Citrus plant

Growing citrus in pots: 8 simple steps

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Though growing citrus in pots in the north isn’t easy, it is very rewarding. Imagine harvesting your own Meyer lemons, Bearss limes, and Satsuma or Calamondin oranges! Yes, they require a bit of care, but indoor citrus is oh so worth it. And here’s the kicker: Even if you never manage to harvest a single fruit, citrus plants are worth growing simply for their amazingly fragranced flowers and beautiful, glossy foliage.

To grow gorgeous citrus plants of your own, follow these steps. 

8 steps to growing citrus in pots

Step 1: Start with the right variety. The citrus varieties I mentioned above are particularly suited to container culture because they don’t grow as large as some of the other choices. Source a mature or semi-mature plant from a greenhouse that specializes in citrus. Online companies will ship directly to your door. Do not purchase a plant that’s already in flower or bearing fruit. If you do, all the flowers and fruit will probably drop as the plant acclimates to its new location.

Step 2: Location, location, location. The biggest mistake folks make when growing citrus in pots indoors is not giving it enough light during the winter months. Choose a very bright room and keep the plant away from doors that open frequently, or use a grow light like this one. You’ll also want to keep it away from heat registers.

Step 3: Regularly water. Citrus like consistent moisture. Prolonged dryness can lead to bud, flower, and fruit drop. However, don’t go over-board on the water. Too much can cause the leaves to wilt and turn yellow. Water your citrus plant in the sink if possible. Let the water flush through the pot, and then allow the soil to fully drain. Be sure the base of the pot is never sitting in water.

Step 4: Play pollinator. Citrus tend to bloom in the winter, when the plant is inside and no insects are available to pollinate the flowers. If your plant comes into flower while it’s indoors, use an electric pollination tool to move the pollen from flower to flower on each plant. This necessary step is often skipped by those new to growing citrus in pots.

Step 5: Give it some summer lovin’. During the summer months, move your citrus plant outdoors, onto a patio or deck. Position the pot so that it receives morning sun until about one in the afternoon. You’ll want the plant to be in the shade during the hottest part of the afternoon to avoid leaf scald and heat stress. Keep it regularly watered and avoid allowing it to completely dry out.

Step 6: Fertilize. During the growing season only (from late March thru early August), fertilize your citrus plant with a liquid, organic fertilizer – such as liquid kelp, seaweed, or fish emulsion – or an organic granular fertilizer every two to three weeks. Do not fertilize in the winter when new growth should not be encouraged. You may also want to use a small amount of organic granular fertilizer in late March to encourage new growth at the start of the season.

Step 7: Don’t panic! It helps to be aware that, like many other tropical plants, citrus will often drop many or even all of their leaves when moved either outdoors at the start of the season or indoors at the end. This leaf drop is natural. It’s the plant’s way of adjusting to different light levels. New leaves will develop that are better suited to the new light levels. Just give the plant time.

Step 8: Move it back inside. In the fall, when nighttime temperatures drop into the 50’s, it’s time to move your citrus plant back indoors. Again, select the brightest location possible and be careful to avoid cold drafts.

Here’s a great little video with more tips on growing citrus in pots. 

Growing citrus in pots is easier than you think. What type of citrus would you like to grow? 

Pin it! These 8 steps for growing citrus in pots are surprisingly easy.

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12 Responses to Growing citrus in pots: 8 simple steps

  1. Citrus says:

    I love growing citrus trees. The ones we get are grafted and grow quickly giving lots of fruit.

  2. Merthin says:

    I think it would be better if there were more illustration. However, great post!
    Thanks for sharing.

  3. Andy Wright says:

    Great ideas. What plants can I plant next to my citrus tree that will be complementary?

  4. Monica says:

    Which of your diy soil mix recipes would you use for citrus?

  5. Alison says:

    What size pot? In centimetres diameter and depth?
    I’m getting a kumquat, and Key lime, and Meyer lemon. They are grafted and 1metre high.

    • I would suggest a minimum of 18 inches in diameter, with a depth of at least 18 inches. As the trees grow, you’ll have to put them up into larger pots every few years.

  6. Paula Brown says:

    I’m wondering if the miracle grow potting soil will hurt my lemon tree. I’m waiting to plant because I’m afraid of harming it. The soils I bought has feeding for 6-8 months this is my first citrus plant. I will grow in pot

    • It shouldn’t “hurt” your lemon tree, but do be aware that the fertilizers used in that brand of potting soil are derived from synthetic chemicals, something many gardeners avoid, especially when growing food plants.

  7. Darren Gurr says:

    My mandarin tree in a large half barrel has minimal leaves but lots of flowers no fruit. Seems to be under stress. Top soil was going white when drying, water twice a week. Any ideas why it seems to doing poorly and treatment?

    • A white crust on top of the soil usually indicates a build-up of fertilizer salts in the soil. Limit your fertilization to the summer months only and be sure when you water that at least 20% of the water that goes into the top of the pot drains out the bottom. This helps flush out excess fertilizer salts.

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