With the right soil and feeding schedule, the proper pot, some protection from the cold, and a sunny indoor window or patio, any urban gardener can successfully grow citrus in containers year-round. In fact, many citrus and dwarf citrus varieties bloom, flower or fruit in the colder months, happily cheering up many a dreary winter.
Just about any variety of citrus fruit tree will grow readily in a container—for some time at least. Healthy specimens often outgrow their containers within a few years and will require larger accommodations to continue to thrive. The urban gardener’s best bet for container citrus success is to begin with dwarf or other varieties suitable for the confines of a pot. Here are some tried-and-true cultivars perfect for container or indoor gardening—or both.
1. Calamondin (includes Variegated Calamondin)
Grown more as an ornamental than a true citrus tree, the calamondin’s soft-skinned orange fruit is pretty and edible with a high acid content. An excellent container variety— for awhile, anyway—the calamondin (pictured above) does best outdoors with covered protection and is one of the hardiest varieties, withstanding temperatures as low as 20 degrees F.
2. Australian Finger Lime
Technically a citrus-relative, the Australian Finger lime (pictured aois a thorny plant that produces an unusual fruit: The limes are oblong in shape (hence the “Finger” in the name), with thin skin and contain pale yellow vesicles, lending to the nickname “Caviar Citrus.” The lime-like flavor is great in drinks, marmalades, sauces, jams and chutneys.
3. Dwarf Bearss Seedless Lime
Hands down, one of the best indoor citrus varieties available to home growers, the fruits of the Dwarf Bearss seedless lime are rather large and ripen in late winter to early spring. This tree makes an excellent container and patio plant and is happy to show off its dark-green evergreen leaves in a bushy, showy form with its large and heavy-bearing fruit that is great for cooking and beverages.
4. Improved Meyer Lemon
The Meyer lemon is arguably the most popular citrus fruit to grow in containers, and most beginners have great success with this variety. Meyers bear sweet, golden fruit most prolifically in the winter, but are known for their tendency to fruit year-round. This gourmet lemon has a delicate skin and a delicious flavor.
5. Kieffer (Kaffir) Lime
Also known as Makrut, the Kieffer lime’s leaves and fruit juice and zest are famous for their application in Thai, Indonesia and Cambodian cuisines. The fruit is dark green with a bumpy texture, about the size of a Western lime and incredibly fragrant. This is a great container fruit for the urban gardener and home chef.
The kumquat is a small, sweet (but tart) orange fruit that has soft, edible flesh. The trees are evergreens native to China, and like several other citrus varieties, are self-fertile, so you may opt to only grow one plant. They’re tolerant of cool conditions, as well. Kumquat plants are great in containers, but don’t do well once root-bound, so care should be taken to repot when needed.
7. Minneola Tangelo
The Minneola tangelo is a tangerine-grapefruit hybrid that produces a lovely tangerine-like fruit with a deep orange-red hue. Its fruit ripens in winter with very few seeds. Another lovely and adaptable container variety, the Minneola tangelo can be successful indoors or out.
8. Owari Satsuma Mandarin Orange
This variety’s deep-orange, seedless fruit peels easily, tastes wonderful and contrasts beautifully with the plant’s dark-green evergreen leaves. While it is the most cold hardy of mandarin varieties, the Owari Satsuma does best in climates where summers are mild. It is best to pick the early ripening fruit before the first frost in November or December; thankfully, it stores well.
9. Wekiwa Tangelo
Despite sharing a name with the Minneola tangelo, the fruit of the Wekiwa most closely resembles the pink grapefruit, but is largely reminiscent of the tangerine in flavor with only a little hint of grapefruit. Growers find the Wekiwa juicy and sweet. This hybrid does well in pots with prudent and diligent pruning.
10. Yuzu (Japanese Citron)
The Yuzu fruit is beloved for its fragrance and tartness that retains its flavor during cooking. The fruit itself is dark yellow with a lumpy texture, and the zest is coveted because of the highly aromatic rind. This thorny plant’s exceptional cold hardiness—down to temperatures as low as 5 to 10 degrees F—makes it an appealing citrus to grow, but getting it to flower can be challenging for novice growers. Still, many gardeners find it is well worth the effort.
Few container fruits are as rewarding and beautiful to care for as citrus. While their needs are unique, many growers find that their hard work and attentiveness to their plants is worth it when rewarded with sweet, petite, tangy fruits from their own homes.