Repotting Citrus Trees

Why Transplant a Citrus Tree?

Once the roots are sticking out of the drain holes of the pot, you’ll want to repot your tree. Citrus trees tend to perform best when there is a little bit of room in the pot for roots to expand, but not so much as to require years to fill out. Over years of being in the same pot, roots may feel constricted and show warning signs such nutriental deficiencies and leaf drop. As a general rule of thumb, you should repot every 2 years up to about age 7.

Fruit production is impacted by pot size.

When Should I Repot?

Repotting ideally should take place right before the growth phase in the Spring. If you are receiving a tree from a nursery or other channel the pot may be insufficient. Let the tree acclimate to your environment over the course of a couple weeks then transplant it into a more suitable pot size. Trying buying multiple pots of the same size to save money.  You’ ll always be able to reuse them later and the price of a pot will only increase through time. Therefore, buying more now will save you money down the road assuming you plan on expanding your tree count.

Pot Sizes

Recommended pot sizes by age of tree

Age of Tree Pot Size Shopping Link
2-3 years old 5 gallon 5 Gallon Pot Pack
4-5 years old 10 gallon 10 Gallon Pot Pack
6-7 years old 15 gallon, maybe 20 gallon 15 Gallon Pot Pack
8-9 years old Use your best judgment. Pot size depends on species and health of tree at this point. Common sense dictates that trees which grow larger and/or are healthier will probably need a larger pot compared to naturally shorter height trees or unhealthy trees of the same age. Half Whiskey Barrel Planter

Soil Composition

There is no ‘right’ soil composition for your citrus trees. That being said, there are some that seem to work better and cause less issues than others. A couple important considerations are drainage and having a supply of nitrogen beyond your fertilizer applications throughout the year. If you spend the time to browse around the internet and read enough articles, you’ll find wide-ranging examples of successful compositions.


A couple of materials that aid in drainage are sand and perlite. Folks that are really into soil have their own way of classifying it and their own equipment breaking it up to analyze what the soil is made up of. For our purposes, know that soil is may up of varying degrees of sand, clay, and silt.

Sand is the key to well-draining soil. Clay alone, on the other hand, restricts the flow of water due to low permeability and would be a terrible material if used by itself. It would cause your tree’s roots to be waterlogged, rot, and eventually, kill your tree. At a nursery, home improvement store, or hardware store you will find ‘paver sand’. This type of sand will include those refined little brown pellets that most people call sand as well as some small rocks. I like to remove the rocks and save them for a different purpose.

Perlite has two advantages, it drains well but also can do a better good job of holding nutrients that would otherwise leach out of the soil as watering occurs.

Beyond your soil mixture, you can drill holes into your pot for better drainage. If water tends to sit in the pot’s tray for a long period of time that can also be an issue as the roots at the bottom of the container can be become waterlogged and begin to rot. On some of my trees, I elevate the pot up off the tray with small rocks taken out of my paver sand. The other approach is to discard the tray or saucer and use a tripod or something similar to rest the pot on top of. In this way, there is no chance of sitting water. However, this may not be the best approach for indoors.

Potting Soil

Avoid soil with wetting agents. I use Miracle-Gro Organic and Natural Potting Soil. This product is widely available at hardware stores, nurseries, and through online channels. This includes worm castings and some other good ingredients that’ll make your plant’s adjustment to its new container a little bit easier.


You’ll want some material that will break down and provide a recurring source of nutrients, particularly nitrogen, beyond your feeding schedule. Some people use manure, a great many use some sort of wood shavings. Living in a city and being a renter, I really didn’t have access to some recently mulched tree in my backyard, so I went to the pet store and picked up a big ole bag of cedar wood chips. Avoid pine wood chips as they break down very quickly.  Wood chips also have the advantage of significantly reducing the number of weeds that sprout up in the container.

Step by Step Instructions

  1. Identify pot size needed
  2. Determine color. When the sun shines, not only do your trees warm up but so do their pots. Black absorbs the sunlight and therefore will warm the soil to the highest temperature compared to other colors. White pots, conversely, will produce the least amount of heat.  Black pots are the de facto pot color ironically but you can always sand, prime, and paint them to any color you so choose. This is an inexpensive procedure.
  3. Determine pot material. There are plenty of decorative pots, some are clay, ceramic, plastic or other material. Plastic is cheaper on average.
  4. Purchase the pot
  5. Have your tree and current pot and the new pot in the same working area. Don’t make extra work for yourself.
  6. Tip your current pot in a 45-degree angle with one hand and use the other hand to grab the base of the tree, as close to the soil as possible. Gripping higher will damage the tree. Tip the pot more so the angle between the height of the pot and the ground is more acute.  Depending on how damp the soil is, it may just slide out, otherwise use the hand wrapped around the base to loosen it up by wiggling it around a little and pulling up as a straight as possible through the opening.
  7. After your tree has been removed, check for root rot.
  8. Take the tree and ease it into the new, larger pot. You’ll need to fill the base in enough so that the tree rests at the right level. Scoop soil into the new pot until you get it just right.
  9. Make sure your tree is centered in the pot then fill in the rest with soil.  Compact the soil a little a bit but not too much. We don’t want to expose the roots to pockets of air.
  10. Water your newly planted tree. This sends a signal to the tree.