Orange Tree Container Care: Can You Grow Oranges In A Pot

Love the aroma of orange blossoms and the delicious fruit, but perhaps your climate is less than desirable for an outdoor orange tree grove? Don’t despair; the solution just may be growing orange trees in containers. Can you grow oranges in a pot? Read on to find out.

Can You Grow Oranges in a Pot?

Yes, indeed. Growing orange trees in containers is the easiest and surest method to protect them from possible cold damage. The key is selecting the best orange trees suited for pots followed by appropriate fertilization, watering, and maintenance of size through pruning.

Best Orange Trees for Pots

Almost any citrus can be container grown, but due to their large size, they may suffer in a pot. The best orange trees for container gardening are the dwarf cultivars:

  • Calamondin
  • Trovita
  • Budda’s Hand

Satsumas are a small tree that can be dwarfed even more when potted.

All these small trees must be protected when temperatures drop to 25 degrees F. (-3.8 C.) or lower. The tree can be moved to a sheltered area, indoors, or covered with a double layer composed of a blanket and then plastic. If temps return to normal the next day, be sure to uncover the orange. An established citrus can tolerate low temps and recover more quickly.

Orange Tree Container Gardening

To get your containerized orange tree off on the right footing, you need the correct potting soil mix and the correct size pot. While you can place the tree in a 5-gallon (19 L) pot, bigger is better. A large container like a whiskey barrel or 20-gallon (76 L) pot is ideal. Make sure it has drainage holes or drill some into it. The addition of some heavy-duty coaster or wheels is a good idea as well.

For potting medium, there are numerous thoughts, but the prevailing opinion is to select one that is well-draining. Commercial potting mixes with peat moss, perlite, vermiculite, and compost are suitable as long as the soil is light enough to drain well. If it is too heavy, amend with hardwood bark, cedar or redwood shavings, perlite or coco fiber. Avoid buying any potting soil with chemical wetting agents which will make the soil too wet and potentially rot the roots.

First, add a layer of gravel or rock to the bottom of the pot to aid in drainage, and then add some of the soil mix to rest the roots on. Situate the tree on top and fill in around it, keeping the tree vertical and straight. Tamp the soil down around the roots to remove air pockets.

Orange Tree Container Care

Fertilize your new orange tree using a Vitamin B-1 rooting tonic once it has been potted. Thereafter, apply a slow-release fertilizer to the soil surface yearly in the spring, which will prevent any burning of the root system. Winterize your tree by ending fertilization after July. Fertilization after July promotes late, tender shoots that are susceptible to cold damage.

Choose a site for the orange that is sheltered from northern winds and is in full sun. Overwatering is the number one problem for container-grown citrus. Water the orange tree as needed, allowing the upper inch of the soil to dry before watering again. Plastic, metal and ceramic pots stay wet longer than wood or clay. Reduce watering during the winter.

Restraining the size of the orange by pruning will ensure a balanced shape. Prune back leggy branches to encourage side branching.

Every three to four years, the tree will likely outgrow its container and may be heralded by leaf shed, browning, and twig dieback. Either repot the tree to a larger container or remove it and trim the roots, returning it to the original pot with fresh potting soil. If cutting back the roots, remove about one-quarter of the roots (2-3 inches or 7-7.5 cm.) and prune out at least one-third of the foliage at the same time.

Thin the citrus every spring to reduce the number of fruit, which is usually overkill for the size of the tree. This will ensure better fruit size, prevent alternate bearing and better overall tree health. Over fruiting can stunt the growth of young trees as well as leave it susceptible to pest damage and freeze injury. A 5-gallon (19 L) tee should only be allowed to set four to six fruit in the first year.

How to Grow Oranges in a Container

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Containers work well for orange trees grown in cooler climates because you can bring them indoors for winter. Orange trees (Citrus sinensis) require a semi-tropical climate, as in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 9 and 10. Containers limit the available soil space for roots to spread, so you must select a dwarf orange tree. Select orange varieties grown on dwarf rootstock such as trifoliate orange (Poncirus trifoliata), which limits tree size to about 10 feet tall. "Flying Dragon," a trifoliate orange cultivar commonly used as dwarf rootstock, limits tree height to between 5 and 7 feet tall.

Drill at least one 1/2-inch diameter drainage hole in the bottom of the large planter, if needed. Small trees are usually sold in 2- to 3-gallon containers, so you will need to gradually increase the container size as the tree grows. Larger orange trees should be planted in a half-whiskey barrel or a 15- to 20-gallon container. Most planters you buy already have drainage holes, but you'll need to drill a hole if converting a container for use as a planter.

