Dwarf lime with fruit

Mini Citrus: Sweet and Neat

Don’t let size stop you from growing your own mini citrus trees

Growing naartjies and oranges may be beyond the reach of the ordinary gardener. Even lemons can be a stretch for tiny townhouse gardens. Growing a lemon tree in a container is a possible solution, however it quickly outgrows its pot. That’s the problem – size! Another other problem is cold. So, what to do? Grow mini citrus!

The next generation of citrus

Since 2017, it’s been the dream of David Seewald of Heuers Nursery to develop a range of mini citrus for growing in tubs on the patio, or in small gardens and that can easily be protected from the cold. His dwarf grafted Citrus ’Mini Me’ range is now available to the home gardener.

The range consists of a tangy lemon (‘Limoneira’), navel orange (the eating orange), naartjie (mandarin), spicy leaf Thai lime, and the juicy fruit Tahiti lime. All are three-year old trees able to bear the same-sized fruit as normal citrus trees in their next fruiting season.

David came across the concept while investigating the overseas citrus scene. He found that dwarf citrus was very popular in Australia and Europe. They are compact growers with less maintenance and space requirements. With many more South Africans living in townhouses and flats with small gardens and patios, they are tailor made for container gardening.

Pint-sized, big hitter

These dwarf trees, which are sale-ready at 25 to 30cm, will slowly grow to a mature height of between 1.5m and 2m. They do not have to be re-potted when they get too big for their containers, but can be moved up a pot size if necessary.

The lemon cultivar is more vigorous than the naartjie and orange cultivars. It will grow closer to the 2m height, while the oranges and naartjies will be smaller – around 1.5m. Being smaller and compact, it is possible to have more than one tree in your garden, patio or courtyard, which means that the whole range of citrus can be grown for an extended season of citrus fruit.

Citrus is one of the best sources of vitamin C, minerals and essential fibre. Growing your own means that it can be ‘poison free’ thanks to a range of eco-friendly pest controls. David also points to the fact that growing your own fruit is super cost-effective. Dwarf varieties are just as productive and as long lived as commercial varieties, and are known as ‘precocious’ – which means they produce full-sized fruit at a younger age.

Hidden dragon

The secret behind the mini citrus is a Chinese rootstock called ‘Flying Dragon’ onto which the cultivars are grafted. This rootstock induces the dwarfing habit and much more.

Other benefits of miniaturisation are sweeter but yet not smaller fruit, and earlier fruiting.

There is also inbred resistance to root diseases, especially root rot (Phytophthora). And they have a better tolerance to cold.

Growing guide

The same rules apply for growing dwarf citrus as for normal citrus.

  • Soil – all citrus like soil that drains well. Avoid clay soil. For citrus in pots, use a good quality potting soil that drains well. Adding perlite will assist with the drainage. Also mix in a slow-release fertiliser. Before potting your citrus, add a layer of coarse gravel or rock to the bottom of the container to prevent the holes from clogging up.
  • Sun – make sure plants, including those in pots, receive at least six hours of sunlight a day.
  • Watering – do not overwater your trees. Water less when it is cool or wet, and water more when it is dry and hot. Let the soil dry out moderately between watering. To check push your finger deeply into the soil to check its moisture content. Don’t just scratch the surface of the soil. Also, increase the watering during flowering and fruit setting. If the tree is stressed, it will drop its flowers and fruit.
  • Pests – check regularly for pests. Citrus greening is spread by a disease-infected Psylla insect that results in inedible fruit. There are also red spider mites that reside under the leaves and can cause leaf drop. David recommends controlling both by preventive spraying twice a month with Ludwig’s Insect Spray which has a smothering action. 
  • Feeding – fertilise during the active growing months, from August to December. To encourage fruiting use a high potassium fertiliser like 5:1:5, or 3:2:7 or 8:1:5. 
  • Pruning – prune your trees to keep it in the desired shape. On older trees, thin out the old branches in the centre of the tree. This will help bring in light and air movement to the inner part of the tree.
  • Cold protection – although this mini citrus is cold tolerant, protect it from frost with frost protection cloth or move pots indoors or into a sheltered area.

For tips on how to grow normal citrus trees, click here
To learn more about Citrus Psylla, click here

The Gardener