Growing Citrus Trees In Containers

Citrus trees can survive and produce fruit pretty much anywhere in the world providing they are in containers and taken indoors when the weather is cold.

While known to be relatively easy growing plants both indoors or outdoors, citrus requires attention, prompt correction, and a knowledgeable caretaker if they are to thrive from their youth into adulthood.  With adequate sunlight, regular watering, and occasional feeding, your citrus trees will manage just fine.

Container-grown citrus offers a number of opportunities to develop automated systems to shore up your free time for other activities. You can experience the joy of growing both indoors and outdoors with your potted plants. Of course, you could always keep them indoors all-year-round if you so choose.

You’ll need to set reasonable expectations. The species, age, and overall health of the tree in addition to environmental conditions all are important factors in setting those expectations. A less than well-informed person may have wild, dream-like fascinations of bountiful harvests and everblooming trees. In reality, most trees folks purchase are adolescent and will take years before producing a substantial crop of respectably-sized fruit. Some will take multiple years to even bloom, depending on age.

To make a decision on what citrus varieties to purchase check out my article on what, where, and when should I buy.

Citrus trees outdoors in the Midwest

Benefits of Citrus Trees in Containers

Citrus in containers does not grow nearly as tall or bushy as planted trees outdoors. You can further refine their shape by pruning them to fit a space. If indoors, they can be pruned at any time.

Traditionally, citrus trees were primarily grown as ornamental plants, not for fruit. In the stark and sometimes grim-feeling days of winter, the sight of a citrus tree can cheer you right up. A collection of specimens can even make you forget it’s winter outside!

During these short days, you’ll reap the literal fruits of your labor.  Everblooming lime and lemon varieties will bloom radiating a pleasant fragrance throughout your home.

Moreover, these now houseplants will be purifying your air. Sometimes you really can’t tell how poor the indoor air quality is when you’re hunkered down with little to no outside airflow.

Controls for plant growth via automation are not only feasible but reasonably priced accompanying a surmountable tech skill gap. Improving and extending upon automation systems is a fun winter hobby too.

You’ll also have the ability to a fine-tune soil composition with your preferred materials and proportions of those materials. If planted outdoors, you pretty much have to live with whatever the soil composition is extending out to the drip line.

Container holding a citrus tree with cedar wood chips used as mulch. This is a 10 gallon pot.

Growing Citrus Outdoors in Pots

Compared to growing indoors, there are two additional factors unique to the outdoors: watering and pests. In contrast to our dry winters, Minnesota’s summers are very humid and in some years quite hot. With heavy rainfall in the spring and sometimes throughout the summer, you’ll want to be able to move your citrus trees to an area where the rain can’t reach them. This may be more difficult for some people than others.

Keep in mind that constantly moving citrus trees back and forth is stressful. It’s not like being transported in a container is a natural occurrence for a citrus tree or any tree for that matter. When you do move them consider using a hand truck to reduce the overall movement of the tree. Remember to place the tree on the flat ground.

Understanding the Natural Watering Cycle of your Outdoor Climate

In Minnesota, April through June usually experiences heavy rainfall.  During this period, it’s important to know how to reduce soil moisture. I have an overhang on my garage I move the trees under so little to no rain can wet the soil.  Certain trees, like my Clementine, have a harder time dealing with periods of frequent, heavy rainfall. You’ll notice the leaves on this tree turn from yellow to dark brown when overwatering occurs.

The species, age of the tree, and pot drainage all factor into how much rainfall the tree can handle without getting upset.  If a plant tends to be very sensitive to watering, you should consider repotting it with more sandy soil. Also be sure to inspect the roots. Should there be root rot you’ll want to take care of that as part of the transplant procedure.

Typically around mid-August, we experience a drought. Our cities limit our outdoor watering to every other day to conserve our water supply.  You’ll need to water more frequently than earlier in the summer during dry spells.  Get out the hose and soak the soil. Try using a nozzle setting that won’t blast the topsoil and expose the roots. Alternatively, I prefer using a watering can.