Do you have citrus planted in pots? Are you concerned that they are not getting enough nutrients or water?
I have grown citrus in pots since I first started food gardening in 2007, I have accumulated quite a few tips for growing citrus in pots. I have had quite successful crops over the years, and am not having too many problems.
Lindsay from the very informative blog, treadingmyownpath.com asked me via email about nutrients, pots types, and soil amendments.
I’d love your thought on fruit trees in containers. I moved two weeks ago and finally have a balcony, so have bought some fruit trees and pots to get it all started. Now my experience of growing is in the UK but now I live in Perth WA – two very different climates! So I’d like to hear what you did, please. Did you just drill holes in the pots, stick the trees in with some soil and pretty much leave them to it? Do you fertilise – if so how often?
I have a Eureka lemon and a Tahitian lime, and two half wine barrels to plant in, and I’ve bought some decent soil and manure. The guy at the shop reckons I should be adding something to the soil every 8 weeks but I don’t really have the budget or the space for a ton of soil amendments! So if you could tell me what you do and your yield (estimated if you don’t know) that would be helpful! Also, how do you find watering them in summer? Do you use retic or water by hand?
Sorry for such a long question! Any advice appreciated! : )\
Well Lindsay, thanks for your question.
Citrus trees grown in pots are pretty easy to look after. As you live in Perth, then probably best to keep them in the barrels as the soil is fairly sandy and doesn’t hold a lot of moisture. Similarly, here in Melton, I plant in pots because our soil is rock hard clay.
I fertilise once every quarter (3 months) with a handful of blood and bone, and half a about a quarter of a cup of dolomite lime (for the calcium and magnesium), both scattered around the top of each pot. Then I water this in, and then add a thin layer of compost.
This keeps them fed for the three months. I kind of time it when they flower in spring, and fruit in late autumn.
Pots and Microclimates
The pots are about 48cm in diameter, and 55cm tall, which are glazed black. I figure that this keeps the root ball warm in winter and it is why I get such a great crop of lemonade, mandarins and limes. Four of the pots are located up against a wall running north and south, so it heats up during the day providing a sheltered and warmish microclimate for the citrus trees. The other four are around the swimming pool which provides heat in winter and additional reflected light.
These pots are fairly large with the soil coming about ¾ full (with the tree inside. This is so I can add the organic fertiliser and compost. There is also a hole in the bottom about 3cm in diameter. When I potted it up, I placed broken crock over the hole, added about 10cm of premium potting mix then placed the tree’s root ball on top. I then backfilled with more potting mix and watered in well.
I have four of the eight trees included in my irrigation system so this helps a lot during summer. However, I do find that I need to water at least once a day during the really hot weather (40°+) to keep them thriving. In winter, I water weekly to make sure they are moist.
Now here is a citrus secret that you won’t read everyday. I also add human urine to a 9 litre watering can (about 500 ml of wee), and give quarter of the watering can to each tree. On a good day, manage to get around to all 8 trees. They love the extra nitrogen and acidity of this liquid neutralises the alkalinity of the dolomite lime. I do this once a month.
If you ever have a problem with yellow leaves with green veins through the leaf especially on new growth, but the soil is moist, the tree has an iron deficiency. The soil is too alkaline and the tree cannot take up iron from the soil. You need to add iron chelate, or do what I do and place rusty nails in each pot. These also add iron to the soil over time. I don’t normally get this issue due to watering with the wee solution each month.
Look carefully for mottling on the leaves of plants because this is an indication of magnesium deficiency, which is really common in Australia. The easiest solution is to get some Epsom salts (Magnesium sulfate). Take half a litre of water, and put in half a teaspoon of Epsom salts, then shake and stir. Either water it on plants or you can foliar spray it. The mottling will go after a week or two.
Another issue to look for is yellowing of the leaves. Yellowing does occur naturally in winter, however if you see it in summer then it is a potassium deficiency. When you buy the blood and bone make sure it has added potassium (potash) and you shouldn’t get this problem. However, if you do see it, correct it with adding soluble potash; use half a teaspoonful in 4.5 litres of water, stir that thoroughly and apply it at the roots. Do this every two weeks until the leaves regain their colour.
After about 3 years of loving care you should see fruit appear in abundance. If fruit tries to set in the first two years, I would highly recommend knocking it off just after it has set. The tree needs to grow strong before it can handle the task of growing fruit and is usually able to handle a full crop of delicious fruit after about 3 years of growth.
I do keep our trees under 2.5 metres with light pruning after the harvest.
Depending on the tree, I usually get more fruit than I can eat and find that we even give some away after a few weeks.
