water runs through the drainage holes. Never leave standing in water. During active spring and summer growth, containers may need water daily. In winter, water just enough to keep soil moist.
•Fertilizer: Citrus trees need regular feeding of NPK plus essential trace nutrients. Needs increase as trees mature. Because of the extra watering containers need, fertilizers can leach away. A suitable Tomato or Citrus food used at planting and for ongoing feedings, provides the special nutrients citrus trees need. Limit fertilizer during fall and winter as growth slows. As you see new growth starting begin feeding to encourage strong blossoms and growth.
•Pollination: As Citrus often blossom ‘inside’ you will need to be the ‘Bee’. This is best done on a bright sunny day, about midday. This is when the pollen is nice and dry and the style is ‘sticky’ and ready to have pollen
deposited. A simple small artist brush is all that is needed. Just stroke one blossom to pickup pollen and stroke the next to leave some behind. Keep going until all have been stroked, all types that are in blossom at that time. Always finish where you start to ensure all are done.
•Pruning: Regular pruning helps limit tree size and promotes bigger, better fruit. Don’t be shy about pruning — just wait until trees flower and set fruit, so you don’t accidentally prune away your treats. Trim off thorns and any roots or shoots that form near the soil. Strong vertical shoots are known as ‘water shoots’, these should be removed as close to their development as possible.
•Temperature: Normal household temperatures suit citrus fine, and most withstand brief, near-freezing cold. However, avoid placing your tree near drafts or heating and air conditioning ducts. Container citrus can summer outside, but keep them inside until frost danger passes in spring. Then move them gradually, so they acclimate over several weeks, or they may drop their ripening fruit. Use a daytime temp of 15’C as a guide. Move them back inside before fall frost strikes.
•Pests: When trees summer outside, pests can seize the opportunity and even hitch a ride into your home come fall. If pests strike outdoors it is easier to treat before bringing in. Have a plan to check over your plants
every two weeks. Found early, is treated early and usually quickly. With container citrus trees in your home, you’ll enjoy the sweet fragrance of late winter citrus blossoms. By the time winter rolls around again, you’ll be feasting on fruit. When fragrance fills the house and fresh fruit hits the table, you’ll be glad you gave container citrus a try.