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).
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).
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).
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).
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).
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.