8 Tips and Tricks for Dwarf Citrus Plants

Citrus trees provide year-round greenery, extraordinarily fragrant flowers and, beautiful, delicious fruit. What plant parent wouldn’t want a baby like that? You don’t need to have a big garden  or year-round summer]  to grow them either. Citrus trees thrive in containers and can be brought indoors for the winter and be enjoyed all year long.

Best Citrus for Containers

All citrus trees can be grown in containers, however, some (like grapefruit and lemon) will outgrow their containers quickly. Choose trees grown on dwarf rootstock such as Meyer lemon and Persian lime. These are naturally smaller trees well-suited for container growing. Dwarf trees produce normal-sized fruit but yield less. Keep in mind that small trees are easier to plant, suffer less from transplant shock and are less expensive.

Pick a Pot

Choose a container that is larger than the nursery pot the tree came in. If the pot needs to be moved indoors in the winter consider the weight of the pot and how you will move it indoors. Make sure the new container has excellent drainage. Drill additional holes if there is only one. Set the new pot on feet so that it’s not sitting in standing water from the saucer underneath it.

Light and Temperature

Citrus are sun-loving plants that need at least eight hours of sun per day. A sunny location, protected from wind is ideal. All citrus trees are sensitive to cold and must be covered during occasional cold snaps. If your winter temperatures are consistently below 35 degrees Fahrenheit, you’ll need to bring your citrus indoors for the winter. Kumquat and mandarin are the most cold-hardy, followed by grapefruit and orange. Lemon and lime are the most sensitive to cold.

The Best Soil

The best potting soil for citrus must be free draining. Espoma’s Organic Cactus Mix works perfectly. A soil high in organic matter will decompose and become compacted, holding too much water that could cause roots to rot.

Planting

The new tree should be planted at the same level it was in its nursery pot. Add some soil to the new container, then put in the new tree to check if it is at the right depth. After planting, backfill with more cactus mix, leaving two inches at the top of the pot for watering. Water well and check to see if the soil has settled. If it has, add more soil and water that in too.  

Watering

Watering needs will depend on the size and type of container and the weather. Check regularly. Citrus enjoy moist soil but not consistently wet soil. Stick your finger into the soil a few inches to check moisture level. Wilted leaves could be a sign of too little water, while yellow leaves are often a sign of too much water.

Feeding

All container plants are dependent on their plant parents for all of their nutrients. Citrus plants are heavy feeders]  and need a specially formulated, organic fertilizer like Espoma’s Citrus! It’s recommended to feed your tree every two to four weeks during the growing season because frequent watering washes out some of the nutrients.

Check out our other blogs about growing citrus.

When Life Gives You Lemons – Grow Them Indoors

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Feeding Citrus for the Most Fruit

Growing citrus trees in containers indoors is easier than you think. Plus, they’re beautiful are great accent pieces. Their white blossoms fill the whole house with their sweet scent. And, picking your own, organic, truly ripe lemon is a source of pride for every plant parent.

Dwarf citrus trees are especially well suited to growing indoors. They are regular fruit trees that have been grafted onto a smaller plant rootstock. It helps keep them a more manageable size. Citrus doesn’t like wet soil, but they don’t like to dry out either. Plant them in Espoma’s Cactus Mix  for best results. It is organic and will help the soil drain freely. Check the top few inches of soil every few days until you find the best watering schedule for your tree. Generally speaking, it should be about once a week.

Feeding you citrus trees is important to keep them healthy and give them the energy and nutrients to produce the best tasting fruit. Espoma has formulated an organic fertilizer especially for the specific needs of citrus plants. It comes in a liquid form that’s easy to pour and mix with water called Citrus! There is also a granular form called Citrus-Tone if you’re lucky enough to be able to grow citrus trees outdoors.

Plants in pots require regular feedings every 2 to 4 weeks because some of the nutrients are washed out with regular watering. Water well, ideally, water should flow through the container into a saucer underneath. It’s a good idea to set your container on feet or small blocks to hold it above the draining water.

Your citrus tree will require 8-12 hours of sunlight each day. Try to situate your tree near a south facing window or supplement with an indoor grow light. They like temperatures between 55 and 85 degrees and dislike sudden shifts in temperature. Try to avoid placing it near chilly drafts and space heaters.

