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Growing Dwarf Citrus in Pots Part One

Pummelo

By Dennis Ting,

Growing dwarf citrus in pots is one of the most rewarding fruit growing endeavors, especially for those with limited space as you can provide ideal conditions for them by moving them around during the seasons.
Dwarf trees will produce full sized fruit as it is the tree that is dwarfed and not the fruit, although early on the fruit may be smaller as the tree establishes, but still full of flavour!
I have quite a collection myself and they include both the common types and also some of the more unusual too like pummelos, grape fruit, blood oranges and Japanese kumquats which may not be readily available and I am quite surprised by some of the tastes.


The real beauty of all citrus is their evergreen foliage, fragrant flowers and colourful fruit – yellow to red which you can take advantage of by moving your potted tree around.

The main difference between a standard citrus tree designed to grow in the ground and in pots and is the rootstock the tree is budded on to, with dwarf trees grafted on to Trifoliata – Flying Dragon rootstock.
These rootstock are slower growing than standard citrus rootstock, but more importantly are dormant during winter which allows the fruit to ripen but no un-seasonal leaf growth subject to cold and frost damage.
These dwarf the tree to between 1.5 to 2 metres if grown in the ground but even less if grown in a pot. Keep in mind that it is only the tree that is dwarfed and not the fruit which will be full sized once the tree matures. You can get a crop from the second or third year but please only leave a couple of fruit on as these dwarf trees need all the energy to grow to establish a framework in early years.

The first photo is of my oldest tree is a pummelo – ‘Flicks Yellow’ growing in a 500 mm pot and it is very happy here bearing sweet delicious tasty fruit every season (Photo 1).
Then there is the next photo showing young trees growing of Tahitian Lime, Eureka Lemon, Japanese Seedless Mandarin and Meyer Lemon all growing in 300 mm pots (Photo 2).

30 cm pots

So how do you start?

You will find a range of Dwarf Citrus available at Gardenworld either as the Pipqueak Range in 150 mm pots or larger trees in 200 mm pots as you can see in the two photos (Photo 3 & 4).

Pipsqueak Range

Mixture of available dwarf citrus

There is a good range available covering Eureka, Lisbon and Meyer lemons, Tahitian and Kaffir limes, Emperor, Imperial and Japanese Seedless mandarins (my favourite), Valencia and Washington Navel oranges etc.

Now let us talk about pots – never black please! These are fine for nursery stock but I think they heat up too much in a home garden situation.
All my pot grown fruit trees are in terracotta coloured plastic pots only. I would pot up a 150 mm Pipqueak tree into a 200 mm pot initially and a larger 200 mm tree into a 300 mm pot initially (Photo 5).

Photo 5

A bigger pot initially will not result in faster growth as the roots on the dwarf rootstocks tends to drown if planted in a big pot say 500 mm straight away.
I have found a better strategy is to start with a 300 mm then 400 mm and 500 mm to half wine barrel over a period of about five years or so re-potting in early spring each time.
You need to use a good quality Debco Terracotta and Tub Potting Mix as the trees will be living in this mix for life and cheaper ones tend to break down and become water logged (Photo 6).

Photo 6

After planting, water in with a good soaking of Seasol to get the roots working and mulch with a lucerne hay or similar, especially over the first summer to avoid the sun heating up the dark coloured potting mix (Photo 7).

Potted and ready to grow !

In Growing Dwarf Citrus in Pots Part Two I will outline my ’12 Month Seasonal Care and Maintenance’ including my ‘Zen Defensive Method of Pot Placement’ which has worked extremely well.

PART TWO – CLICK HERE

6 comments

  1. Gary says:

    Hi,

    I have a new Meyer Pipsqueak to put into a pot and have been looking around for some potting mix without animal products (preferably vegan, but at the very least without blood & bone and fish etc..) do you know where I can find something suitable? Or can I just mix coir-peat brick, perlite and plain soil or something else?

    Thanks

  2. Jennifer Kelly says:

    Citrus trees need certain nutrients to survive and produce fruit. Fruit trees are not vegan or ve go or carnivorous , they are plants. Do some research.

  3. Tricia says:

    When you are talking about the mm of planting the tree into pots – are you measuring depth of the pot, or the width of the pot in those measurement please?

  4. Jon says:

    Gary…..there are plenty of potting mixes around without fish or blood and bone in…….miracle grow is one….debco terracotta pot and tub doesnt i think. debco do a potting mix just for citrus too……………its important it drains well…….it has slow release chemical ferts in it..
    Tricia…..the size pot refers to the diameter at the top of the pot…….plastic holds water better but terracotta breathes better …citrus dont like soggy roots.
    Its best to feed when plants are actively growing ……water is response to weather temps.

  5. Brian says:

    I have had 6 dwarf citrus trees (lemon, kaffir & tahitian limes,mandarin) planted in the ground for less than 2 years:no fruit from any as yet.
    My neighbour’s trees have very intrusive root systems & are now cutting out a good portion of the day’s sun.
    I want to transplant them into 35cm terracotta pots.which i have already purchased.
    When and how should I transplant them?
    Wouldit be a good idea to line the pot bases with a layer of very small pebbles to assist drainage & prevent wet feet?
    I live in the Sthn Highlands of NSW
    Any advice will be appreciated,
    Brian.

  6. Jonathan Cox says:

    Brian……winter or early spring is a good time to transplant them into the terracotta pots……..drill some extra drainage holes into the pots with masonary bits…….start small and increase size….ie 4mm 6mm and then 10mm…….line the bottom of pots with onion bag cloth cut in a circle…..this prevents mix leaching out of pot and keeps insects out too…….dont add anything to the bottom of pot……its a myth that pebbles…..grit etc improves drainage……all it does is raise the Perched water table……….you want the top half of the mix to dry out some what because thats where the roots live……use a free draining mix and avoid those water storing crystals….they make the mix stay too wet and roots will die………..dont add any food to the mix when you transplant……wait until you see new growth and then begin feeding………as for the plants in the ground…get a spade and slice down and leave for a a few days …..make a square and do one part of the square every few days to prepare for removal………when you dig up….transfer to pot asap and make sure its the same depth as what it was in the ground…..the pot should be twice as big as the rootball………tamp the mix down on the surface to remove air pockets…..if you dont do that the tree will die……..leave a 1 inch lip for watering……..give it a light watering……..come back 10 mins later and put one cap of seasol in a 9 litre watering can of water…..water again with this solution…..allow to drain……put in the shade for the next few days and put it on pot feet…so air can go underneath pot….never leave the pot sitting in a saucer of water…..use a moisture meter and let it dry to the dry side of moist before watering again…2 weeks later seasol again….this gets the roots going………..then in last two weeks of august…spread some slow release fert and epsom salts around the edge of the pot only and water in ……….you will get heaps of fresh spring growth…..that B green is very good for citrus(organic)…..its 3 months slow release………the terracotta will dry out quicker than plastic but you dont want the mix staying wet…..the plant will die……repot when you see roots growing out of those holes and when the pot is drying out rellay quickly…a sure sign the tree is rootbound….Good luck.

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