Citrus cheer . . . in pots
Just as fresh citrus fruits brighten our produce markets, so do
fruiting citrus trees decorate home gardens in the mild-winter West.
While the colorful evidence is all around, you may not have considered
buying citrus plants in December. Yet dwarf citrus in containers make
living gifts for gardening friends or holiday ornamentals for your patio
Now through February, many nurseries carry a wide variety of dwarf
citrus plants–including oranges, mandarins (tangerines), lemons, limes,
kumquats, and others–in 5-, 7-, and 15-gallon cans. The
winter-ripening citrus we list below should be bearing some fruit in
various stages of color.
This report focuses on dwarf citrus– plants that will maintain
their small form and won’t soon outgrow their containers. By
“dwarf,’ we refer both to the few natural dwarfs and to plants
grafted onto dwarfing rootstocks.
In low elevations of California and Arizona, you can grow citrus in
pots outdoors year-round. Where winters are subject to hard freezes,
grow dwarf citrus as indoor-outdoor plants. (If you prefer to plant in
the ground, you can still buy now, but it’s safer to wait until the
danger of frost is safer to wait until the danger of frost is past
Why grow citrus in containers?
Containers extend the ornamental range of citrus to decks and
paving, and to areas with poor soils. You can move the plants around
the garden, or bring them under cover if frost threatens.
Is the idea of having a high-producing, containerized orchard in
your back yard wishful thinking? Dwarf citrus will produce
proportionately as much fruit as standard plants, but being smaller they
can’t match the bigger trees’ crop volume. However, they do
allow you to grow several kinds in a compact space. To extend the
harvest, you can include kinds that will ripen in spring or summer, such
as blood oranges and some mandarins.
Citrus in containers need as much care as many house plants. They
require diligent watering and regular feeding; for details on outdoor
care, see page 215. Indoors, it’s essential to provide adequate
light and proper humidity. A greenhouse is ideal; or set plants 6 feet
or closer to a sunny window, away from heat sources. Water to keep soil
consistently and evenly moist.
At the nursery, look for plants with symmetrical branching, good
leaf color, and a graft union about 6 inches above the soil level.
Plants in 5-gallon cans cost $15 to $20, in 7-gallon cans $30 to $40,
and in 15-gallon cans $50 to $65. If the variety you want isn’t in
stock, it can usually be ordered in a week or two. (Quarantines bar
shipment of citrus plants between certain states and counties,
especially in California.)
Many citrus fanciers share their knowledge in the quarterly
newsletters of the Indoor Citrus & Rare Fruit Society (176 Coronado
Ave., Los Altos, Calif. 94022; annual membership $10).
Photo: Fruitful dwarf calamondin is a prize find. Decorative foil
and bow cover nursery can for gift giving and holiday display
Photo: Ripe and green fruits cluster on “Nippon’
orangequat around Christmas. Ripe fruits with edible rind make tangy
marmalade. Green ones will color up in a month or so
Photo: Cheery cargo: she helped pick out dwarf
“Chinotto’, a sour orange with short myrtle-like leaves
Photo: On a sunny patio, “Meiwa’ kumquat will spread its
roots in big clay pot. In midwinter, the sweet-tart fruits are
delicious fresh (rind and all) or made into marmalade