Citrus can be vulnerable to spider mites, mealybugs and aphids. If you notice any of these pests, spray them with organic Insect Soap from Espoma, and that should be the end of them.

For more information about growing citrus, check out When Life Gives You Lemons, Grow Them Indoors.Or tryCitrus Trees Love Citrus-Tone from Espoma.

Products

Citrus-tone Plant Food

Grow Your Own Popcorn

Everyone loves corn on the cob. It’s a staple of summer picnics and barbeques. Everyone loves popcorn too, but most people don’t realize you can grow your own. This is a fun and easy way to get kids involved in gardening. Seeds are relatively large and easy for kids to handle. It’s fast growing and making your own popcorn is a real treat.

You’ll Need Fertile Seed

No, you can’t open a bag of popcorn from the grocery store and plant it. Most store bought popcorn isn’t fertile because of the heating and sterilization processes it undergoes.  You’ll need to buy fertile popcorn from your local garden center and there are plenty to choose from on the internet. There are a few heirloom varieties that make great popcorn and are beautiful too, you’ll want to use them for fall decorating.

Photo courtesy of Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds/ RareSeeds.com

Strawberry Popcorn?

One heritage variety named ‘Strawberry’ has short cobs, just 2-4 inches long with ruby red kernels. ‘Dakota Black’ has 6-8 inch long cobs with kernels so deep purple they look almost black. Think Halloween decorations! Perhaps the most beautiful is called ‘Glass Gem’. The kernels are yellow, orange, pink, purple, green and orange with a glossy, glass-like transparency. They are as beautiful to look at as they are to eat!

Choose a Bright, Sunny Spot

Plant corn in full sun, with well-draining soil. Mix in some of Espoma’s All-Purpose Garden Soil and Bio-tone Starter Plus to refresh  your soil. While these varieties of corn are somewhat smaller than eating corn, they still need plenty of room. Space the seeds, 2 per hole, eight to ten inches apart with 18-24 inches between rows.

They’re Thirsty

Popcorn is a thirsty plant. They will drink about 2 inches of water a week if it doesn’t rain.

Add a layer of mulch after planting to help hold moisture in the soil. Using soaker hoses is a very efficient way to water, very little evaporates and the water is taken up slowly and deeply. You should begin to taper off watering when you near the harvest time, about 100 days.

Photo Courtesy of Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds/ RareSeeds.com

They’re Hungry!

Feeding your popcorn is just as important as watering it. All corn needs nitrogen. Using a product like Espoma’s Plant-Tone is a great choice. It’s an organic, long lasting, slow release fertilizer. It’s a good idea to feed popcorn when it’s about knee high, when the silk forms or if the leaves start turning yellow. Or, simply feed plants once a month.

Protect the Kernels

If you garden with kids, making a scarecrow is an absolute must! And, it may actually help to keep the birds away. If birds are overly interested in your sprouting corn, you could try using a chicken wire tunnel over each row.

Let the Corn Dry on the Stalks

In a dry autumn, leave the corn on the stalks until they are dry. The husks should be papery and dry and the kernels should feel hard. If it’s a wet fall, harvest the corncobs and bring them indoors to finish drying. Simply pull back the husks and spread them out on newspaper, out of direct sunlight. Popcorn is generally harvested in October, 85-120 days after planting depending on weather and when it was planted.

Photo Courtesy of Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds/ RareSeeds.com

Pop Quiz

If you’re not sure if your popcorn is dry enough, do a pop test. Put a few kernels of corn into a hot pan with a little bit of oil. If it pops, it’s ready. If it sticks to the pan, it’s not ready and needs to be dried longer. You can either pop your corn the old fashion way, in a pan with oil or put one cob in a paper bag and pop it in the microwave. Keep a close eye on your microwave cooking time, until you know how long it takes for your popcorn to cook. Unpopped popcorn can be stored in an air tight container all winter.

For more gardening fun, check out this video on how to plant a vegetable garden.

