Citrus is a big draw here in Texas. Who doesn’t enjoy a slice of lemon wedged on their refreshing glass of iced tea? Who doesn’t love the unmistakeable scent of citrus bursting from orange slices after a well-played soccer game. Citrus is synonymous with fresh. It’s scent, it’s taste, the sheer sight of it hanging from green-leaved trees just looks fresh. It’s no wonder the crowds come running when we get our new shipments of citrus trees at Rainbow Gardens. Today we’re giving our tips for successfully growing citrus in containers. 

5 Tips for Growing Citrus in Containers

Choosing a Container for Citrus

Most of our citrus selections come in a 5 gallon container, (with a few other selections thrown in). —Whiskey barrels, or 15-20 gallon containers are about the right size for a mature tree. However, we recommend potting no larger than twice the diameter of the pot your purchased tree is in, and then increasing in pot size as the plant grows.

Whatever type of container you choose for your citrus, make sure that it has great drainage, or you will need to provide some by drilling holes.

Potting up your citrus allows you to move it to a sunnier location if needed, or to a protected area in the event of a prolonged freeze. (Setting your pot on top of a rolling plant stand or investing in a multi-functional dolly can help prevent injuries when moving your citrus.)

If you are potting up citrus, give them plenty of room for their roots.

Potting Soil for Citrus

High quality, well draining potting soil like FoxFarm Happy Frog Potting Soil, or Ocean Forest Potting Soil starts your citrus off with beneficial soil microbes already in the mix that improve root efficiency and nutrient uptake.

Remember, the roots of citrus plants in containers rely on you to provide the nutrients that they need to thrive and survive. FoxFarm soil is also full of aged forest products, bat guano and earthworm castings; all products that lend to plant vitality.

Fertilizer for Citrus

Add a slow-release granular fertilizer like, Espoma Citrus-Tone, or FoxFarm Happy Frog Citrus and Avocado Food to the potting soil, and then pot up your citrus tree (read instructions on fertilizer bag for correct application rate). For added nutrition, you can supplement with a liquid fertilizer weekly or every two weeks to really get your citrus going. Grow Big from FoxFarm gets your citrus producing vibrant, lush vegetation, then once flower buds appear, switch to Big Bloom from FoxFarm for abundant flower set and citrus production.


There are multiple choices for citrus fertilizer. Ask us for help. We’ll guide you.

Sun Requirements and Watering for Citrus

Place your pot in an area that gets full sun. You’ll realize your citrus tree is not getting enough sun if you notice your plant getting really leggy. You can prune the branches back and scoot your citrus over to an area with more sunshine. Water your citrus tree when it needs it. Let the soil at the top of the container dry out some between watering. I like the dip stick method to test the soil. I’m the dip, who sticks my finger down into the soil and if the soil sticks to my finger and feels wet, I pass on watering my citrus for a day or two. Watch the weather, hotter temps mean soil in pots dry out faster, cooler weather means you can lighten up on the frequency of your watering.


Cold Protection for Citrus

When freeze is in the forecast, take precautions to ensure the health and survival of your citrus. All citrus can be damaged at temps around 28°, citrus in pots can be susceptible to damage at slightly higher temperatures. Satsumas, calamondins, and kumquats are the most hardy citrus when it comes to a freeze, while limes, Meyer lemons and citron can be severely damaged at temps from 23-28°.

 If citrus is left outside for the winter, it should be placed in an area that receives as much sun as possible, preferably on the south, southeast side of the house to protect from northern/northwest winds. You can further protect your citrus from freeze damage such as, wrapping incandescent Christmas lights around the tree to plug in at night. The combo of the lights along with a blanket and then plastic will give the tree a warm “greenhouse” effect. The cover should be taken off the next day once the temperature has risen above freezing for a few hours. Many people opt to bring the whole pot into a sunny, warm area of their home or garage to wait out the winter months. 

See how the pot of citrus on the rolling dolly makes it a cinch to roll the citrus tree inside for winter protection?

~The Happy Gardener, Lisa Mulroy