Growing Citrus

Kumquat Nagami

When you think of citrus fruits you think of a warmer climate south of the border, perhaps California and Florida, but why not grow them here?  With a little care you can certainly do that!

While we don’t have the long hot summers and really mild winters there is no reason we can’t enjoy gardening outside of our temperature zone, it just means we might need to either offer some protection from the elements or tuck our treasures inside for the winter.

Citrus fruits such as lemons and limes have been popular as house plants in the winter with their fragrant blossoms and dark green, glossy leaves along with the added bonus of actually producing edible fruit.  Having a lemon or lime tree growing in a pot on your patio or deck will no doubt generate some conversation, especially when it is full of fruit!   If you’re offering a guest a Corona you can ask them to get their own lime off the tree!

Lemons and limes are the most sought after as they are smaller plants more suited to indoor growing.  As with all citrus they do need a sunny, warm location and while a greenhouse or solarium is ideal they can do equally well on a south facing patio through the summer and moved to a bright window in winter.

When choosing a container, fairly large is best but citrus like to be slightly root bound so don’t go too big.  About 2.5 ft. wide and deep is probably ample. You also need to be able to move it indoors when fall arrives so don’t go too heavy.

Use a good container soil such as Get Up & Grow or Nature Mix Potting Soil.  Drainage is a must so make sure there are holes at the bottom of the container and never let water stand in the saucer underneath.   When the plant is flowering extra watering will be required for it to develop fruit.

Fertilize with liquid kelp monthly and use an organic or part synthetic fertilizer in early spring and again in early summer.  Organic fertilizers are naturally slow release which feeds the plant over a longer period of time instead of the one shot big meal that most synthetic fertilizers provide.

Before bringing your plants inside for the winter check all the leaves and stems to make sure you’re not offering a warm home to pests.  The best defense against insect and disease problems is to grow a strong, healthy plant but citrus can be susceptible to aphids and scale so look really carefully.  Aphids can be hosed off or sprayed with Safer’s Insecticidal Soap.  Scale looks like brown oval patches (sort of like a flat limpet) on the leaf or stem that you can scrape off with a fingernail.  Applying horticultural oil when you first notice scale will help control infestations.

Kumquats are also gaining popularity as a home grown fruit.   Somewhat tart with a sweet rind they are good for making preserves or if you like to pucker then eat them fresh off the tree.  Again, very fragrant flowers in spring that develop into small, oval orange fruit.  Cool temperatures in fall help sweeten the fruit and while it is hardier than a lemon or lime tree it still is rated at Zone 8 but could possibly overwinter outside against a south facing wall with extra protection if a cold snap is forecasted.  Remember that while these citrus trees are considered evergreen they may lose their leaves if left outside in our colder winters while the main trunk could be fine so be patient in spring for signs of new growth.  If you’re feeling less adventurous and don’t want to risk losing it, bring it indoors.

Kumquats are in full fruit at Cultivate right now.  We also have lemons, limes and tangerines so dare to be different and try growing citrus this year!

Shirley Eppler

June 2013