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Citrus Grows Well As Container Plant
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
Recent dinner guests drooled over my container-grown lemon tree that was holding about 50 fruit of differing stages of ripeness. The friends looked at the Mexican limes and satsuma oranges with the same enthusiasm.
These trees range in age from 12 to 15 years, which means I have had them in Bryan, Texas; Shreveport, La.; Arlington, Texas; and Mount Olive, Miss. Doesn't exactly sound like the Citrus Belt, does it?
Since I have probably taken them for granted, I wonder why everyone doesn't grow container citrus. We all have some kind of plant we protect during the winter. I have a green house now, but for many years, I simply rolled them in a garage when cold weather came. For two years I had only a carport.
Satsumas are the highest quality, easiest to grow citrus for homeowners. It is also the most cold tolerant for those in South Mississippi who would like to try them in the landscape.
Still, the trees must be protected from severe cold, preferably by bringing them indoors to an area that will remain above 26 degrees. In the Jackson area, a container-grown satsuma can probably remain outdoors for 350 days of the year.
If you think about it, it doesn't seem like too much work to protect one of the most delicious of all citrus, one that is easy to peel, has gorgeous leaves and some of the most fragrant flowers.
The containers do not have to be huge. I prefer to start a satsuma in a two gallon pot and work up to a 15 to 20 gallon size over the next few years. I have some that have been successful in whisky barrels that I put rollers on. After the shortage of barrels a few years ago, mine are now in terra cotta pots that I move with a hand truck or dolly.
Fill your container with a loose, open potting mix featuring sphagnum peat moss. The final level of the potting mix should be 1 to 4 inches below the container rim to allow for easy watering. For a stunning display, plant one satsuma in the middle, then line the perimeter of the container with transplants of a flowering annual or trailing lantana.
Next, follow label directions in applying a full rate of quality, slow-release fertilizer formulated specifically for container use and which includes both macro and micro-nutrients. An application every three or four months should result in deep green, mature foliage which indicates adequate nutrition.
Citrus thrives in full sun, so place your plant where it will receive direct sun for eight to 10 hours each day, even during the summer months.
Satsumas are wonderful because of their cold tolerance and great taste, but you may want to try other citrus as well. Good selections would be the Meiwa kumquat and Improved Meyer lemon, an orange-lemon hybrid. I have been growing the Mexican lime for the longest time. It is the most cold susceptible, but you can't beat its juiciness.
It is harvest time now for most of us growing citrus. However, I just saw gorgeous plants for sale at a nursery. So if you are not quite ready to start protecting from freezing weather, wait until spring to plant. On the other hand, keep your eyes open when you go pansy shopping. You may be surprised at what you find.