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

Part 3 of a three-part Indoor Gardening series on Growing Citrus in Containers

In the first part of this series, you learned how to select a citrus tree for container growth in colder climes, and in the second part, how to get it started. In this final segment, we'll take a look at how to keep your indoor citrus tree healthy, attractive and fruity.

6 ways to keep your indoor citrus trees flourishing

  1. Pollination. Citrus do not need cross-pollinators, but in the absence of bees indoors, you will need to manually simulate the "birds and the bees" thing with a small paintbrush. Wipe the center of the flowers, moving the pollen from the stamen to the pistil.
  2. Ripening. Acidic citrus takes anywhere from seven months to a year to ripen; sweeter varieties may take as many as eighteen months. Ripeness can be difficult to determine. A heavy fruit that has reached its richest color is an indication of ripeness, although the inexperienced picker may have to rely on the taste test.
  3. Pests. Outdoors, sucking insects such as aphids can be a problem, though natural predators usually keep them at bay. Indoors, common indoor pests such as scale, mealy bugs and spider mites can be controlled with alcohol swabs or using insecticidal oil or soap. Keep small children and pets from ingesting unripened fruit or fruit treated with insecticides.
  4. Pruning. Citrus trees can be pruned at any time but winter. They can be pruned heavily, if needed, though heavy pruning will draw energy from ripening fruit. You can pinch back new growth to shape your tree. Thinning the center of the tree will allow sun to hit the fruit, helping it to ripen.
  5. Repotting. A root-bound plant will stay smaller, but eventually you will need to repot, both to deal with root crowding and to renew the soil. Use a pot one size larger than the present pot; there is no reason to go larger.
  6. Roots. Many gardeners are not familiar with root trimming. First, and most important; trim the roots in winter. Cut off the thicker, winding roots and trim the root ball back an inch or so overall; then replant in new potting mix. Be sure to plant immediately to keep the roots from drying out. At the same time, prune the foliage heavily to match the root system's reduced capacity. You can keep your citrus tree from getting too large this way; and cutting back the root ball also allows you to replant your citrus tree in the same pot. Remember to use a coarse potting soil -- not garden soil -- in your containers.

So there you have it. You may live in Dreary City, but with a little special attention, you can keep a year-round zest for fresh citrus from your own tree.