Espoma Products for Popcorn

It’s Possible to Grow Citrus from Maine to Florida

Florida and California are known for their fresh oranges and citrus (the area between California and along the Gulf Coast to Florida is even known as the citrus belt). While growing citrus trees outdoors is best suited to USDA hardiness zones 8-10, if you live in zone 7 or cooler you can still grow dwarf citrus in pots, however, you need to bring them indoors for the winter. That might sound like extra work but one smell of the intensely fragrant blossoms will make it all worthwhile.

Growing Citrus in Zones 8-10

Citrus plants are sun worshipers, so choose a site in full sun, on the southwest side of your house for best results. If possible, place it near a wall or some other form of protection from wind and cold. Unlike many fruit trees, citrus is self-pollinating meaning you don’t need to plant 2 trees for cross pollination. Even so, bees and other pollinators will visit for nectar and pollen.

Planting Your Tree

Late winter or early spring is the best time to plant. Citrus trees prefer a sandy loam. Good drainage is a must for citrus. Plant your tree slightly higher than the soil around it, as trees will settle in an inch or so. It’s important that the graft (your tree will be grafted on to a different root stock) be above ground so that a new tree doesn’t grow from the understock.

Continuing Care

It’s best to use a fertilizer that is especially formulated for citrus as their needs are very specific. Espoma’s Organic Citrus-Tone works perfectly. You can add a layer of mulch around your tree to help deter weeds and keep moisture in. However, keep mulch 2-3 inches from the trunk of the tree to prevent disease. Water regularly and deeply. Citrus have shallow, broad root systems, they don’t go deep when looking for water.

Pruning Citrus

Citrus doesn’t require regular or heavy pruning[JC1] . They are generally grown in the form of a shrub or hedge. You may remove some of the lowest branches if you’d prefer more of a tree shape. Remove any “suckers” or thin branches that are growing from below the graft. You’ll notice the graft because it will be a little wider than the surrounding trunk. Also, feel free to remove any fast growing branches that stick out and don’t fit the overall shape you desire.

Growing Citrus in Cold Climates

It is possible to grow dwarf citrus trees in pots in cold climates as long as you have a place to overwinter them in a cool, bright spot like a sunroom. You’ll get the best fruit set if you grow your citrus outdoors in the summer and bring them inside before the first hard frost.

Potting Dwarf Citrus Trees

Citrus looks amazing in terra cotta pots. It’s reminiscent of Italian villas. As always with container gardening, use the best quality potting soil like Espoma’s Organic Potting Soil.  Place the pot on a saucer full of stones. That way, the pot will never be sitting in water and the water in the rocks will evaporate and supply humidity to the plants, which they like. Feed you citrus every 3 or 4 weeks with Citrus! It’s an organic, liquid fertilizer designed especially for citrus plants.

When Life Gives You Lemons – Grow Them Indoors!

Products For Happy Citrus Trees

Espoma Organic Potting Soil Mix
Citrus-tone Plant Food

Perlite vs. Vermiculite

Perlite or Vermiculite? How do you choose which one to use?

For Drainage and Aeration: Choose perlite
For Water Retention: Choose vermiculite

In this video, Laura from Garden Answer breaks down when to use which.

Perlite

  • Great for or Seed Starting or blending a custom potting mix
  • Helps loosen heavy soils and prevents compaction
  • White granular particles contain about 6% water
  • Neutral pH
  • Holds nutrients and 3-4 times it’s weight in water
  • Clean, odorless, sterile and non-toxic
  • Will not rot or mold
  • Lightweight substitute for sand
  • Can float to the top of potted plants due to its light weight

Vermiculite

  • Great for or Seed Starting or blending a custom potting mix
  • Helps loosen heavy soils and prevents compaction
  • Retains moisture and plant nutrients
  • Mixes well with soil
  • Clean, sterile, odorless, non-toxic

Growing Food Out of Your Zone

As “The Citrus Guy” in a non-citrus producing area of the country, I appreciate this guest blog opportunity to show folks that anybody can grow their own citrus fruit and many other types of food in containers.

One of the first questions I get is, “Can you actually get fruit from containerized trees”?
I enthusiastically answer, YES!

I grow most (okay, ALL) of my 55+ Citrus in containers. Even though I live in Charleston, SC (Zone 8) and they can grow in the ground here, I prefer growing them in containers. I should include in this list my figs, blueberries, jujubes (Ziziphus mauritiana), miracle fruit (Synsepalum dulcificum) as well.

