How to grow citrus in pots
Citrus trees are made for the Aussie backyard, but if you don’t have a garden, can you still enjoy the delights of home-grown citrus? The answer is yes if you consider dwarf varieties and grow citrus in pots or large containers. More important than garden space is access to lots of sun and warmth, which are two very important ingredients for growing a happy and healthy potted citrus.
Selecting your trees
If you can provide full sun (that’s sun for at least six hours a day, but ideally sun from morning until early afternoon), select a citrus variety that’s grafted on dwarfing rootstock (usually ‘Flying Dragon’). Grafted citrus for pots include varieties of lemon, lime, mandarin and orange. Click here to see Flower Power's stocked varieties. Cumquats are also well suited to growing in pots and naturally form very decorative small potted trees.
Selecting your pots
When you decide to grow citrus in pots, the pots you choose need to be large enough. Large pots means pots that are at least 40cm in diameter with good root depth. While any pot with good drainage holes in its base will give dwarf citrus trees the space to grow, a glazed pot is an ideal choice as it has reduced water loss (especially compared to unglazed terracotta), can support the weight of a mature citrus and is long-lasting. Slightly elevate the pot by standing it on pot feet or on bricks. This helps water to drain from the base of the pot and also allows the gardener to check that drainage holes aren’t blocked by root growth as the plant matures.
Citrus trees need to be re-potted if they out grow their container, or when the potting mix in the container starts to slump as its bulk reduces. Re-potting is usually required every three years. Plants can be moved into a slightly larger pot if still growing, or replanted in the same pot with fresh potting mix. For more tips on repotting, this helpful article is a must-read.
To browse Flower Power's extensive range of outdoor pots, click here.
There are a few steps to follow when you choose to grow citrus in pots. At planting or when re-potting, fill the container with good-quality potting mix (Flower Power recommend Supersoil Professional Rose & Citrus Potting & Planting Mix) to ensure strong growth and good drainage, as citrus don’t tolerate poorly drained conditions. Always plant the citrus at the same depth that the tree was growing in its original pot.
Citrus do have very particular growing needs but, if these are catered to, they are trouble-free trees. Citrus can be planted throughout the year, but are plentiful in autumn and winter making this a good time of year to buy.
Don’t skimp on watering, especially when the trees are first planted and when they are forming fruit. Plants growing in pots tend to dry out faster than the same plant growing in soil, so it is vital to check the potting mix and water if it is starting to dry out. Plants dry out quickly in hot or windy weather. Regular watering is also important when the tree is in flower or forming fruit.
A thin layer of organic mulch such as sugar cane mulch spread over the surface of the potting mix helps to keep the potting mix moist and cool.
Pruning is not required to produce fruiting wood, but citrus can be pruned to remove dead growth, create a more bushy shape, which may be desirable for a potted plant, and to thin fruit if the crop is too heavy. Young trees may not have a strong enough branch structure to support lots of fruit, so it may be necessary to remove a lot of the crop in the first year or so after planting. If pruning is needed, prune in spring. For advice on pruning, read this article.
Keep trees growing strongly with regular applications of fertiliser (we recommend Neutrog Gyganic for Fruit and Citrus). These are timed just before flowering at the end of winter (usually August) and again in late summer (usually February) for citrus growing in the ground. For containerised plants, use a slow-release product or spread out the recommended dose in small monthly applications. Always apply fertiliser to moist soil and water well after the fertiliser is applied. For a year-round citrus care guide tailored to Sydney gardens, click here.
To combat citrus leaf miner during the growing season, Flower Power recommends Success Ultra. Potted plants can also be prone to scale. Check branches and leaves for any sign of scale and treat with horticultural oil (such as PestOil). Ants climbing on the trunk and branches are indicators of scale pests. You can also apply horticultural oil regularly during winter to reduce the numbers of summer bugs such as stink bugs. For more on the pest and disease problems of citrus see this helpful advice.