Grow Citrus Trees in Pots

Planting citrus trees in containers means you can move them inside when the days get cold.
Winter Harvest of Fresh Oranges

Winter Harvest of Fresh Oranges

Harvest oranges from early winter through to spring. Orange trees need cool winters and warm summers to yield the best fruits.

©2012, Dorling Kindersley Limited

2012, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Harvest oranges from early winter through to spring. Orange trees need cool winters and warm summers to yield the best fruits.

Ideal for garden pots, citrus trees are prized for their glossy evergreen leaves, fragrant white flowers, and colorful fruits. Move them indoors in winter to provide the warmth needed for the fruits to ripen, but set them outside again in summer.


All types of oranges thrive in large containers, but none tolerate frost. Sweet oranges, including blood and navel cultivars, need temperatures of around 65ºF (18ºC) to ripen and develop their full flavor. Sour or Seville oranges are not as tender, and their acidic fruits are ideal choices for making marmalade. Provide a pot with a few drainage holes in the bottom to prevent waterlogging, and plant up using a soil-based compost or a specialist citrus compost. Position trees in full sun, shelter from wind, and protect from cold drafts when growing plants indoors. 

Aftercare and Harvesting 

Avoid exposing orange trees to extreme temperature fluctuations by keeping them in a cool, bright conservatory or heated greenhouse in winter and a sheltered position outside in summer after the risk of frost has passed. Increase humidity indoors by placing the pot on a tray filled with water and gravel. Water when the compost surface is dry and feed with specialist citrus fertilizers. The fruits of these trees can take up to six months to reach their full size and ripen. Harvest oranges from early winter through to spring. For a good crop, try to mimic the cool winters and warm summers of the Mediterranean regions where they thrive.


Few plants are more handsome than a fruiting lemon tree in a classic terra-cotta pot. Where the temperature can be maintained above 52ºF (11ºC), they will remain in growth all year, giving a simultaneous display of starry, deliciously scented white flowers and ripening fruits. Like all citrus trees lemons are self-fertile, which means that a lone plant will produce fruits without a partner. Sharp drainage is essential, so ensure pots have holes in the base, add a layer of broken clay pot pieces beneath the compost, and set containers on “feet.” Plant in soil-based compost or a specialist citrus compost, and place in a sunny situation, whether under cover or in a sheltered area outdoors. 

Aftercare and Harvesting 

Lemons are killed by frost, and must be brought indoors before temperatures dive. They are best returned outdoors for summer because they do not enjoy excessive heat. Water once the top layer of compost is dry, but do not let them dry out completely, or they will drop their leaves. Feed with specialist citrus fertilizers as for calamondins. Lemons fruit all year if given a cool area indoors in winter and warmth in summer. However, they do not thrive in warm, centrally heated conservatories in winter. 

Calamondin Trees

Highly ornamental dwarf citrus trees, calamondins bear small, round, mandarin-like fruits, which are produced throughout the year. They have sour flesh, and are perfect for adding to drinks or making marmalade. Plant trees in a soil-based compost, or a specialist citrus compost, and apply a mulch after watering to help retain soil moisture. Place pots in full sun and shelter them from cold winds and drafts. 

How To Plant

  1. Select a container about 3in (8cm) wider than the root ball. Good drainage is the key to successful citrus cultivation, so drill drainage holes in the base if the pot does not already have them. Water the calamondin well.
  2. Cover the base with broken pot pieces to aid drainage and cover them with a layer of compost. Knock the tree from its pot and position so the compost will be level with the top of the root ball. Fill in with compost around the plant.
  3. Firm the compost, and water thoroughly. Add a generous layer of mulch, at least 1in (2.5cm) thick, to help retain moisture. To increase humidity, which citrus trees need, stand the container on a tray filled with water and gravel.

Aftercare and Harvesting

Calamondins are quite hardy and able to tolerate light frosts, but need gentle heat year-round to yield fruits. Place in a cool, bright area indoors over winter and move onto a sunny patio when there is no longer a risk of frost. Keep the roots moist, but not waterlogged, by standing pots on “feet.” Apply a summer citrus fertilizer every two weeks between spring and fall, and a winter citrus fertilizer every two weeks the rest of the year. Repot trees annually until mature.

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