Lemon Guava (Author Photo)

Here is a brief “how to do it”.

The Container
Anything is possible to use, IF, you have a large enough container 15 to 30 gallons. Don’t expect as big a tree or bush as one grown in the ground. Dwarf rootstock is helpful, but not essential. Root stock dwarfs the tree (still giving you full size fruit) but the container will do that to some extent also. With that being said, I have some seed grown trees that are producing fruit on their own roots.

Nagami Kumquat (Author Photo)

Watering/Moisture

Be aware that plastic containers retain moisture longer than other types of pots. Terracotta pots, not only being much heavier, wick water out faster, unless of course it is glazed inside. As with most plants, allow the upper surface of the soil to become semi dry to the touch and maybe an inch down, then water thoroughly. Fruiting plants need lots of moisture, but don’t like wet feet all the time. If you keep the soil about the consistency of a wrung-out dish sponge, you will be well ahead of the game.

Papaya grown from seed. (Author Photo)

All the Dirt on Soil
Espoma makes a great potting soil that can be used for all indoor and outdoor container plants.  A good blend of Peat with either Sand, Perlite and Vermiculite will suffice. If it is well draining, retains some moisture, and is sturdy enough to support the plant, it is good to go.

Pomegranate and Banana (Author Photo)

Feed Me to Feed You

Good nutrition is essential, but over fertilization can result in excessive vegetative or leafy growth, poor fruiting and possible death due to fertilizer salt accumulation.  I am huge proponent of Citrus-tone, also made by Espoma, for my citrus trees and many of the other fruiting plants. Holly Tone is also very good for some extra acidity, such as what blueberries need. I have never had any issues of salt accumulation with these products.

Let There Be Light
Citrus and all fruiting plants love sunlight, 8-10 hours if possible, even in winter. Indoors supplemental lighting may be required. There are many different types of lighting and fixtures on the market. I encourage you to do your homework when it comes to what you can afford, what you absolutely need, light density, and color spectrum.

A word of caution here, after a plant has been inside for an extended length of time, you can still burn the leaves. Acclimate them slowly to the intensity of the sun. Bring them out for a few hours, then shade them. After a couple of days of doing this, leave it out a little longer. Do this until you are at maximum lighting.

Hot Foot

Summer time can bring other problems with container cultivation. The temperature in a black pot, outside in 8 hours of sunlight can easily reach 120 degrees. There are numerous ways to alleviate this. First, shade the pot with low growing plants in other pots. This will give you a chance to have some flowers around your tree and make a very nice display. Second, paint your pots white. The white surface will reflect the rays of the sun and keep your roots many degrees cooler. You can also do a pot inside a pot. Depending on the color of the outside pot and the air space between the that and the inner pot will determine just how many degrees cooler it can be.

In Conclusion

Pushing the limits of your growing zone can be intimidating and fun at the same time. With a little bit of work and common sense you can grow most tropical fruits in any part of the country. I say most because, I would LOVE to grow my own coconut. According to all the literature I have read, even a dwarf one will not fruit until it is 30-40 feet tall, pruning is not an option because of the growth habit and my greenhouse does not have an elevating roof…….yet!

 

Happy Growing!

Darren Sheriff

a.k.a. The Citrus Guy

 

Darren Sheriff is a SCNLA Certified Professional Nurseryman, A Charleston County Master Gardener Emeritus and is the manager for Terra Bella Garden Center in North Charleston, South Carolina. With his 220+ camellias, he is an active member of, and current president of, the Coastal Carolina Camellia Society, the South Carolina State Director for the American Camellia Society, the founder of the Lowcountry Fruit Growers Society as well as their former president. Known as “The Citrus Guy” in the Lowcountry he is an expert in the cultivation of Citrus and currently has 55+ different varieties in his yard, mostly in containers, but there is one in the ground as well. As an Exotic Tropical Fruit buff, he is growing things many people have never heard of and is well versed in all other kinds of fruit as well. He has authored numerous books all of which can be found on Amazon or his website https://thecitrusguy.com/.

Espoma Organic Potting Soil MixCitrus-tone Plant Food

Ripe for the Picking: Blackberry Harvesting Tips and Recipes

The blackberry is an iconic summer berry and right now they are ripe for the picking.