Set the container in a location that receives full sun, or at least eight hours of direct sunlight daily. Place the container on a short platform to elevate the bottom of the container so water can drain freely from the soil. A few bricks can serve as a platform for the container.

Line the bottom of the container with a piece of mesh hardware cloth to prevent soil from falling through the drainage hole. You can add an inch or two of gravel for further drainage, if desired, but this isn't really necessary as long as you have a drainage hole. Fill the container with a well-drained potting mixture.

Plant the orange tree in the container with a potting mixture that allows good drainage plant the tree so the potting soil level is even with the top of the root ball. You can use a bagged potting mix, if desired, or mix your own potting medium, using equal parts sphagnum peat moss, finished compost and coarse sand. Leave at least 1 inch between the soil level and container edge.

Apply a layer of mulch up to the container edge to help insulate the plant roots. While mulch helps keep roots warm in winter and cool in summer, it also retains moisture, so you must monitor the soil moisture content carefully. Use an organic mulch, such as shredded bark, leaf mold or nutrient-rich compost.

Water the tree thoroughly until water drains out the bottom. Oranges need plenty of moisture but can also suffer from root rot, so allow the top inch or two of soil to dry out between waterings. Soil in containers dries out faster than in the ground. While you might need to water an orange tree planted in the ground once weekly, you might need to water a container-grown orange two or three times weekly or more during hot, dry weather.

Apply a water-soluble fertilizer, added to the water supply, about once every two weeks. Choose a complete fertilizer high in nitrogen, such as 12-6-6 or 12-4-6, that provides trace minerals such as zinc, iron, manganese and copper. Alternatively, you can use a slow-release fertilizer, which usually needs to be applied once every other month.

Check the leaves frequently for common insects, such as white flies, aphids, scale and mealy bugs. These can usually be picked off by hand or sprayed with a garden hose. Additionally, you can treat aphids with insecticidal soap, use horticultural oil on scale, and combat mealybugs with rubbing alcohol. The most common disease problem with container-grown oranges is root rot, but you can usually avoid this by allowing the soil to dry slightly between waterings.

Bring the container indoors for winter or when temperatures are expected to drop below 32 degrees Fahrenheit for several hours. Orange trees can actually tolerate temperatures down to 21 degrees, but just as soil warms up faster in containers, it also cools down faster. If you only experience the occasional dip in temperature, you can try other options, such as wrapping the trunk with warm fabric or covering the entire tree with a frost cloth. Any cover should be tucked under the planter to prevent air from escaping.

  • If you choose not to bring the tree indoors but to cover the orange with frost cloth instead, the frost cloth should not touch any of the branches or leaves. To make covering the tree easier, build a simple rectangular frame slightly larger than the tree, made from PVC pipe or 2-by-2-inch lumber. Tie or staple the frost cloth to the frame and fit the cage over the tree as needed. Remove the cover when temperatures around the tree reach 50 degrees.

A former cake decorator and competitive horticulturist, Amelia Allonsy is most at home in the kitchen or with her hands in the dirt. She received her Bachelor's degree from West Virginia University. Her work has been published in the San Francisco Chronicle and on other websites.

Orange Tree Selection

Small trees suited to container planting include orange tree varieties grafted onto dwarf rootstock, which is generally either trifoliate orange (Poncirus trifoliata) or its cultivar "Flying Dragon." Trifoliate orange root stock produces trees with a growth potential of approximately 10 feet tall, while "Flying Dragon" produces 5- to 7-foot tall trees. Satsuma is a seedless variety of mandarin orange (Citrus reticulata) that grows to only 6 feet tall. When protected against temperatures below 26 degrees Fahrenheit and given eight to ten hours of sunlight each day, satsumas can be successful when potted. "Trovita" sweet orange (Citrus sinensis) on dwarf rootstock reliably produces fruit when container-grown and given basic cultural needs of six to ten hours of sunlight, regular watering and fertilizing.

Step 6: Fertilizing and Pruning

Fertilize in spring with a citrus plant food. Citrus need extra nitrogen, so look for formulations with double the nitrogen compared to phosphorous and potassium. If you can't find citrus plant food in your area, timed-released or organic fruit tree foods with micronutrients are good alternatives. These slow release products will feed the plant over time. If the leaves yellow and the watering is correct, supplement the granular fertilizers with occasional foliar sprays of fish emulsion.

Prune off any new shoots that arise from below the graft union. These are rootstock shoots and won't grow into the desired citrus variety. You can also remove thorns if you wish to make handling the tree easier. These will gradually diminish as the citrus tree ages. Prune for shape and balance in spring, removing errant or leggy branches.

