8 Steps To Grow Citrus Trees in Pots

A potted dwarf citrus plant positioned near the windowsill.

There’s nothing like the taste of fresh citrus fruits picked from your very own garden. Citrus trees are, without a doubt, one of many growers’ favorites.

But unless you live in a citrus state like California, Florida, Texas and Arizona, you have to grow your own to enjoy freshly picked citrus fruits.

Citrus fruit can grow successfully, even in containers on a terrace or on the patio.  Growing citrus trees in containers is an excellent option, particularly for gardeners who are in colder climates, and even gardeners who live in a citrus country but have limited space in their garden.

Growing in containers will let you provide a  zesty, refreshing environment within a limited space. Containers keep the trees dwarf and compact, making the plants manageable. New varieties accustom better in container conditions and can self-pollinate, making growers worry-free about fruiting.

8 Steps How To Grow Citrus Trees In Container Pots

Native citrus trees grow too big for indoors, but new dwarf varieties are grafted to limit the plant size and speed up fruiting.

Growing citrus in containers can help make the plants manageable in size and grow productively even if you position the tree on a small sunny balcony.

Now, let’s look at how to grow citrus trees in pots successfully.

To grow a citrus tree successfully, you need to consider the following factors.

  • Pick the appropriate containers for the specific variety of citrus you are growing.
  • Provide an enriched and lightweight growing medium that drains well.
  • Water your citrus plants the correct way.
  • Give your plants sufficient sunlight every day.
  • Know your citrus plants aftercare.

1) Select The Right Container

Nine potted citrus plants growing in plastic containers.
Image by: farmersalmanac.com

Start with a small container. Growing young citrus trees in smaller containers are ideal. This will allow you to maintain the soil moisture than in bigger pots. Soil that stays too wet in a larger container can cause the young tree’s tiny root system to rot and can lead to an untimely death. Transplant your plant to a bigger container once the plant outgrows the smaller pot.

Young citrus trees will grow fine in an 8-inch diameter container, while 10 to 12 inches is ideal for two to three-year-old trees.  Eventually, a 20-gallon or half whisky barrel-size container is ideal for long-term growth.

When selecting pots, container materials like terracotta, plastic, and wooden containers are readily available at any garden center near you.

The rule of thumb is any tree smaller than 1-inch in diameter has a 12-inch root ball. Choose a container fitting for the variety of citrus trees you are going to grow.

Plastic containers are lightweight and easy to move outdoors between seasons. Terracotta, on the other hand, is attractive and can add style to your home, especially when you grow the plant indoors.

Wooden containers are environmentally friendly, making your garden highlight nature’s charms as you enjoy the zesty fragrance of your growing citrus tree.

You can utilize any container materials for planting citrus trees, as long as it has enough drainage holes and is spacious enough for the plant’s root to grow. Consider how large your plant can grow. This way, you can select the right pot for your plant.

Also, you may need a saucer as pot feet to protect the surface of where you locate your plants. Terracotta and wooden containers are attractive but are quite heavy, and you need to ask for someone’s assistance every time you want to move the plants.

2) Provide The Right Potting Mix

 Potting mix for a citrus tree in container pots composed of wood chips, perlite, sand, compost and soil.
Image by: hgtv.com

Citrus prefers well-draining potting soil. Growing mediums sold commercially with peat moss, perlite, and vermiculite are fine to use. This mix can retain enough moisture and drains excess water well.

If your soil is poor, clayey and compacted, try adding more compost to improve aeration. Trees planted in salty and clayey soil will suffer from stunted growth. Citrus plants prefer soil with pH levels ranging from 5.5 up to 6.5.

Soil acidity matters a lot when growing citrus trees. Acidic soil generates problems by limiting the availability of essential plant nutrients and increases the soil’s toxic elements. Lime and sulphur are the two elements used to correct the citrus trees potting soil. 

3) Re-Potting Your Citrus Plants

Newly germinated lemon plant in a terracotta container along with the two lemon fruits beside the pot.
Image by: lifegate.com

Re-potting citrus that outgrows smaller containers are necessary to provide roots more room to grow. However, transplanting requires a great deal of care to make it work until the plant reaches its fruit-bearing seasons.

It is always best to prepare the necessary materials needed before the given schedule, to avoid transplant shock.

Here are the easy to follow tips on how to avoid transplant shock and shift your citrus plants to a bigger container successfully.

