Thai Lime Container Plant

It's not just vegetables that everyone wants to grow these days - it's fruit, too.  Some are hardy enough to leave in the ground and some need to be planted in containers and brought indoors for the winter, but either way, Marylanders are discovering the joys of picking their own fruit in their own yards.

Homegrown Key Lime Pie
Ever grown your own key limes for pie?
I got a message this week from Homestead's growers that they happen to have a supply of really nice citrus trees ready for market.  Varieties include lemons, limes (including Keiffer limes for Thai cooking), kumquats and oranges.  These 4-5-feet trees do really well in containers.  Of course we're not in Miami here, so they'll have to be brought indoors when it drops below freezing, but with sunlight, they're be fine over the winter and will start growing again the following spring when they're put back outdoors.  The fruits from these smaller citrus plants grown in containers are - get this! - the same size as the fruits from a full-grown citrus tree, and the flavors are just as good.  Amazing.  There's lots more about growing citrus in Maryland from greenhouse manager Charles Kemberling.

Water as you would any container-grown plant - letting the plant get somewhat dry between watering, and watering well until the water runs through the pot.

Fertilize with an acid fertilizer in the spring or summer prior to the flush of new growth and again in late August.  There are fertilizers that are specifically designed for citrus plants, like Espoma’s Citrus-Tone.

Pruning & Repotting. Dwarf citrus can grow to 6-8 feet, but can be pruned at any time to keep the plant compact and bushy. Repot in early spring (when you see signs of new growth) only if necessary, not yearly (being rootbound seems to encourage reblooming).   If you don't wasnt to pot up to a larger size, treat the plant as a bonsai.  That means removing the plant, trimming some top growth and some root growth, then adding soil and replanting in the same size container.

Pests. Look for common spider mites, mealy bug and scale. Use insecticidal soap, Neem oil or horticultural oil. Look for honeydew as an indicator of insect problems. The best cure is prevention. Inspect your plant often to catch any problems early.

Temperatures - Citruses need cool temperatures in winter, but won't tolerate temperatures much below freezing. Lots of light will promote blooming. During late fall, winter and early spring, keep under grow lights for 12 hours a day. They can lose their leaves in heat or whenever sudden changes in temperature, light levels or humidity occur. This is a normal reaction and the foliage will grow back as soon as the environment stabilizes.

In the spring, when night-time temperatures consistently reach 50° F, it’s time to put your plant outside. Choose a site that gets morning sun with afternoon shade. As the plant acclimates to the sun, it can be gradually moved to a full sun position.  In fall, when the nighttime temperatures begin cooling below 50° F, bring your citrus indoors to a cool and bright location and enjoy the fragrance.

Naval Oranges & Kumquats

Kumquats and close-up of a navel orange

Here are popular citrus choices that have performed well in our climate:

  • Improved Meyer Lemon – Meyer Lemon is one of the most productive citrus trees, for its size. And best of all, it has thin-skinned fruits that are especially sweet and succulent.
  • Eureka Lemon – Produces an abundance of tart, juicy fruits with few seeds.
  • Bearss Lime – Vigorous and easily grown with prolific white flowers followed by green-yellow fruit, these limes are medium-sized and relatively seedless.
  • Dwarf Washington Navel Orange – Delicious, easily peeled, seedless sweet fruit with a good orange flavor.
  • Kumquats – These are the ‘little gold gems’ of the citrus family. The kumquat has a thin, sweet peel and a zesty, somewhat tart center. The kumquat tastes best if it is gently rolled between the fingers before being eaten, as this releases the essential oils in the rind. Eat kumquats as you would eat grapes (with the peel). It is one of the hardiest of the citrus plants.

Photo credits:  Kumquat by chooyutshing,  Naval orange by Fluor Doublet

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