The Pot-Grown Orange: How to Cultivate Oranges in Containers
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Given the UK climate, it’s best to grow all orange trees in pots. These trees are only hardy in very warm climates, so they do need to be indoors – in your home or greenhouse – over the winter. The best way to accomplish this is to grow orange trees in pots so that you can move them between your home and your garden as the seasons change.
Select the best orange tree for pots
You need to select a dwarf cultivar as your container orange tree. These are orange trees that have been grafted onto dwarf tree roots. This limits the size they can grow to, fitting nicely into pots and containers. Though you do need to repot them into larger pots as the tree grows.
Look for healthy trees that are about two to three years old. The leaves should be green and shiny. Dig around gently in the soil to ensure that the roots are not all bound up in a ball or go round and round the circumference of the pot. This indicates that the tree may be root bound and hasn’t been given enough space to grow.
Dwarf orange tree cultivars I suggest are:
- “Moro” blood oranges, known for their deep red flesh and intense, fruity flavor.
- “Satsuma” mandarin oranges, a small, easy-peel variety that is seedless and very sweet.
- “Calamondin” oranges, also known as “Calamansi”, a small, round citrus fruit with a thin, smooth skin and a sweet-tart flavor.
- “Kishu” mandarin oranges, which are small, seedless, and very sweet with a loose skin which is easy to peel.
- “Meyer” lemons, a hybrid citrus fruit, a cross between a lemon and a mandarin orange, and known for its sweeter, less acidic taste.
- “Seville” oranges, a traditional variety used for marmalade and other preserves, it is known for its bitter taste and high pectin content.
Select the pot or container
The material of the pot you choose to grow your orange tree in doesn’t really matter as long as you take it out of the black plastic pot it comes in from the nursery or greenhouse. Black plastic absorbs heat and will create an environment that’s too warm for your tree and may cook the roots. Choose a pot in a lighter colour to reflect the sunlight.
Terracotta, wood, fibreglass, plastic and wood are all good choices. But it’s important that you’re able to drill drainage holes in the bottom of the pot. One or two holes aren’t enough; you need more than that to ensure that the excess water from watering your tree can fully drain out. If the pot doesn’t come with enough holes, you need to make your own. This can be difficult in ceramic or stone pots.
On the other hand, you don’t want your tree to topple over if it becomes top heavy. And plastic and fibreglass pots are lightweight. This makes them easier to move around though but easier to knock over.
As your orange plant sits on either your patio and inside your home according to the season, it’s best to go with a neutral design for the pot so that it suits all decors.
As for the size of the pot, start with one that’s twice the size of the pot from the greenhouse or garden centre. A good guideline is to choose one that’s 60cm wide and 60cm tall, at most. Of course, it does depend on the size of your tree.
Be careful not to choose a pot that’s a lot bigger than the root ball of your tree, though. Having extra soil in the pot often leads to it becoming water-logged which is a breeding ground for a fungal disease called root rot. (See Orange tree pests and diseases.)
And don’t forget that you’re going to repot the orange tree every two or three years as it grows, so your choice of pot isn’t forever.
Get the soil ready
The best soil for growing your orange tree in is a commercial potting mix. Garden soil is just too heavy for containers and too compact to let the orange tree roots breathe.
Orange trees like a light and loamy soil. The soil should drain well and not hold together in clumps. A pH value of 6.0 to 7.0 (slightly alkaline) is best.
Choose a commercial potting soil that has peat moss or perlite added to it to help with drainage. Look also for coconut fibre. It’s important to have soil that has these added components as soil with all organic matter decomposes quickly and becomes clumpy. Plus some of these components retain water and that helps to keep the soil moist.
But you need to avoid potting mixes with too many elements that hold water as they can cause the soil to become water-logged and you’re looking for a light, well-drained mix. Beware commercial potting mixes that are especially designed to hold water – they’re not for orange trees.
On the other hand, if the potting mix is too heavy, add in some hardwood bark chips to create some air spaces in it.
Prepare the pot
If the final location of the pot isn’t where you’re filling it up, consider putting it on a dolly or cart to make it easier to move. the pot plus soil plus tree becomes heavy.
If you have a lightweight pot (plastic or fibreglass), put a few large stones in the bottom of the pot to add more weight. But be careful not to cover up the drainage holes.
Then add some gravel to the pot, again to help with drainage.
Fill the pot half-way with the potting mix.
Prepare the tree
If your tree is already planted in soil, remove it from its container onto some newspaper. Do this by putting the pot on its side and tapping gently to loosen the roots. Grasp the trunk near the soil and gently pull it out.
Lightly loosen any roots that are compacted together and remove any soil clinging to them.
Look for any dead or diseased roots. They’ll be black or brown and probably mushy. Cut these off with a sterilised cutting tool.
Pot the orange tree
Place the tree in the pot and add more soil mix.
Check the tree is at the right level by looking at the place where the tree is grafted. This looks like a bump a few inches above the root crown. Make sure this graft point is at least 5cm above the soil level. The top of the root ball should also be above the level of the soil while the roots themselves are buried below.
[Note: you can trim off any green shoots below the graft bump as these won’t produce fruit.]
Finish putting in the soil mix
Add more soil mix and gently tamp it down. Check that the graft bump and the root crown are still above ground. Press the soil around the trunk.
Water in the tree
Give your orange tree a good watering. Check that water is draining out the bottom of the pot. Remember that to grow orange trees in pots needs, the soil to be consistently moist.
Look after the tree
I’ve written a detailed article, How to grow and care for orange trees, that tells you how to successfully grow your orange tree. Head over there to find all about the light, temperature and watering requirements of your tree, and much more.