Little trees, big questions
November 19, 2023 4:33 PM   Subscribe

I want to get a dwarf lemon or lime tree to grow in my backyard, but I have little gardening experience. (more inside)

I live in the SF Bay Area (Richmond). It basically has a Mediteranean climate. My backyard is small, but gets a lot of sun.
My neighbors all have citrus trees, and they seem to be doing well. I really want a dwarf lemon or lime tree that is self-polinating.
I'm not great with plants historically, so I'm a little intimidated about the prospect of trying to grow a fruit tree. Here are my questions:

1. What variety of dwarf lemon or lime would be best? Needs to be container friendly and low maitenance. Also, something common enough that one might find it in the garden section of Home Depot.

2. What size container should I get for the tree?

3. What about soil type? Will regular potting soil work?

4. Fertilizer (what kind and how often)?

5. What other information does a newbie dwarf citrus grower need to know?

posted by firemonkey to Home & Garden (5 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I'd start with a lemon, in my experience they're less finicky and cold sensitive than limes are. None of the lemon trees that you're liable to find at Home Depot are going to get huge, especially if you keep them in pots, so I don't think you need to worry about that too much. I'd also be surprised if they have any varieties of lemon besides "standard" and "Meyer," and that comes down to taste preference more than anything. Others may have better advice on soil but I've had plenty of success with regular potting soil. In terms of fertilizer, Home Depot will also have citrus-specific fertilizers that will include detailed timing directions; at this point all of our trees are in the ground so we're on a twice-a-year feeding schedule with a liquid fertilizer but my memory is that pots may require quarterly feedings. Is planting it directly in the ground an option for you? You may find that it makes your life a little bit easier.

As long as the tree is getting sun and water it honestly shouldn't be too tough. Lemons have been pretty foolproof for us. And worst case scenario, you kill a $40 tree and have to start over again in a couple of months. Good luck!
posted by saladin at 5:01 PM on November 19

I found this person's book at the library and found it helpful. Grow a Little Fruit Tree
posted by latkes at 5:18 PM on November 19

I live in the Bay Area and have a dwarf Meyer lemon in a pot, it's been quite happy for the last few years.
Citrus trees like good drainage, so when I potted it up I also added in perlite to make up about 1/4 the volume of soil in the pot. They also need acid fertilizer, which is sometimes sold as azalea fertilizer. I give mine a dilute feeding about once a month.
I have a hummingbird feeder and the local Anna's hummingbirds do a very thorough job pollinating.
posted by Lycaste at 5:19 PM on November 19

We get a lot of scale on our citrus in Oakland so I suggest getting some Tanglefoot and using it proactively.
posted by latkes at 5:19 PM on November 19

Meyer lemons do well here, as do dwarf mandarins. Limes are fine if protected from frost, so no north facing exposures. All of them, even the dwarf citrus, can slowly get to 8 feet or more. Handy citrus comparison charts here. You'll need to prune it to keep it smaller.

Citrus do best in the ground if you can manage that (and require less maintenance), but a pot is fine if you're willing to re-pot every few years and are good at remembering to water. Regular potting soil is fine as long as it has no added fertilizers. The Fox Farm Ocean Forest is good and has a decent, somewhat acidic pH- required for citrus to be able to take up iron. Emeryville Home Depot has it for sure, so check your local store. You'll need to fertilize with a citrus fertilizer only if you notice yellowing of leaves- too much nitrogen on citrus attracts pests and pathogens. Our citrus in the ground has never needed fertilizer at all- I dump all the old coffee grounds around the dripline to help keep the pH a little lower and provide a slow source of nutrients.

They will prefer at least half a day of sun in the Bay Area, but a full day is fine too without drying winds (especially for potted plants, no wind is important). Our Thai lime is on the west side of our Oakland house, and our next-door neighbors have most of their citrus on the west side as well- Meyer lemon, two kinds of mandarins and a finger lime.

Home Depot I believe carries Four Winds Citrus. I've used their stock for years and it is good. But if you can make it down to Berkeley Hort or some other independent nursery you're much more likely to get good advice along with your plants.

source: professional Bay Area gardener for decades
posted by oneirodynia at 6:05 PM on November 19 [7 favorites]

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