Blackberries, rich with exquisite flavors, are just as good on their own or baked into a pie. Picking blackberries is easy and a great summer activity to enjoy with family and friends. Not to mention, there are endless recipes and ways to enjoy blackberries.

These harvesting tips will ensure that you are berry successful in picking the best blackberries.

The Blackberry Harvest:

Blackberries start to ripen in July and August, but watch for early bloomers in late June. For the best flavors, it is important to pick ripe blackberries — the ones that are dark black in color and look quite plump. If the berry is a light purple or red or is quite firm, it may need a few more weeks to ripen. Not all berries will ripen at the same time so it is important to check before the birds get to them.

The picking part is easy! Most blackberries have thorns so be sure to use caution when reaching deep inside the bush for the perfect blackberry. For the healthiest blackberry bushes, use Espoma’s Holly-tone fertilizer.

When you get home, pour the blackberries on to a shallow pan to pick out any moldy or overly ripe blackberries. Blackberries keep in the fridge for about a week, but it is best to use them as soon as possible. The final step is to pick out your favorite recipe and enjoy the sweet taste of summer blackberries.

See our top recipe picks below!

 Favorite Blackberry Recipes:

Mini Blackberry Pies: Do you need desert ideas for your mid-summer party? Here is a recipe for mini blackberry pies. These delicious mini pies will be a party favorite!

Blackberry Jam: Try this delectable blackberry jam recipe and your peanut butter and jelly sandwiches will never be the same! Not only will you not have to buy jam this summer, but store some away in a cool dry place and you will have homemade blackberry jam all winter.

Blackberry Sorbet: Cool off in the hot summer months with this sweet and savory blackberry sorbet. This recipe is easy to make and easy to store in the freezer for another day.

Blackberry Syrup: Blackberry syrup is a tasty substitute for maple syrup! Try the syrup on your favorite breakfast foods and a smile is guaranteed.

Ready to grow more berries? Learn how Garden Answer grows blueberries in containers!

Grow Healthy Berries Using:

7 Ways to Drink a Strawberry

Summer is in full swing and it is HOT!

With the heat, comes sitting on the porch enjoying a nice, cold drink. While some enjoy sweet tea and others enjoy lemonade, we love to use freshly grown strawberries for a special treat.

We walked you through planting strawberries in the spring and how to fertilize regularly with Espoma’s Holly-tone to give your plants proper nutrients. Now it’s time pick your juiciest freshest strawberries and enjoy them in a new way.

Check out this vertical strawberry planter:

7 Ways to Drink a Strawberry                                            

Strawberry Iced Tea via Divas Can Cook

This summer drink is a great alternative to a traditional sweet tea by adding the perfect amount of strawberry sweet to add a hint of flavor. It is genuinely a Yin and Yang moment.

Strawberry Shortcake Milkshake via A Spicy Perspective

Strawberry Shortcake in a glass? This decadent sweet treat will have your friends asking for seconds all summer long!

Sparkling Strawberry Lemonade via Life’s Ambrosia

Give your Lemonade a twist this summer by giving it a little sparkle. Sparkling drinks are a great way to cool down by keeping it light!

Strawberry Rosé via Tammilee Tips

For all the folks that want to Rosé all Day, this take on a traditional rose is delicious. Just try to keep your guests from staring in on a strawberry wine serenade.

Strawberry Mojito via Vanilla and Bean

Everyone loves a pink drink! Take a spin on the classic mojito and add in fresh strawberries. Not only does it change the color, but it will change how you drink mojitos.

Frozen Strawberry Daiquiri via Delish

Summertime classic, made fresh.  This sure-fire classic will have everyone asking for the recipe. The flavors really come out with the freshness only a home grown strawberry can provide.

Strawberry Basil Soda via The Kitchn

The soda craving is real. Replace the syrupy sweet soda with a refreshing fresh strawberry basil soda. You will be surprised on how well the two complement each other.

Check out our dinner recipes using homegrown strawberries to impress any guest.

For the juiciest strawberries use:

5 Unusual Containers to Grow Strawberries

There are very few things better than a sweet, juicy strawberry from your garden. Summer and strawberries go hand in hand, so if you aren’t already growing them, get them in the ground now.

