Friday, November 22, 2013

Preparing Potted Citrus Trees for Winter

My three citrus trees.
Those of you who've read my old gardening blog will know that I'd collected a fair number of citrus trees during the past few years.  Eight to be exact.  When we lived in Vermont, we had a fabulous green room that got lots of sun and warmth during the winter months.  Even so, my citrus trees would often show signs of stress by the time January arrived.  Indeed, it can be very challenging to maintain citrus trees indoors during our New England winters.  When we moved back to Massachusetts, I realized that we just didn't have enough natural indoor lighting  or space to support eight trees.  So sadly, I'm now I'm down to three - a meyer lemon, mandarinquat (cross between a mandarin orange and kumquat) and satsuma mandarin. 

My meyer lemon tree has many more blooms than usual this year.
Unfortunately, our home gets very little direct sunlight.  In fact, I don't think any of the rooms in our house gets more than a couple hours worth each day.  As a result, I've had to think long and hard about how I'll manage my citrus trees during the winter months moving forward.  These are some of the things I've come up with based on my past observation and experience. 

Pest Management - Scale and mites are probably the worst pests my citrus trees have had to contend with during the winter months.  Their populations tend to explode in the protected environment of a home.  A few weeks ago, I sprayed my trees with neem oil as a preemptive measure against any pest that might be present.  I regularly inspect my trees and have not found any evidence of scale (sticky leaves are a dead giveaway) but I will most likely spray my trees again before they are moved indoors permanently for the winter.  Citrus trees tolerate spraying much better while they are outdoors. 

Supplemental Light - Lack of light is probably the biggest issue effecting my citrus trees during the winter months.  Leaves that develop during this time are usually much larger than the leaves that develop while the trees are outside - a sure sign that they are not getting enough light.  I have fluorescent lights that I use to start my seedlings each spring.  While I hate to use electricity to grow something that isn't native to our part of the world, I plan to use them this winter if my trees start showing signs of stress. 

Watering and Misting - I've made the mistake of watering my trees inconsistently or waiting too long in between waterings while they are indoors.  With the heat cranking and lack of humidity, you'd be surprised by how often the trees need watering.  During the summer time, potted citrus trees require a thorough soaking every few days as they actually like to be grown fairly root-bound, increasing the chance that the roots will dry out.  During the winter months, I've found that it's better to try to keep the soil damp to the touch, but never soaking wet, which calls for lighter but more frequent watering.  Even more important than this, however, is misting.  My trees perform much better indoors when misted once a day.  This also helps to keep pests in check. 

Food - I've come to learn that sometimes, I'm the main cause of why my citrus trees don't fair well when they are indoors.  In the past, I've fed my trees with slow release organic fertilizer three times a year - early spring, early-mid summer and late fall (usually when the trees are in full bloom).  I'm realizing now that the fall feeding might be doing more harm than good as the trees aren't getting much light during this time.  So this year, I'm skipping this feeding. 

Fhe Gardener Shuffle - I try to leave my trees outside as much as possible, even when the night time temperatues dip down into the mid-30's.  And when temperatures dip down lower, I will usually carry my trees in each night and back out each morning until daytime temperatures no longer reach into the 40's.  Just being outside in the fresh air for a few hours each day helps to keep the trees happy.

Mandarinquats are tart but sweeter than kumquats and have a wonderful scent. 
So only time will tell whether my trees will make it through this winter in decent shape.  Last year, all three of my trees were stripped completely of their leaves - if not from stress than by the local wildlife early last spring.  Remarkbly, they all developed new dense foliage by early summer.  So even if your trees look like are dead by late winter, give them some time and in most cases, they will recover. 

2 comments:

  1. Lack of light is the reason I don't grow any tropical trees. Well that and I tend to kill my indoor plants. My trusty aloe is the only one that has survived the decades.

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  2. I've given up on growing citrus in our region, they are getting too heavy and big for us to shuffle them in and out for the winter. My brother in CA is caring for my citrus trees, I'll go pick the fruits around Chinese New Year, it's sad I don't get to enjoy watching them grow, c'est la vie!

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