  • Prepare a sterilized potting mix sufficient enough for the chosen citrus plant container.
  • Check the pH level and mineral contents of your potting medium.
  • Add fertilizer and compost to enhance the soil nutrients when necessary.
  • The essential supplements that you need to consider first are elements that address the soil type and acidity.
  • Mixing a part of the previously used soil to the new one will help introduce the potting medium to the newly transplanted citrus tree.
  • Consider the best season when transplanting. The ideal season to transplant a citrus tree is when the plants are dormant in the fall or early spring.
  • Prune ⅓ of the plant’s overall growth, to allow the root ball to grow into its potential.
  • Water the tree thoroughly the night before transplanting. Doing so will make the soil help the roots establish when you re-pot the plants.
  • Wrap the tree’s remaining foliage with foliage wrapping material to avoid scratches while transplanting.
  • Grab the tree by the trunk and tip the pot over to pull the tree until it slides out from the container. The root ball should be pale and firm.
  • If you find some parts of the roots brown and slimy, cut them back until the remaining roots have all healthy tissue.
  • Gently tease the roots to loosen the firm root ball.
  • Lay the loosened root ball into the larger container and make sure the tree is sitting upright. Fill the pot with soil and water the plant afterward. Cover the soil with mulch to help retain soil moisture and apply liquid fertilizer when needed.
  • Water the newly re-potted citrus tree once more until the soil is moist but not soaking wet.
  • After two weeks, water the tree twice a week for the next two months.
  • Always perform the soil-finger test to an inch deep, and if you find the soil dry, water the tree.

4) Provide Adequate Sunlight

Three lemon fruits facing towards the sunlight.

The biggest mistake for a newbie when growing citrus in a container indoors is not providing an adequate amount of sunlight, particularly during the winter months.

Keep the plant in a bright room and avoid locating the plant near the door that frequently opens. Also, keep them away from heat registers as well.

5) Fertilize Your Citrus Plants

Like other plants, citrus trees need nutrients to thrive. They are heavy feeders and giving them fertilizer will allow you to have a healthy fruit-bearing tree.

Learning how to fertilize your citrus trees properly is essential and can make a difference. Adding fertilizer to your citrus plant may produce a bumper crop or neglecting may result in bummer fruit.

Feeding your plant with fertilizer should be about once every 1-2 months during the active growth in spring and summer, while once every 2-3 months during the dormant period in the fall and winter.

You can skip fertilizing the plant in the dormant season when the tree gets older while extending the amount of time to once every 2-3 months during the active growth in summer.

When To Fertilize My Citrus?

If you find your tree’s foliage lush and dark green and is holding onto its fruit quite well, do not fertilize the plant in the meantime. Adding fertilizer when the tree is healthy can produce plentiful foliage resulting in an inferior fruit.

However, citrus plants need more nutrients when they bloom until they set fruit. Regardless of the plant’s appearance, this is the time when they are most hungry for nutrients, making it essential to fertilize them to produce plentiful high-quality fruit.

How To Fertilize My Citrus?

There are two ways to fertilize your citrus tree. First is the foliar feeding technique in which you have to spray the fertilizer onto the leaves of your citrus plant.

Another way is to spread it around the base of your tree as far as the canopy reaches. However, placing the fertilizer near the trunk will harm the tree instead.

Citrus trees also like soil that is a bit acidic, so acidic enrichment is also beneficial, though not required.

6) Pruning Your Citrus Trees

Pruning a citrus tree manually using pruning shears.

The practice of pruning involves the removal of tree branches and some limbs after harvest to maintain productivity. The right way of pruning your citrus tree can make a significant difference when it comes to return and fruit quality.

Here are some significant factors why you need to prune your citrus tree.

  • It keeps the size of the tree more manageable within the designated space.
  • Increase the ease of mobility access, making the harvest more manageable.
  • Allow light to penetrate into the canopy.
  • Prevent congestion of the tree structure.
  • Avoid the probability of disease due to limb rubbing.
  • Removal of water shoots to prevent becoming dominant.
  • Allow proper aeration and easy access under the tree.
  • Increase blossom quality.
  • Increase fruit size and generous returns.
  • Prevent fruit damage.

While pruning your citrus trees provide benefits for various reasons, over-pruning can also harm your plants in some way.

Removing too much of the canopy can affect the plant growth along with its crops. Besides, citrus barks burn easily when overexposed to the sun.

Correct pruning involves removing unhealthy and poorly positioned branches. Soon after harvest in early spring before the buds break is the best time to prune your citrus tree. The right timing and the correct way will tell if your citrus tree benefits most out of pruning.

7) The Common Problems When Growing Your Citrus

Growing citrus in containers is one way to protect your plants from harsh weather outdoors. However, pest problems usually occur in connection with cultivating your citrus due to unfavorable growing conditions.

#1) Blossom Drop Before The Fruit Sets

A cluster of citrus blooms setting to fruit.

The lack of soil moisture and proper aeration can cause dryness to the roots resulting in flowers failing to set fruit.

Citrus trees will shed lots of blossoms later in the season. Most of the citrus varieties produce more than the tree can accommodate.

About 98% will fall even under the best management practices. If the remaining 2% blossoms set fruit, this is considered a high level of return.

Blossom dropping is a natural behavior of the tree, but the failure of 2% to set fruit can be associated with many factors.

Late spring frost can cause weakening or death of the abscission layer, the layer of cells that connects the blossoms to the tree.

Sub-freezing conditions, on the other hand, can also contribute to the cells’ injury resulting in the blossom drop.

#2) Failure To Flower

Insufficient sunlight, lack of nutrients, irregular watering and low temperatures can make your citrus plants fail to provide flowers.

If you grow your citrus from seeds, it won’t provide flowers for several years as they have to reach maturity before flowering. Usually, it takes 2-3 years for commercially grafted citrus trees grown from seeds in a container indoors to reach maturity.

#3) Leaves Turning Yellow

Citrus leaves grown in a container turning yellow.

Roots that are subject to too much dryness and over-watering can both cause citrus leaves to turn yellow. Drought, too low temperature, and nutrient deficiency will also result in yellowing leaves.

You can also feed organic fertilizers to supplement the nutrients they need and lessen possible damage to your plant. If you opt to use synthetic fertilizer, be cautious not to exceed the recommended dose.

#4) Unusual Loss of Leaves

Droughts and inconsistent temperatures, along with too much winter moisture, can cause loss of leaves of your citrus trees.

When the plants start to lose their leaves, do not panic and try to overwater your plants. The plant usually survives and recovers even if it loses all its leaves as long as you don’t overwater the tree.

#5) Rotting of The Roots

The first sign of root rotting is when the leaves start to turn yellow. Over-watering is the usual cause of root rotting. Cut and remove damaged roots and repot the plant along with adding compost and well-draining potting soil.

#6) Falling of Fruits

Most citrus varieties set too many fruit for the size of the plant.  Neglecting to thin clusters can cause falling of fruits. You have to shed and retain 1-2 fruits in the packs, especially on young plants for fruits to develop into full size.

High temperatures and low humidity can cause falling of fruits too. Citrus trees should be monitored regularly, particularly during the stress period for soil moisture. Soil deficiency can aggravate fruit drops.

#7) Damaging Pests

Yellow shield bug invading a citrus tree.

  • The most common pests of container-grown citrus are spider mites, aphids, mealybugs and scale insects.
  • Try to move the plants outdoors under the sun to expose the pests to their natural enemies.
  • Handpick mealybugs and scale insects to control possible infestations.
  • Treatment with insecticidal soap or spraying of hydrogen peroxide solution is often effective against these insects.
  • Repeat weekly until the pests are all gone, and make sure to spray the entire tree, including the undersides of the leaves.
  • Wear long sleeves, long pants and gloves when spraying to prevent possible skin irritation.

8) Keep Your Citrus In Tip-Top Condition

Three ripe orange fruits ready to harvest.

  • Avoid overwatering, particularly in the winter season.
  • Select a container that provides your citrus roots more room to grow. However, make sure it is not too big for the root ball, to avoid excessive moisture that causes root rotting.
  • Feed your citrus with sufficient nutrients. High-nitrogen liquid feed is essential from early spring to midsummer for a healthy plant.
  • Avoid plant damages due to changing temperature by keeping the plant indoors and only bring outside for some time in the summer months.
  • Increase the level of humidity by providing pot feet or a saucer of damp expanded clay aggregates and gravels.
  • The water should not reach the top. This can make the compost too wet and can cause more problems.

In winter, bringing citrus indoors will protect them from harsh weather conditions, particularly when temperatures dip into 30°C. To acclimate your citrus in both indoor and outdoor conditions, gradually transition them by bringing in and out for about one week in spring and fall.

If you’re growing citrus on the terrace, position them in a sunny spot. And in winter months, you can also protect them from occasional frost outdoors with Christmas lights, blankets or burlap.

The Best Citrus Varieties To Grow In Containers

There are citrus varieties available that are well suited to grow in container pots. Though they do not grow tall, they produce plentiful fruits in high-quality.


Clusters of ripe orange fruits on a dwarf orange tree.

