Caring for Container Citrus

The palace of Versailles is well known to have had spectacular displays of potted citrus trees in its gardens, a sure showing of opulence and luxury during the reign of the monarchs. During the winter months, these potted plants were removed from the Orangerie garden and stored indoors. You can bring a bit of Versailles to your home this winter with some basic knowledge about caring for this unique potted plant.

Watering

  • Ideal watering is slow and deep. Overwatering or incorrect watering is often the reason for citrus plants dying.

  • Allow to dry out between waterings and try to remember to water deeply and infrequently. Roots will rot quickly if left in standing water.

  • Decorative mulch like pebbles or tree bark can help reduce evaporation from the roots.

Light and Temperature

  • Citrus likes a lot of light, so it will do best in a south-facing room with good airflow. Set up a little fan to create a little indoor breeze if airflow is a problem.

  • Avoid drafts and large swings in temperature or drafts. Dwarf citrus will do best in a large household temperature range of 55°F to 85°F.

  • Bring your potted citrus outdoors in the spring, after danger of frost has passed, where it will be happiest.

Fertilizing and Soil

  • Fertilize monthly with a nitrogen-heavy formulation for acid-loving plants in the spring and summer.

  • Feed every other month in fall and winter.

  • Use slightly acidic, well-drained soil. Most garden centers sell citrus-specific potting mix.

Pollinating

  • The flower contains both male and female parts. When the stigma is sticky, it is ready to receive pollen.

  • During citrus blossom season, try hand pollination. If the tree is indoors, use a feather or paintbrush to get pollen into the stigma of the citrus flowers. Act like a little bee going from blossom to blossom as this will encourage a fruit set indoors.

Pruning

  • Citrus trees are naturally a bush and need little or no pruning. Wait to prune if you like until after danger of frost in the spring. Do not prune in the summer when your tree can live outdoors, because the tree will be more susceptible to disease and sunburn.

Harvesting

  • Citrus trees can produce anywhere from one to a thousand pounds of fruit per season.

  • Smaller, more acidic varieties like limes and kumquats are more likely to produce indoors, as opposed to grapefruits.

  • Citrus trees can be adapted for the region they are planted through grafting. A citrus “scion” is grafted onto a “root stock” which is hardy for a particular region and well-adapted to grow.

  • Citrus will only ripen on the tree, so test the readiness by feeling the fruit and when it has a little give when you press on it, it is ready to pick.

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