Take a video tour of our potted citrus garden on the outskirts of Greenville, South Carolina (Agricultural Zone 7b). You’ll find out more about how to grow organic citrus in non-tropical climates, mistakes we’ve made, and tips for potted citrus growing success.
A couple years back, we wrote a detailed guide about how to grow citrus in pots in any climate zone. In this follow-up piece, we want to take you on a brief guided tour of our citrus garden since video provides a lot of rich information beyond what text and photos are able to.
Further down the page (below the video), we’ve also provided additional notes, which include things referenced in the video plus a few extra tips.
Let’s get started!
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Video notes and additional recommendations for growing a potted citrus garden:
We grow potted citrus in Zone 7b on the outskirts of Greenville, SC. This is not exactly what you’d call prime citrus growing country given our cold winters.
We manage to grow quite a bit of citrus in large pots that we move into a heated garage on days and nights that are below freezing. While some of our citrus can survive sub-freezing temperatures, they’re happier kept above freezing.
The ten varieties of citrus we grow in pots are:
- Meyer lemons
- ‘Moro’ blood oranges
- Makrut limes
- Buddha’s hand citron
- Australian blood limes
- variegated pink lemons
- calamondins aka calamansi
- *a few unknown varieties we’re growing from seed until we determine if they produce good fruit or will be used as rootstock for grafting
What are the easiest and best citrus varieties to grow in pots?
Of the citrus varieties we’ve grown, we thing Meyer lemons and calamondins are the easiest and most productive varieties to grow in containers. If you’re new to growing citrus in pots and/or only want to grow one or two citrus trees, we’d recommend starting with one of these varieties.
Meyer lemon notes:
When Meyer lemons are really ripe late in the growing season (Jan-Feb for us), the skin turns deep yellow or nearly orange. At that point, it also become much sweeter and you can eat it skin and all – almost like eating a fruit version of lemonade!
They also produce impressive yields on small plants with minimal maintenance.
Calamondins are a really popular fruit in southeast Asian cuisine. The fruit is often picked green and juiced, with juice added to various recipes.
We like calamondins best when they’re orange-ripe. We eat them like kumquats or use them as a flavoring in Thai peanut sauce for dipping spring rolls.
If you have a dehydrator you can also make calamondin candy, which is divine. Here’s how:
- Slice them in half and de-seed them;
- Partially dehydrate them for about 3 hours on ~120F just to make them slightly less juicy;
- Remove them from dehydrator and roll them in organic cane sugar;
- Put them back in dehydrator on 120F until fully dried/candied, about 12 hours;
- Store in ziploc back in fridge until you eat them.
Fertilizing potted citrus – tips:
Throughout the year, we fertilize our potted citrus with different types of fertilizers including:
- mealworm frass,
- worm castings,
- slow-release organic pelleted fertilizer, and
- homemade “liquid gold“.
Citrus trees need a lot more fertilizer and water during spring and summer when they’re putting on a lot of growth, have higher respiration rates, and water is evaporating from their pots faster. Potted citrus also needs more water and fertilizer than in-ground plants since the roots are very limited in how far they can extend out for resources.
- In the summer, we water our potted citrus daily and fertilize it about once per month.
- In fall and winter, we’ll water our citrus every 2-3 days and fertilize once every 6-8 weeks.
Yellowing citrus leaves usually indicate a nutrient deficiency and should be addressed asap.
Using mulch in potted citrus
We also highly recommend using mulch in your potted citrus plants. Mulch serves a wide range of benefits:
- reduces water evaporation and helps maintain ideal soil moisture levels;
- protects the roots;
- provides a slow-release fertilizer while also increasing beneficial soil microbes (and helps keep macro organisms like worms happy);
We use spent pine shavings from our duck coops which also contain lots of nutrient-rich duck manure. This material also serves as an additional fertility boost for our citrus trees.
Three mulch tips for potted citrus plants:
- Don’t fill the mulch to the surface of the pots. You want the mulch at least 1″ below the pot surface so that water doesn’t run off and out of the pots when you’re trying to water.
