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Container-Grown Citrus Plants
Citrus trees can make very attractive container plants for those homeowners who have the space and the access to natural light indoors to support citrus growth or for those who need to move their plants inside occasionally to escape winter freezes. Of course, from the standpoint of size, the smaller members of the citrus family like limes, kumquats and calamondins are the best choices for houseplants but all citruses will adapt to containers until they reach a certain size. The following factors are most the most important to consider when growing citruses in containers:
The Container: The container must be large enough to give the citrus room to grow. Any material will do, really, from old wooden barrels to large planters available from your local garden center. However, if you are going to be moving your plant occasionally, weight is a consideration. Whatever container you choose, make sure that it has holes in the bottom to allow for drainage.
Light: All citruses require lots of sunlight to grow properly. However, you may wish to choose partial shade as opposed to full sunlight to slow the growth of your tree and acclimatize it if you plan to move it indoors from time to time. Make sure, though, to avoid subjecting your container citrus to lengthy periods of full shade as this will hamper its development.
Planting Your Container Citrus
Preparing the Container: After you have selected a container and are ready to plant, place a layer of mesh over the holes in the bottom to prevent soil from escaping while allowing drainage. Next, cover the mesh with one or two inches of gravel which will further aid drainage.
Planting Your Citrus
Partly fill the container with potting soil, place your tree in the center and continue adding soil until it is at the level at which the tree was originally planted, no higher. If you have chosen your container correctly, there should be a gap of a few inches between the surface of the soil and the lip of the container allowing you to water without overflow. If you like, you can add a layer of bark or mulching material on top of the soil.
Container Citrus Maintenance
Watering and Fertilizing: Try to avoid overwatering your citrus. A good rule of thumb is to allow the first inch of soil to dry between waterings. Water slowly until the soil is moist but not soggy. A good citrus-specific fertilizer should be used from time to time but do not over fertilize and follow the instructions carefully. Read more about fertilizing citrus trees.
Freezing: If your container citrus is generally left outside, keep a close watch on the weather forecast during the winter. Remember that container trees will freeze sooner than landscape-planted trees. While there are steps that you can take to protect your tree from freezes while left outside, the safest course of action with container plants is to move them indoors until the cold snap has passed. If physically moving the potted citrus tree indoors is not an option another approach is to cover the citrus tree with a light fabric designed to provide cold protection while also allowing adequate air circulation around the tree. The TreeHelp Cold Weather Tree Blanket is made from special breathable fabric that can increase the temperature tolerance of a tree by 6 to 8 degrees Fahrenheit. In extreme conditions, portable lights can be placed under the blanket to provide a localized heat source for the tree.
Pruning: Pruning is generally not necessary in the case of landscape citruses. However container plants which are not receiving adequate light sometimes become 'leggy' and can benefit from pruning the top back by about a third. This will stimulate branching. Remember, though, that for the long term health of your tree, pruning cannot take the place of adequate light.
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