Hopefully this post has answered all the questions, and now all readers who live in temperate climates will be able to grow this fantastic source of vitamin C.
If anyone has any other tips for growing citrus in pots, feel free to leave a comment. The more tips the better!
Lots of great tips Gav. Ive got a few amendments to do. Thanks.
Gavin Webber says
No problems Lynda. Hopefully your trees will thrive!
After years of growing everything out of pots I have to now convert my thinking to growing from land. We will be planting more citrus in Spring so I appreciate your post. Thanks Gav
thank you for your very informative post. I too have a eureka lemon and a tahitian lime.
Erin / The Rogue Ginger says
Fantastic info Gavin. I bought my boyfriend a Myer lemon this time last year. It is doing well but I have a feeling the pot may be a little small. I have noticed there have been yellow leaves so I will add some of your suggested nutrients just in case it is not the cool weather here in Melbourne. We are considering mandarins too.
Thank you again , lots of helpful information, I defiantly agree with your comment about knocking the fruit of the tree if it is still young, and if the tree is still quite young and carrying too much fruit you need to remove half the fruit so the tree does not die.
I have a Meyer lemon that is about 4 years old, and I removed 52 lemons of it at the start of this season ( yes I counted them ) which was half the crop, because the tree was dying, it took me a few weeks to realize what was wrong with it at first, I was reluctant to remove the fruit but with in a few days it started to perk up again, I still have enough fruit on the tree for us, and the fruit it makes the best lemonade.
Lindsay (treadingmyownpath) says
You answered my question! Awesome : ) (Not that I doubted that you’d answer for a minute, Gavin!) Oh and I’m very flattered you put a link to my blog too, thank you.
I’ve heard about the peeing on lemon trees, but I’ve never received instructions so thanks for that – that’s one soil amendment I’m happy to add!
Seeing your trees look so great in those big pots is reassuring. Having just come from the nursery, my trees are pretty healthy right now but it’s good to know what to add later on. I like your trick with the rusty nails too.
Thanks so much for the informative answer! Such service! : p
Great post I have a small boy who pees in my pots. When my leaves yellow a bit I just throw a handful on epsom salts around the root line and also use citrus feeder 2-3 times a year. Mx
Great post Gavin! I too have been growing Citrus in pots for years – particularly in my part of the world, manoeuvring them into better sun position is very important, so pots are the natural choice. I wrote a whole series on my own experience of growing citrus in pots on the blog, including some more obscure ones like Finger Limes if you’re interested! http://bit.ly/1pKlnmD
Gavin Webber says
Thanks for the link Kathy. A good resource.
Pam Matheny says
Gavin I have a 2 yr old Meyer Lemon and I left home for 5 days and the fruit shrunk, leaves are curling and the lemons look like they might fall off. I had one lemon last yr and 20 this yr. I am really worried about it. I live in southern Alabama. I need help when I left it was gorgeous and it is on an sprinkler system. Please help save
Gavin Webber says
Hi Pam. Usually citrus goes into shock when it doesn’t get enough water, but that doesn’t seem to be the case? I had a mandarin drop all its leaves after I neglected it by mistake and it grew all its leaves back and is now quite healthy. All I did to help it recover was keep the soil in the pot moist and gave it some organic fertilizer.
Hope that helps
Hi Gavin just read your post for citrus, in pots I have a Myer lemon and a key lime , will be very helpful to me, I live in Ontario Canada not really citrus country thanks
Thanks Gav, very useful.
Two questions, if I may. Firstly what is the best time to pot on a Meyer lemon? And secondly, does Blood and Bone provide enough potassium?
Gavin Webber says
Hi Vincent, anytime is the right time to plant a lemon tree. Most blood and bone fertilizer is balanced now. Just check the bag for details on the composition.
thanks, Gavin, such a great article. Do you have to grow dwarf citrus or normal standard sizes are also fine?
Jonathan Cox says
I have found adding organics and compost on top of the soil in pots clogs up the air spaces in the potting mix and then you end up with wet feet……….I use troforte fruit and citrus which is a slow release fert with beneficial microbes and minerals…….the best fert for pots is an npk of 5 to 1 to 3 plus trace elements…I also grow in terracotta pots so the roots can breathe…..i thought it might be a problem with the perth heat but its not……….
