Citrus in containers

 When the girl was just a twinkle in her dad’s eye, I bought 3 citrus trees from a catalog- tangerine, lemon and lime, all for around 10 bucks. When they arrived, they were tiny- the largest was the lemon, and it was about the size of a pencil, the others were stems with roots. I put them in 8 inch pots, and put them on our west facing porch for the summer. When it got cold in the fall I brought them in, put them in a south window, took care of them through the winter, waited for them to bloom.
And waited…
The girl was a kindergartner when the tangerine tree bloomed, and produced tiny sour fruits… it blooms every other year, or so, and the lemon more regularly. The lime only has bloomed once.
The best winter for them was a year when I took them to school with me- my classroom at the time had a wall of north facing windows, and the heat was turned off at night. Perfect conditions. Indirect sun and cool nights are what everyone recommends for citrus in pots, and that room was perfect for it.

One of my favorite memories of the tangerine is from that year I brought it to school- I had a student who was hungry all the time- all teenage boys are, to a degree, but this guy- hungry all the time. The tangerines were hanging from the branches, still green, still wickedly sour. I was on hall duty, the bell rang and I came inside. The air was fragrant- I could tell someone had picked and eaten a tangerine- “Who?” all the boys tried to look innocent, especially Miguel, whose lips were in a permanent pucker.

Unfortunately, I only had that classroom for a year, and now the trees have to suffer through winter at my house.We have a low-slung ranch house, and there are no north windows, the west ones are shaded. The citrus live in the boy’s room, which therefore has a jungle aura to it. He doesn’t mind, at this point…

I underplanted the lemon with a jade plant- neither seems to suffer, although I can’t say either is benefitting. I have wondered if I should try to separate them, but I think I’d wind up killing both. It’s in a 14 inch pot, near a west window that is shaded. I move it outside in May, and watch the low temperature predictions.
The tangerine is the giant of the bunch, and it bloomed tremendously this winter. Because it bloomed inside, there weren’t any pollinators around, so I had to play bee. I took a paint brush out of the boy’s watercolor set and went around transferring pollen from one blossom to another. There are tiny green marbles on the plant now- although not as many fruits as there were flowers…not an exact science.
The lime is still the tiniest of the three, I may move it to a different pot, with new soil, this spring to see if that will jump start it.

So, at 11 years old,, are these plants thriving? Not really. If I lived in a place where citrus could grow in the ground, and these were ten year old trees, I think I would have more fruit than I could give away. In containers, they are much more like pet houseplants than anything that contributes to my food pantry. The Logee’ s book I reviewed the other day has some helpful tips, that I mostly already learned the hard way, in keeping them alive for 11 years.

 Someday, when I get my conservatory (dreams can come true) maybe they’ll produce more, but right now, I’m kind of disappointed.

 But, hope springs eternal, I’ve ordered a Meyer lemon, also cheap and tiny, and I’ll nurse it to adulthood as well, fighting for window space in my kids’ rooms. It arrived the other day, and I’ll now count down the years until I can make lemon curd. We’ll have a party, with vanilla ice cream, too.


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Felecia
    Apr 15, 2011 @ 20:06:11

    I never ever thought of growing citrus in a less than California climate. I used to have a lemon tree in my front yard…it was a water hog but the lemons in the dead of winter were AMAZING!!! I loved being able to go out to my front yard whenever I wanted a little lemon zest or juice…or something pretty to put into a jar on my table.


    • katsmama
      Apr 15, 2011 @ 20:48:10

      I’m so jealous- the citrus would be the reason I would move to someplace like California or Arizona- I wouldn’t want to deal with the heat, but would love the lemons, and avocados and stuff.


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