Jane's Delicious Garden Blog

CITRUS in Small Spaces

Posted in Garden Diary by Jane Griffiths on the June 5th, 2020

Evergreen and healthy, citrus trees are ideal for small city gardens. Self-fertile, so you only need one, they can be grown in containers or pruned to suit any space. Although they prefer temperate climates, many varieties survive mild frosts if protected when young.



Meyer (thin skin with juicy, dark-yellow flesh; moderate to heavy frost)

and Variegated Eureka (juicy with pinkish flesh; mild frost) both grow to 3x3m.

Rough Skin (tough, easy to grow and hardy) grows to 5m but it takes well to shaping.

Limoneira (large oval elongated fruit with a smooth rind) grows to 5x4m but can be pruned smaller. Very productive.


Sweet Lime (low acid and mildly sweet flesh; very light frost)

and West Indian Lime (strong flavour and more acidic; frost sensitive) are compact varieties growing 2x2m.

Asian Lime (distinctive double leaves with a very aromatic flavour used in cooking; light frost) is even smaller at 2×1.5m.


Most varieties grow to 3x3m but can be shaped.

Satsuma (sweet tangy fruit; moderate frost) is one of the easiest to grow.


has small oval fruit, with sweet skins and sour flesh, ideal in preserves. It tolerates moderate frost and grows to 2x2m.


Both normal and variegated varieties are small at 1mx75cm. Tolerant of moderate frost, they produce small juicy fruit, lovely in preserves or liqueurs.


Cara Cara (almost thornless with pink, sweet, tangy fruit; moderate frost) grows to 3x3m.


Both Star Ruby (ruby red flesh and great flavour)

and Jackson (creamy, sweet, juicy flesh) grow to 3x3m. Both frost sensitive.


Citrus trees need fertile, well-drained soil, full sun and regular water – more in spring and summer and less in autumn and winter. A sign of too much water is yellowing leaves dropping. Remove fruit in the first year so it puts its energy into getting established. Feed with Talborne Organics Vita-Grow 2:3:2 once a year for root conditioning, followed by Vita Fruit & Flower 3:1:5 every four months, preferably, April, August and December.. Keep well mulched to suppress weeds and retain moisture. Feverfew, lemon balm, tansy and yarrow are all good companions.


An excellent option for small gardens, verandahs or patios as all citrus trees do very well in containers – as long as they are fed and watered regularly.
Container tips:
• Use the largest container you can.
• Citrus need a well-draining medium. Use a mixture of compost, vermiculite and cocopeat. In the top third, include a slow release organic fertiliser such as Talborne Organics Vita Fruit and Flower.
• They don’t like being too wet as they are susceptible to root rot, so keep the soil slightly on the dry side – monitor regularly and don’t let the roots dry out completely.
• Regularly pinch off new shoots to encourage a compact bushy shape.


Citrus trees need pruning to remove weak, broken or dead branches and spindly growth. Prune when needed after they have finished bearing. Aim for a well balanced framework of larger branches with an open centre for light and air flow.


Citrus trees take well to shaping – a good option for small gardens as they can be trained to fit a custom space. Prune into the rough shape when young so it grows into a dense form.
• Follow the Italian example of training lemons to grow up over a pergola to form a shady roof for a courtyard.

• Train citrus to grow up a trellis to create a screen in the garden.

• Shape citrus into hedges – this works well next to a pathway in a small garden as the top can be left to fill out above the pathway.


Aphids: organic insecticidal oil
Black spot: organic fungicide
Codling moth: sticky trap with a lure
Citrus psylla :organic pyrol spray


Fruit can take six to eight months to ripen to full size and colour. Undamaged fruit will store for several weeks in the fridge. All parts of citrus fruits are edible, creating a wide variety of options from marmalade, preserves or juicing, to candied peels and zest. Citrus pips, particularly lemon, are full of pectin, which makes jam and jellies jell. And of course, a gin and tonic is not ready to drink unless it has a slice of lemon in it.


• Producing fruit requires plenty of energy – if a tree is struggling, strip the fruit off so it can put its energy towards recovering.
• Don’t worry if leaves go yellowish in winter – it’s a sign of them not enjoying the cold.
• Practice good sanitation by removing fallen fruit. This helps to prevent disease spreading or pests breeding.
• Feed, feed and feed – citrus are hungry trees and benefit from plenty of nutrition.

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