5 most popular varieties of orange trees

The orange is one of the most popular fruits. Different varieties of this citrus can be found almost year-round. Are you interested in growing your own dwarf orange tree? Which type to get can be confusing since there are many different kinds of dwarf orange trees for sale, so let us help you narrow it down. Here are our top 5 recommendations, in no particular order.

Washington Navel

Navel oranges are one of the most commonly seen citrus varieties in the market, and for good reason. This sweet and seedless orange is easy to peel, making it great to eat out of hand. While store-bought navels are nice, growing your own and eating a freshly picked orange is an entirely different experience. You can find Washington navel trees for sale in your local plant nurseries or order them online from a reliable source. Standard-sized trees usually grow to about 15-20 feet high, but a dwarf Washington navel orange tree has a maximum height of about 10 feet. Its peak season is between October and February, but they can bear fruit until April.

If you’re a fan of freshly squeezed OJ, then Valencia oranges just might be the perfect fit for you. Valencia orange trees bear succulent, super juicy fruits. Just make sure they get plenty of sunlight. Valencia trees can yield a considerable amount of fruit. You’d be surprised how little space one takes up. The standard Valencia tree only grows to about 8-15 feet, while dwarf varieties are just between 8-10 feet. This juicy citrus is a summer fruit and usually peaks around March through September.

Moro Blood Orange

Visually pleasing as well as having a very interesting flavor, blood oranges have gained a boom in popularity since around 2011. Buying blood orange trees is a good investment since they produce very versatile fruits. They’re good for juicing, eating out of hand, and for garnishing to make a dish extra colorful. When grown outdoors, the tree can grow around 8-15 feet and its fruits usually ripen around January to March. If you’re working with limited space, you can find dwarf Moro blood orange trees for sale in a nursery.

Looking for a cold-hardy sweet orange? Then the Louisiana sweet orange tree, also known as Hamlin, might just be for you. Hamlin orange trees are best grown outdoors so you can enjoy their thin-skinned juicy fruit. The fruit has a few seeds and is great for eating and juicing and has a nice tangy flavor. Like many orange varieties, this is a self-pollinating plant. It can grow as high as 14 feet. You can enjoy its fruits between October and January.

I believe there are two types of people: those who love Honeybells, and those who haven’t tasted one yet. It is known as one of the premium winter citruses and is only available in the market for a very limited amount of time every year. If you want to get your hands on these distinctly shaped oranges, you may need to pre-order them months in advance. If you search how to grow Honeybell orange trees from seed, you may get disappointed to find out that the fruit is seedless. This is a self harvesting citrus, meaning that its fruits will naturally fall off the tree when perfectly mature. If you’re a fan of Honeybell and want to avoid the hassle of preordering it in advance, then growing your tree from a local nursery might be a better option for you.

What Kinds of Trees Can You Plant?

The most obvious choice is a flowering tree that will be festooned with seasonal blossoms and color. Another choice could be a tree with attractive foliage that will color in the fall. If you choose fruiting trees you can even have home-grown produce right from your deck even if you have no garden at all. A sheltered terrace may also allow you to grow a more tender plant than will grow out in the garden, and if you have an indoor space for the winter, container planting allows us to grow tender trees that certainly wouldn’t survive outdoors all year round. There are lots of choices available for both sunny and shady areas, so the range of trees available for container-growing is large.

A practical purpose can be satisfied too. If you have moved into a new property you may not be ready yet to plan and plant your garden, but you know what trees you want to have. So consider buying them now to take advantage of sale prices or the lower price of smaller plants. Plant them in containers and use them to decorate your terrace or deck while you prepare your garden and plan the final location for your trees. By the time you come to plant them, they will have grown taller and larger, ready to make more impact straight away, while saving you money.

For long-term container planting, choose trees that are slower-growing or smaller in final size. These trees will live happily for many years in a container or planter box and give you lots of value with shade and flowers for season after season. Below we have included some ideas for trees to grow in containers.

Crape Myrtles

Top of the list for flowers all summer long, plus a spectacular fall display, are the Crape Myrtles. These flowering trees are full of blooms during the summer months, just when you are most likely to be on your deck relaxing or entertaining. With their wide range of colors they give a real lift to any space and in fall the foliage turns brilliant shades of red and orange. Not only will these trees be continuously in flower all summer long, but since they are very drought hardy they will survive a little neglect and happily grow in a container for many years. The cherry-red Dynamite Crape Myrtle is one of the best choices for a container, growing to perhaps 10 feet tall. Others, like the bright white Natchez Crape Myrtle, will grow a little taller but with spring pruning can be kept more compact if necessary, for a smaller space.


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