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Indoor gardening: growing citrus in containers, part 2 of 3

Part 2 of a three-part Indoor Gardening series on Growing Citrus in Containers

In Part 1 we examined the growing conditions for cold-climate citrus trees and the types of trees you might own. In this part you'll learn how to give your indoor citrus trees a healthy start.

5 indoor gardening tips for citrus trees in containers

  1. Ins and outs. You'll probably want to put your citrus tree outside for the summer, but be sure to bring it back inside when temperatures start cooling -- especially if they could dip below 40 degrees. If your climate allows, you can leave the tree outside year-round, and bring it inside only if frost threatens. When outdoors, put the tree where it will receive maximum sunlight but still be protected from strong wind. Citrus that is subject to rapid environmental changes is prone to dropping leaves, so transition your tree's move by putting it in a shady spot outdoors for several days before bringing it inside or putting it in bright sunlight.
  2. Humidity. A citrus tree indoors will suffer from the dry environment. It wants humidity around 50 percent, far higher than home environments. A humidifier works well; a simpler method is to set the container on a shallow tray filled with gravel. Keep water in the tray, though not touching the container, so that it evaporates up into the foliage.
  3. Pot size. A 10- to 15-gallon pot will work for smaller citrus, such as the Improved Meyer lemon. You can go as large as half a whiskey barrel, but the size might discourage you from moving it very often. You can put the container on a roller platform to improve its mobility. Less convenient; a good hand truck and a couple of people can usually handle the move. For potting, always use a coarse potting mix -- not garden soil -- in the container. And don't put gravel in the bottom of the pot, as some people might suggest -- it will actually slow drainage.
  4. Fertilizing. Citrus like high nitrogen fertilizers, like a 3-1-1 ratio, in the growing season of spring and summer. In the fall and winter, switch to a balanced fertilizer, such as a 20-20-20. If your plant is dormant, which will occur if it is in temperatures below 55 degrees, do not fertilize. You can buy fertilizer specific to citrus: If you don't have that, be sure your fertilizer provides micronutrients -- trace elements -- such as magnesium, boron, copper, manganese, molybdenum and zinc.
  5. Water. Allow the soil to dry to two or three inches (poke your finger into the soil to test), then water deeply.

These are some tips to get your citrus tree off to a good start. In Part 3, the last part of this series, we will look at how to keep it flourishing.