Have you noticed all the citrus shrubs at garden centers lately? The recent dwarf citrus craze is not an entirely new phenomenon, so much as the revival of an old tradition.
Starting in the 17th century when the European aristocracy caught on to the marvels of the citrus fruits that were being imported from Asia, the cultivation of citrus in glass greenhouses became an essential part of a wealthy person’s estate. Immensely popular symbols in the culture of Victorian England the Renaissance, the French coined the term orangerie to express the decadent idea of growing citrus in pots and the elaborate structures that were built for their winter protection.
No longer just for aristocracy, anyone with a bit of ambition can grow citrus in a cold climate. Here’s how:
1. Use the smallest possible varieties.
Make sure you buy ‘dwarf’ citrus and not full-size varieties that want to grow into a 20-foot tree. Also, most people find the smaller citrus fruits to be the easiest to grow in pots — lemons and limes are the easiest of all because they are useful even if they don’t ripen to perfection. Satsuma mandarins, especially the variety ‘Owari’, are also worth trying.
2. Use the largest possible pot and good quality topsoil.
You can keep your citrus in a five-gallon pot for the first year, but ultimately it should have at least a 15-gallon container (ideally 25-gallons). You can get a plant ‘dolly’ (a small platform with casters) to roll around the container with ease. Replace the topsoil every two or three years to ensure the continued health of the plant — simply remove the root ball, wash off most of the soil with a hose and replant.
3. Move your plant inside when it gets cold.
Bring your citrus indoors to a sunny window when temperatures threaten to go below freezing. They will survive just fine with four months each year indoors and the remainder of the year outdoors. The fruit will ripen more slowly, however — it may take up to 18 months to go from flower buds to ripe fruit on citrus that spends part of the year indoors.
4. Pamper profusely.
Water your citrus whenever the top inch of soil becomes dry and feed it once per season with fertilizer intended specifically for citrus fruits. Spritz the leaves every few days while the plants are indoors. If scale or spider mites build up, washing the leaves thoroughly under running water is often the easiest remedy — some gardeners use their shower stall.
Follow these tips, plus have a pinch of patience for the fruits to develop and you’ll have your own harvest of lemons, limes or mandarins. Do you have a citrus plant growing in a pot? Share your secrets of success in the comments section below!