Those in cold climates can order dwarf citrus trees from mail-order nurseries. The new trees arrive bare-root and small, covered in green leaves on sturdy branches with a sweet smell. Those in warmer climates can purchase citrus trees planted in 5-gallon containers from local nurseries and repot them in larger containers either now or when spring arrives.
Keep your bare-root citrus, which comes with leaves and often other blooms and fruit, in a cool place. Plant it within a week of arrival, choosing a 10- to 14-inch pot with several drainage holes for a typical 2- to 3-year-old tree. In a pot that's too big overwatering tends to happen, which can lead to root rot and fungal problems.
Before planting, shake the tree gently to remove soil or sawdust clinging to its roots.
Mix 3 parts regular potting soil with 1 part 1-inch-gauge redwood or cedar shavings (found at pet-supply stores as hamster bedding). Add a dose of slow-release, nitrogen-rich fertilizer, following directions on the package.
Fill bottom of container with about 1 inch prepared potting mix. Center tree and add more mix to fill. Do not plant too deep -- you should be able to see just the top of the roots through the soil's surface. Press down firmly around the perimeter of the root ball to stabilize the tree.
Tie the tree to a stake with twine (not wire, which may cut into the growing trunk). Prune lightly, removing any broken branches or to refine shape. Then water well, making sure the pot drains freely -- setting it on a saucer full of pebbles will help.
Location: Lavish your tree with sun at least 8 hours daily, or set it under a full-spectrum grow light (available from a home-improvement center) from morning to evening. Keep above 60ºF in winter.
Water: Pick a pot with good drainage, and use our soil blend. Water about 1/2 gallon weekly, when the top 3 inches of soil feel dry. If you live in a dry climate or have dry heat, mist leaves every few days.
Feeding: Fertilize with a high-nitrogen, low-phosphorus food (20-10-10) or one specifically for citrus every other time you water.
Pruning: Prune at least three times a year -- April, June, and September -- to increase the number of branches, thereby boosting fruit production and giving the tree good shape.
Pest Control: Keep an eye peeled for bugs (mainly mealy bug and scale); if necessary, wash with an organic insecticidal soap or neem oil.
Ongoing Care: Repot in spring into a container 2 inches wider, using the same soil mix. Rotate so all sides get direct sun. Take outside when nights warm up, setting them first in a sheltered spot, where they can acclimate to sunlight. In fall before moving back inside, check for pests and spray leaves with a hose.
By Sarah Kinbar, Cottage Living