But not everyone has a spot in the garden for this berry, so sometimes you need to come up with interesting and unique ways to plant them.

Choose your favorite from our options below and head over to your local garden center to pick up supplies and some Holly-tone. Your fresh strawberries won’t disappoint!

5 Unique Spots to Plant Strawberries:

Bird Bath

If you have a bird bath lying around that you no longer need, plant some strawberries in there! Add large rocks or broken terra cotta to the bottom to ensure proper drainage. Fill it the rest of the way with Espoma’s Organic Potting Mix and plant your berries!

DIY Tower

Follow along with Laura from Garden Answer as she creates her own unique take on a strawberry tower. Need step by step written directions? Check it out here.

Gutter Planters

These planters, which hang on the side of the house, are perfect for anyone who needs a little space. Be sure they are fastened tightly before planting. Leave a little space between plants and the sides so they can have room to drape over the sides. Once planted, water them well with Espoma’s Grow! liquid plant food.

Pallet Planter

We’ve seen Laura from Garden Answer plant a whole vegetable garden in a pallet, but we think it would be a great place for an abundance of strawberries! Gently fill them with Espoma’s Organic Garden Soil to help them grow strong roots.

Flower Box Tower

This is another DIY-type planter. Stacking up flower boxes will help keep the planters off of the ground and away from any curious creatures that might want to eat your strawberries ! Plant a few of them up and watch them grow.

Espoma products to help you grow your best strawberries yet:

Grow! Plant FoodPotting Soil

Looking to learn more about growing strawberries? Check out all we have to say about this delicious berry!

How to Choose the Right Strawberry Variety to Grow

Strawberries are one of the most popular berries for gardeners to grow. They pack quite a punch, they are a great source of Vitamin C and dietary fiber and have only 49 calories per cup.

When you are ready to plant strawberries, start by deciding which variety will be best for your location and stop by your local garden center for supplies. Encourage strawberries to grow by adding Espoma’s Holly-tone, an organic plant food perfect for these acid-loving plants.

You can find strawberries either as June bearing or everbearing. June bearing strawberries form flower buds in the fall as the day length decreases. You’ll be able to harvest them the following early to mid-June and for three to four weeks. June-bearing strawberries produce their first crop the second year after planting.

June bearing strawberries are available in early, mid-season and late varieties. These varieties differ by the best time to harvest.  The difference between early and mid-season is only a couple of days, for late season, it’s about seven to nine days.

Though everbearing strawberries begin to bear fruit at the same time as June bearers, they will continue to produce berries throughout summer and into fall — sometimes even all of the way into October. The different varieties in the everbearing group are known as day-neutral. This means the plants do not need a certain amount of daylight to set flower buds.

The best strawberry varieties to grow

For taste. One of the most important factors in deciding which berries to grow is taste. If you’re ordering your strawberries from a catalog, look to see what the dessert quality is rated. We recommend planting the sparkle variety. These fan favorites are widely considered one of the best choices. Sparkle strawberries are medium-sized with an intense flavor and deep red coloring.

For freezing. Some people want berries that will last all season when they freeze them and not turn to mush. When you’re picking a variety, choose one that produces firm, red strawberries with a slight tart flavor. Allstar is a June-bearing strawberry that’s firm with a glossy red coloring. It produces very large berries with a mild, but sweet flavor, making it ideal for freezing and enjoying for months to come.

 

For size. Another factor to consider is size — do you want very large, large, medium or something in between? If you’re looking for a plant that grows consistently sized berries throughout the season, we recommend June-bearing Honeoye strawberries. These early season berries are large, firm and can be bright orange to red in color. It’s also known to produce plenty of berries.

For canning and jams. Most strawberries are well-suited for canning and jam. Earliglow, a June-bearing strawberry, is especially tasty. It sets and ripens its fruit sooner than virtually every other strawberry variety available. They have an excellent and sweet flavor, plus they are resistant to many strawberry diseases.

For growing in containers. Small space gardeners can still grow large berries. Seascape strawberry plants are everbearing and produce large berries that are bursting with flavor. This variety is also disease-resistant.

For a twist, grow strawberries vertically like Laura from Garden Answer does. 

Get The Best Berries with: