Q: I have seen shrubs and small trees growing in containers. I live in a high-rise condo — can I grow citrus in containers?
A: Yes, you can. Growing citrus in containers may be the only way for those in small patio gardens, colder high country or high-rise condos and apartments to enjoy fresh citrus.
The larger the container, the larger the tree and the more fruit will set. Small trees in small containers are more manageable. Container plants are more mobile, so they can be moved to take advantage of microclimates or indoors during cold weather.
Grapefruit and lemon can quickly outgrow the container. If grapefruit is grown on dwarfing Flying Dragon rootstock, they can be grown almost indefinitely in containers. Meyer lemon, a more sedate tree, is a better choice for containers than Lisbon or Eureka.
The container should be at least 15 gallons for growing most types of citrus. Halfbarrels available at most nurseries and gardens work quite well and are inexpensive.
Large clay pots cost more but are more attractive. Consider wheel supports if you plan to move the container often. Any container should have holes in or at the bottom for drainage and, if using wood containers, coat the inside with a tar roofpatch to preserve the wood.
Do not use ordinary soil for growing anything in containers. It drains poorly, is too heavy and may contain fungus, insect and disease organisms. Sterile potting soils are available at nurseries and garden centers and are well-aerated.
When the top 2 or 3 inches are dry, the tree will need water soon. During hot weather you may need to water every two to three days. Installing a drip irrigation system will help simplify the water needs. It is not an install-and-forget situation. Monitor the moisture needs so the entire root ball is wet. Apply the water slowly until the root ball swells and soil is thoroughly moistened. If it is allowed to go bone-dry, water will run around the root ball quickly and out leaving it dry.
For more details on growing citrus in containers or indoors, get the book "Citrus, The Complete Guide to Selecting & Growing More Than 100 Varieties" by Lance Walheim.