Growing oranges in containers is the best way to protect the plants from cold winter damage. Select the best orange variety and provide the proper care necessary, such as providing the suitable container pot, ensuring to supply nutrients through fertilizer, right watering, adequate sunlight, and correct pruning.

Preconditioning orange trees to cold weather plays a significant role in its cold tolerance. Orange trees develop more endurance when exposed to cold gradually.

Sweet Lime

One sweet lime fruit hanging from a tree.

Sweet lime is the popular citrus variety with its juicy, non-acidic and fragrant fruits. This small tree can be grown in the ground, but is also well suited in a container growing in USDA zones 9-11 or any other regions that are frost-free.

With its serrated leaves and almost wingless stalks, sweet lime trees look much like Tahiti lime. This tree has yellow-green to yellow-orange fruit when ripened, it has the same hue, but this fruit is best to pick before ripening to lengthen its shelf life.


Three pieces of ripe mandarin orange ready to harvest.

Mandarin orange is also one of the trees that is ideal for container growing. The plant is so small that you can grow them outdoors in summer and bring back inside during winter months.

Mandarins are cold hardy, but grown in container pots makes the plant more susceptible to cold weather because of the exposed roots that chill much faster. Mandarins prefer a sunny spot on a terrace or grown indoors with adequate light.


Two pieces of ripe lemon fruit dangling from a tree.

Growing lemon in a container will give you a pleasing atmosphere, even in a limited space. However, it has similar needs to lemon growing in-ground. The plant also needs adequate soil aeration, so make sure to pick container pots with sufficient drainage holes.

These plants need adequate and frequent watering, particularly those grown in containers. Their leaves easily fall off when allowed to dry out and dehydrate.

Fertilizers can also help the lemon tree in a pot to grow healthy. You can use organic and commercially sold fertilizers to ensure your lemon tree gets sufficient nutrients.


Three pieces of ripe kumquats ready to harvest.

Kumquats are also one of the citrus varieties that are easy to grow in container pots. This tree is attractive with its dark glossy green leaves and bright, delicious orange fruit.

Kumquats are popular with their sweet edible skin and a sour fruit inside. You can eat the fruit whole, make it into a delicious marmalade, or it can be used in many other dishes too.

Final Thoughts On How To Grow Citrus Trees In Pots

Growing citrus trees in container pots are trendy, whether it is in a greenhouse, bright room or on terraces. Container growing makes this possible anywhere even with limited space. However, there are a few factors that you have to consider to grow the plant in a container successfully.

When considering moving your citrus tree outdoors in warm weather, or bringing the plant back indoors during cold winter months, it is best to make the transition gradually.

Bring them in at night and out during the day. Methods like this will make the transition easier.

Allow the transitioning period to take about a week, or you could extend even up to a month to acclimate the plant in both weather conditions.

Also, consider showering your plants with natural pest control like soapy water or hydrogen peroxide solution before moving the plant indoors to wash off unnoticed tiny bugs. Pests like these can especially become a problem indoors.

Homes in the winter months are typically darker and warmer and have much drier air.  Adding supplemental light to provide your plant needs when you bring them back inside can help them to grow healthy.

Adding humidity, particularly in winter months when the air is dry, will also encourage your plant to thrive.

Citrus hates it when their roots are drowning for some time, and overwatering is the number one cause of their poor health. These plants prefer to be watered deeply but water only when the soil is close to dryness.

Do growing citrus trees in container pots sound like a lot of work? Tending citrus trees in containers will not only give you tangible returns, but genuinely provide therapeutic value.

The smell of citrus blossom in your home, particularly in winter months, will give you the pristine atmosphere to enjoy. In addition to that, picking and eating fresh ripened citrus right from your tree will provide you with a sense of satisfaction like no other.

Overall, growing citrus in containers indoors will reward you plenty and help engage your senses with the natural environment, especially when most of everyone’s attention is on the screens nowadays.


About Benita Abucejo

Hi there! My name is Benita Abucejo. What can I say? I truly love spending my days in the outdoors, specifically in the garden. Gardening has always been a strong passion of mine since I was a little girl. It has brought me so much joy and happiness that it is definitely safe to say that I will be a gardener for life. For a period of time, I was able to work with people who are into home gardening and I found it to be quite beneficial to my physical health, as well as my mental well-being. Here at Seasonal Preferences, I am going to share with you my experience and ideas so that you can fulfill yourself with the same satisfaction and happiness. Of course, if you have ideas, I would love to hear those as well! Being creative in the garden can really be quite fascinating so let's share our experiences and be the best gardeners we can be. With that being said, thank you for dropping by and please leave me a comment on one of my posts if you would like to get in touch!

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