- Apply the mulch 1-3″ deep.
- Taper it down toward the center so that no mulch is piled against the trunk of the citrus trees or you could harm the plant.
Pruning potted citrus
A. Pruning foliage and branches
Experts generally recommend pruning 5-10% of your citrus growth per year. You have to prune the leaves and branches of your potted citrus to:
- keep plants from getting too top-heavy which can cause the pots to tip over in wind;
- thin out dead or weak branches;
- cut back side branches and shape the trees to make sure they’re relatively easy to move with a hand truck or other pot moving device.
The best time of year to prune your citrus is after the tree is done fruiting and before it begins flowering again. Most citrus fruits in fall-winter and flowers in the spring.
For most of our citrus trees here in our Ag Zone, that means we prune between Jan – March (depending on cultivar) and then the plants start flowering between late March – late April.
With really heavy pruning we’ve noticed plant puts energy into growth, and don’t flower and fruit (like the blood orange in our video).
The ideal shape for a citrus is an umbrella shape where growth shields out underlying branches and trunk from sun. If you have potted citrus in a hot sunny climate (example: Las Vegas), you can also buy organic products that coat the trunks/branches to prevent sunburn and sunscald after pruning, which can kill citrus plants.
B. Pruning Roots
You’ll also want to prune the roots of your potted citrus about once every two years — or more frequently if they’re in smaller pots and/or appear stressed. Otherwise, the roots will wrap around the interior of the pot and begin strangling each other, thus killing off branches and eventually killing the whole tree. (See the stressed, rootbound calamondin tree in our video.)
To root prune your citrus roots, remove the entire plant from the pot and trim off up to 20% of the outer and bottom root mass. (Yes, it will feel like you’re murdering the plant, but it’s necessary.)
Add new pre-dampened organic potting soil to the pot to replace the space where the missing root mass was present, thus giving the citrus roots growth media to expand into. We use and recommend FoxFarm potting soil. Do NOT use regular garden soil which is too heavy for potted plants.
Once re-potted, you can commence with a foliage and branch pruning.
Keeping your potted citrus from freezing
Most citrus varieties can take a freeze, but others aren’t so cold-hardy. None of them particularly like a freeze (especially when young) and will grow best if they don’t experience temps below freezing.
If you’re only growing a couple of citrus plants in pots, you can even grow them indoors in a really sunny window or sunroom. If you want to grow a lot of potted citrus trees like we do, you’ll need to be able to move them in and out of a garage or other temperature controlled environment on really cold days and nights.
You can use a handtruck or wheeled pot roller that fits under the pot. Thankfully, we have an engineer friend who custom made a specialized pot moving device for us.
Dealing with pest insects on your potted citrus
The most dangerous pest out there for citrus is the Asian citrus psyllid which spreads a bacterial disease called citrus greening. Citrus greening slowly kills the trees and ruins the fruit.
Thankfully, these pests don’t live as far north as we do, so we’re not at risk. They prefer warmer climates and lower elevations.
Our biggest pest problems on our potted citrus actually occur during the winter when predatory insects are largely dormant. Those pests are:
- wooly aphids, and
- spider mites.
Pest insects can really over-proliferate in indoor environments where predatory insects are absent and the environment is warm and dry.
All three pests mentioned above can be controlled organically fairly easily. You can simply apply neem oil or OMRI listed horticultural oil to your plants about once every 6 weeks or so in the winter to keep the pest insect populations in check.
Neither spray is poisonous; they simply coat the skin of the insects and suffocate them. If your citrus plants are in bloom, apply these products after dark when bees and other pollinators aren’t around.
It also helps to regularly mist the leaves with water in the morning since spider mites thrive in hot, dry conditions.
As a general rule, the happier your plants are — including citrus — the better they’ll be able to fend off pests and diseases. So keep your citrus well-fed, well-watered, and growing in ideal full-sun conditions for optimal growing results. At the same time, don’t over-fertilize your citrus (especially with nitrogen) or you make your plants even tastier and more susceptible to aphids and other pest insects. Balance.
We hope the information in our citrus garden tour video is helpful and inspires you to grow your own organic citrus in containers/pots at home!
Other citrus articles you’ll love:
- Step-by-step: how to grow your own organic citrus at home in any climate zone
- How to grow citrus trees from cuttings
- How & when to root-prune your potted fruit trees (including citrus)
- Recipe: Buddha’s hand citron: make tea, candy, and simple syrup from a single recipe
- Recipe: Duck egg Meyer lemon curd
- Recipe: Native passion fruit & Meyer lemon sparkling cordial
- Recipe: Sugar-free persimmon, kumquat, cranberry relish
- Recipe: 10-minute broccoli mash with citrus miso sauce
- Recipe: Meyer lemon bars with rosemary brown butter shortbread crust
- Recipe: Guava & Meyer lemon ice cream
- Recipe: Calamondin marmalade with baby ginger
- Easiest way to zest a lemon or orange
- How to grow and make lemon blossom tea
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April GordonNovember 28, 2020 at 10:21 am
Very informative and helpful article and video. I grow several different kinds of citrus in Zone 8b, which makes it possible to successfully grow citrus in pots and more cold hardy varieties in the ground. There are, in fact, neighbors here (Mt. Pleasant, SC) who have large citrus trees in their landscape indicating years of overwintering. Occasionally, we do get weather overnight in the mid-20’s, at which time I have used various methods of plant protection since I don’t have a garage or other indoor space for my plants. Plants that are small enough to move have been grouped together next to the house and covered with winter weight frost cloth and sometimes blankets. For plants too big to move or that are in the ground, I also used frost cloth, and where advisable blankets and moved them where they are less exposed to wind and the cold. In some cases I have strung incandescent string lights around the trees or placed a landscape light with an incandescent bulb under the covering. Grouping plants together under the same protection seems to help retain heat. One year after a cold snap I uncovered a young tomato plant in one of the citrus plants against the house. Not only did it survive the winter, but it grew happily and produced a nice crop of salad tomatoes once the weather warmed. So far I have not lost any of my citrus plants, although they would probably have preferred Aaron’s ability to move them out of the cold.
Aaron von FrankNovember 28, 2020 at 5:06 pm
Thanks for the citrus growing advice from down there in Zone 8b!
Marsha MNovember 27, 2020 at 9:22 pm
Thanks Aaron for the tour and showing us the good and not so good. I’ve followed your advice about soils, fertilization and pot size and have been very happy with my potted 6 plant citrus orchard, here in zone 7a. I think maybe I will try a finger lime and makrut lime next spring. And I will valiantly try to root and top prune my satsuma and meyer lemon. I did not know that I needed to do that with a 20″ pot. As always very helpful content!
Aaron von FrankNovember 28, 2020 at 8:09 am
Glad to hear about your potted citrus growing success, Marsha! No matter how many times I do it, root pruning still makes me anxious because I feel like I’m hurting the citrus tree when, in fact, it’s critical for its health if it’s growing in a pot. Citrus are vigorous growers and the root mass of an older tree will fill up even the largest pot after 2-3 years.
MJNovember 27, 2020 at 4:27 pm
Love the tour! When you cut back the roots, do you notice any difference in fruit production that year (similar to what would happen with a heavy pruning)? Feeling inspired to try growing Meyer lemon!
Aaron von FrankNovember 27, 2020 at 8:28 pm
We usually do relatively light citrus foliage pruning annually and will get fruit production that same year. Any time we do a root pruning we also do a foliage/branch pruning, so it’s hard to say for certain what effect the root pruning has on fruit production since they’re done concurrently. The thing that seems to definitively postpone fruit production in a given year is a really heavy pruning where you take off somewhere in the range of 30+ % of the growth, which then triggers the plant to put its energy into growing rather than reproducing.