For the iron……I just sprinkle multicrop slug pellets around my plants when its wet……..they are made of iron oxide which kills the slugs and slowly breaks down to provide iron…….i use on the pots and inground……..I feed pots with fish emulsion and seaweed and mulch with lucerne…….I foliar feed with fish emulsion/seaweed and eco oil every two weeks during growth to feed and protect from leafminer…..for inground……..I apply a big spread or organic compost around the tree in late July ….then trofote fruit and citrus and then the lucerne on top of that…..they love it….to kick it off…i water with seaweed solution to get the roots going…….then do the same in autumn….Dont feed with poultry manure when flowering and this encourages flower and fruit drop.
The combo of fish emulsion/seaweed and eco oil is a ripper……spray that moderately in spring and more often in summer and autumn and you will see the benefit……feed with sulphate of potash and epsom salts near rippening to make the fruits sweeter !
Jonathan Cox says
Pam…waer it with seaweed solution and it might well give it the boost it needs…..the top of the plant is a reflection of whats going on beneath the ground……..citrus grow in stages too…..they do root growth/top growth/root growth/top growth etc etc………be nice to the roots and you will see the results !
I purchased this Lemonade tree about 6 months ago and it’s been growing perfectly. I’m just wondering if I need to prune this tree to shape it and help it to support the fruit once they start to appear.
I have two main branches, one splits off about half way up into about 3 separate stems, the other is a really long single stem, which is now taller than the rest of the tree.
Do I need to chop the long single stem to allow it to split into multiple separate stems?
Or should I just leave this young tree to do its own thing?
I was going to leave a picture but can’t figure out how to do it…
Jonathan Cox says
Hi Mel……Vertical branches are often called water shoots…..they are best removed but if you only have two branches…..it doesnt sound like a good idea………I just prune mine with shears……Try to form an upside down pear shape……..I deally you want to form a Y shape with 3 or 4 main branches…….You dont want branches to get too long…….Good to prune to an outward facing bud………Its a good time of the year to prune right now….Pity i dont see a pic……..I spent the whole day pruning my friends 6 citrus trees the other day……they are big buggers as well…….I tend to prune the same way i do mangos…….:Let each branch grow about half a metre then cut its tip as above…..this encourages more branches……..You need to form the canopy and get the Y shape……its still possible with the two branches but 3 or 4 would have been better……you could hang a ball sinker on the end of that vertical shoot to encourage it to weep over……leave it for a week or so………then prune both branches back to the same length…1 cm above and outward facing bud……….then leave it be……..In mid august spread your feed out around the drip line and another metre out………do not put feed directly above the roots….make the roots search for the feed……they have surface feeder roots…….Rich grow fruit and citrus from bunnings is very good…….if its a young tree ….one handful sprinkled over the surface……..then cover with rich gro organic compost but leave it all 10cm from the trunk……….water in well……..the compost hides the food from the birds and you have a mix of organic and chemical ferts……….In about 2 weeks from then…….your trees will go nuts with new growth………Dont let any branch grow longer than half a metre….then cut the tip off…….keep doing that and any branch that grows in towards the tree or vertically……remove…….keep the centre of the tree open to light and air……then every month…..give it a light sprinkle of that “Rich gro fruit and citrus”……..Dont go mad with it and water in straight away………If you have a small tree with not much canopy …..You will need to remove all fruits this year….sorry but you need the tree to size up and get strong enough to support fruit……If you can do that(which is not easy!)….You will reap the rewards the following year (big time)…….Just watch out for the citrus leafminer through summer and autumn……they tunnel through the leaves and ruin new growth….You need to spray with neem every week to 10 days….from spring time……..they are very hard to control….remove leaves infected with it and bin it immediately………Spring is
the most important feed time………a sprinkling of epsom salts with the above feed in spring is good too and when you have fruits rippening….it helps them to sweeten but i strongly suggest you build the shape and strength of that tree this coming year and spring 2018 you could let it produce a few fruit …Not too many……..Its general practice to leave fruit trees 3 years before you let them fruit !……….But man its tempting……By the way I dont work for rich gro !!! hahaha…..its just cheap and does a good job(from bunnings)….That food produces big fruit but little and often is better than a whole load at once….Good luck.
Jonathan Cox says
If you can…stick a pic up and i will tell you what to do……..the tree needs to be balanced/even…….I have been ruthless with some trees and they just get annoyed an go nuts….be careful……everything likes to eat lemon and lemonade leaves….they must taste really good.
I just bought a meyer lemon and key lime in the same pot at lowes. They call it a cocktail tree, marketing im sure. It is 2 different trees. Im almost sure it is a good idea to seperate them when i pot them but will that kill them? Or are the roots already tangled probably?
Jonathan Cox says
Its not a double grated tree is it?………one stem but two different sides ….with lime on one side and lemon on the other…….or are there two seperate trees in one pot?
