Mad About Berries

How to Grow Oranges in a Pot

The good news for those who live in a climate that’s not very suitable for growing oranges outdoors, but still want to have their own orange trees, is that they can grow their favorite citrus in a container.

Actually, growing oranges in containers is the easiest and most definite way to protect them from potential cold damage. Spring is the best time to plant oranges in containers.

The grower has to select the best variety suited for containers, water and fertilize them appropriately, and prune to maintain the size of the tree.

Published: July 12, 2022.

orange tree with oranges2

Best Varieties for Container Growing

As such, any variety of oranges can be grown in a pot, but as their size is so big, they may suffer in the container, or a really large container must be used. Therefore, dwarf cultivars are the best for container growing.

These cultivars include:

Calamondin: This is a cold-hardy variety. It can even tolerate temperatures as low as 20 degrees F (-6 degrees C). It’s a cross between a Mandarin orange (Citrus reticulata, tangerine, or Satsuma) and a  Kumquat (Fortunella margarita).

This variety is a small, bushy evergreen and reaches a height of 10 to 20 feet (3-6 m), but is often much shorter in stature.

Its branches have small spines and its flowers have awesome fragrance. The fruit is small (1 inch (2.5 cm) in diameter) and looks similar to a tangerine. The segmented fruit is seedless and highly acidic. The fruit persists through winter and can be used to make juice and also a very tasty marmalade.

Trovita: This variety can grow in a wide range of conditions, including indoors. It comes in a standard as well as dwarf varieties.

While the standard variety attains a height of 30 feet (9 m), the dwarf one grows up to 10 feet (3 m) and is ideal for container growing, although as it grows, the grower has to transplant it every year into a bigger container.

Satsuma: This is a small tree and can be dwarfed even more when grown in a container.

These small trees need to be protected when temperatures become less than 25 degrees F (-4 degrees C). The grower can either move them indoors or in a sheltered area or cover them with a double layer of a blanket and then plastic.

However, if the temperatures return to normal the next day, the grower should remove the coverings. Established citrus can withstand low temperatures and can recover faster.

oranges in the pot 3

Selecting the Suitable Pot

The grower should select an appropriately sized pot i.e., 5 gallons (19 L). The bigger the pot, the better. Thus, a whiskey barrel of 20 gallons (76 L) is ideal.

The container should have drainage holes or the grower should drill some into the bottom. Ceramic, plastic, and metal pots stay wet longer than pots made of clay or wood. It’s a good idea to add some durable coaster or wheels to the container.

Potting Mix

The options for the potting mix are many, but importantly it should be well-draining.

Commercial potting mixes with perlite, peat moss, compost, and vermiculite are good as long as they are light enough to drain well. If such a mix is too heavy, the grower should amend it with redwood shavings, coco fiber, hardwood bark, perlite, or cedar.

Potting mixes with chemical wetting agents should be avoided as the agents will make the soil too wet and can cause root rot.

Location

The location of the potted plant should be sheltered from northern winds and should receive full sun.

Since oranges are sensitive to cold weather and frost, placing the pot/container on a cart allows the grower to relocate the plant indoors during frost and outdoors during warmer weather.

Planting

Firstly, the grower should add a layer of rocks or gravel at the bottom of the container to help with drainage, and then add some of the soil mix to rest the roots on.

Then they should place the tree on top and fill around it, keeping the plant straight and vertical. Then they should press the soil down around the roots and remove all the air pockets.

Watering

The grower should remember to strictly avoid overwatering as it’s the number one enemy of potted citrus plants.

They should water their orange tree as required, letting the upper inch of the soil dry before the next watering.

Watering should be reduced during the winter and during the rainy weather.

Fertilization

The grower should add organic, slow-decomposing organic fertilizer into the potting mix when the orange tree is being planted.

After that, they should apply a slow-release fertilizer to the soil surface every year in the spring. The best options are worm castings, organic humus, and similar.

Using slow-release fertilizer reduces the risk of root system damage (root burns).

Note: From time to time, one may find recommendations like this one: "The grower should fertilize their new (orange) tree with a vitamin B-1 rooting tonic" or similar. This is a myth - please read more: "The Myth of Vitamin Stimulants: Vitamin B-1 reduces transplant shock by stimulating new root growth." (external link, opens in the new window).

After July, they should end fertilization and thus winterize the tree. Fertilization after July causes late, tender shoots that are vulnerable to cold damage.

However, varieties that bear ripe fruit in the late autumn or even winter can be fertilized during late summer and autumn with small amounts of citrus fertilizer.

Pruning

Pruning of potted orange trees helps restrain their size and ensures a balanced shape. Growers should prune back leggy branches to promote side branching.

The grower should thin the plant every spring to reduce the number of fruits, which is often an overkill for the plant’s size.

Thinning will ensure better fruit size, prevent alternate bearing, and improve the overall health of the tree.

Over-fruiting can stunt the growth of young trees and also make them susceptible to pest damage and cold injury.

A tree planted in a 5-gallon (19 L) container should only be allowed to bear four to six fruits in the first year.

Repotting

The tree will likely outgrow its container every 3 to 4 years which may be indicated by leaf shed, browning, and twig dieback.

In that case, the grower can either repot the tree or remove it and trim the roots, and plant it back in the original pot with fresh potting soil.

Mulching

Covering the soil with bark, straw, and similar organic material protects the soil surface from wind and strong sun.

Also, as the organic material decomposes, it feeds the orange tree and keeps the soil slightly acidic - oranges prefer pH between 5.0 and 6.5.

oranges in the pot 1

Harvest

The number of oranges on the orange tree planted in the pot/container should be kept under control - hence, when the oranges are fully ripe, the grower shouldn't have a too difficult job of harvesting all of the oranges.

Since oranges grown in containers may also be very decorative, some growers never actually pick all of the oranges or wait as long as possible, sometimes even until the first frost, when the oranges planted in pots are moved indoors, to safe locations.



Go to Top