Thank you so much for trying to help me. The thought of killing my new trees hurts my heart. When i was at lowes i meant to pick up the meyer lemon by itself. When i got to the register i realized my mistake but thought i got both the trees i wanted so i purchased it anyways. Then on the way home i thought of all the problems that were potential. Im almost sure its 2 different trees in one pot planted within 1.5 in of eachother that are suposed to grow together? Its called a cocktail tree. Theres more info on mycitrustree.com.But i dont understand the chart. I new to citrus. Also i plant to plant it in a pot. I live in north carolina. What size pot should i go with? And potting medium? I read about root trimming in the future and that kinda intimidates me. Haha
Thanks for your help and time
Jonathan Cox says
first of all…..lift your pot and see i roots are coming out of the bottom….if they are…you need to pot up to a pot 2 to 4 inches bigger all around….dont go too big too soon…….use a premium potting mix…..it must drain well……dont add any food to it……put 2 to 4 inches into the pot….then remove tree from old pot…tease the roots a bit and themn place at the same height in new pot……firm down mix gently…removing air pockets….water lightly….then 15 mins later water with weak seaweed solution…place in shade for 2 weeks to recover…..do not feed until you see new growth………remove all fruit for the first two years……allow tree to develop strong framework……prune branches in late winter…….either feed with slow release fert like osmoocote…….or liquid feed during spring/summer /autumn…….they need high nitrogen in spring…..I will have a look at that link you provided…i grow heaps in pots and i prefer terracota.(roots can breathe)……dont over water……..get a moisture meter or use a chopstick….push down near roots……infrequent waterings are best…..allow to dry out a bit……more citrus die from over watering than anything else…..put on pot feet….so water can drain away…dont let sit in saucer of water.
Jonathan Cox says
They are multi grafted ….like i said…..3 to 6 varities……..they are basciaclly scions(branches) from individual trees that are grafted onto a root stock……I have one here…..one half grows mandarin and the other half grows orange……you can multi graft them…..avocados as well…….just try to keep it an even shape that all……..and follow the instructions i wrote above and the tree should get more established.
Jonathan Cox says
They are two seperate trees together…….just checked……..it would do more harm than good to try to sepearte them.
Thank you so much for your help i ran my finger a little ways under the dirt yesterday in between the two and i didnt find anywhere the two branches met so its deffinatley two different trees. I hope they will be ok in the future when they get bigger. Im worried that one may take all the nutrients. Again thanks for your help and time.
Jonathan Cox says
Just prune them to keep them even……I have a “Splitzer” which two different varietes grafted onto one root stock….sometimes the one variety can become more vigorous than the other……..try to form a good shape too let air and light into the centre and let them get well established before you let them fruit……Siamese citrus trees !~
Julie Chambers says
Have a lemon tree in a pot grown from a seed fron a seed of a grocery store lemon. Its a couple years old. Slow growing. Im lost, but its sill alive. I libe in Virginia. I keep it indoors during winter in a bsy window, outside during spring untill calling for 50’s at night. It’s big enough now I need help. Wish i know how to add photo?
TREE TRIMING says
Hi TARA NOLAN,
The excellent informative post you have shared on this page about the pruning prunes hand vs mechanical pruning because the Prune trees are pruned to thin fruit wood, improve fruit size, reduce alternate bearing and control tree size and shape. Selective hand pruning with ladders and loppers, one of the most expensive cultural practices, has long been thought best because the selectivity cannot be matched by mechanical pruning. Previous studies of mechanical pruning have shown pruning severely enough to achieve equal fruit size and value per ton as hand pruned treatments resulted in reduced yield. Increasing labor costs and new developments in mechanical pruning equipment have increased interest in pruning strategies that incorporate cost effective mechanical pruning strategies.
Hello! This article is very informative. Thank you for being generous enough to share your knowledge on growing citrus such as grapefruits. Just thought it would be better if you also included its health benefits so that people will become more aware of its favorable effects to health. I discussed this on an in-depth post, and if you agree with me, you’re free to use my article as a source: https://karmaeating.com/blogs/healthy-food/grapefruit-the-ultimate-health-guide More power!
Hazel Smith says
Very informative post. Thanks for sharing.
Jose D Ortiz III says
You shouldn’t add anything to your soil until you have performed a soil test. They are extremely easy to do. You buy distilled water ($2) and a soil test kit that comes with four capsules and four tubes. Follow the directions closely, and you won’t have to do any guess work which more likely than not will hurt your tree. Only then can you have an informed position from which to amend your soil.
rohit aggarwal says
thank you for giving me wonderful information