what kind of soil should I use for citrus in pot?

nkt38238(Z9 CA)April 3, 2006


I am planning to put couple of Citrus plants (Melogold Grapefruit and Femminello Lemon) in 24" pots once spring arrives.

Can you please recommend what kind of soil should I use to plant citrus plants in pots?

I am thinking of using Amend brand soil from Home Depot that seems to contain lots of organic matter (e.g. bat guano, worm compost,etc.).

I read about CHC (coconut husk chips), butI am not planning to use it due to treatments it requires before the use.


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rickjames(9 Cali)

A word of caution--as long as you choose something that drains very very well you should be okay. Everyone has their preferences, but I am hesitant to use these rich bagged soils--I think they get compacted too quickly and interfere with draining after a while (though initially, they will drain well enough too).

I have been experimenting with a few things that I have read on the container forum--and I really like the results so far, though I haven't tried yet with citrus. I would suggest you check out that forum for some hints as well.


    Bookmark   April 3, 2006 at 3:18AM
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wfspath(z10 CA)

I agree with the Superfreak (Rick James), you need something that drains well and bagged potting soils don't work well. I have a number of different varieties of citrus that have thrived for years in a simple mixture of about 2/3 sand to 1/3 planting compost.
I've also had a lot of success using vitamin B-1 when I transplant.
There are a lot of coconut husk chip devotees on this site, but I find it hard to believe CHC's will significantly increase growth rates or yields.

    Bookmark   April 5, 2006 at 5:27PM
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nkt38238(Z9 CA)

Thanks guys.

Rickjames, please do share...what kind of exact soil mixture do you use? I hope it's not too fancy mixture as I am not planning to visit multiple nurseries to get stuff such as CHC,etc.

Also, after reading some messages, now I am having 2nd thought about using 24" pot. Is it too big for semi-dwarf lemon varieties (plants are already about 3-4' tall) and base with diameter of 1"?


    Bookmark   April 5, 2006 at 7:35PM
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rickjames(9 Cali)

Well, let me preface this by saying that I am just a rather casual and lazy gardener who prefers to grow citrus, and I am learning as I go too. So folks don't get pissy please. And this may just be a long and windy post....begging your pardon ladies and gents...

I have learned a great deal from tapla ( al ) on the container forum and fig forum, and I would HIGHLY recommend reading some posts there regarding container soils, and wicks, and perched water tables which really makes a whole lotta sense.

I have recently been using his "annual" mix for a few container plants, but I think I have been using it for some time longer than that actually--I'll explain below. And yes, it drains really well. It is a mix of partially composted redwood bark (he calls this "pine bark fines" but this is the redwood version here on the west coast) and a little peat and perlite. I get the product at OSH actually--it's sold as nitrogen-enriched redwood bark conditioner in large bales approx 3-4 cubic feet, and I started using it because I had about 4 bags lying around--I also use it in my vegetable garden to break up our nasty soil. It's like 5 bucks for a huge bag. I use maybe 4 parts of the conditioner and 1 part peat and maybe 2 parts of perlite, and I throw in whatever long-acting granules I think is appropriate. I sprinkle in a tiny amount of dolomite, but I use miraclegrow acid as well for those plants that need/tolerate it. I am not big into pH management b/c it's too much trouble for me right now. I might sing a different song in the future, we'll see... Not tried yet offically on citrus, but I am going to. I think it will be fine.

It does drain well, but according to Al it should only get me through one growing season b/c of compaction and breakdown-->good for annuals. But, I find it may last a bit longer than that for my containerized trees and the reason I say this is twofold: 1. Yes I agree that citrus need very well drained soil and yes to reach full "genetic vigor" as al puts it soil conditions need to be about as ideal as they can be, but as long as my trees are healthy and sorta growing I am ok with them not trying to bust out of their containers-->ergo, I will compromise somewhat ;) 2. The vast majority of my collection of citrus trees are grown by 2 different local growers, Four Winds and Menlo. And as much I love the variety Menlo provides, I really hate their soil. I have bought so many trees packed in "concrete" that have to be repotted right away, and it seems it is difficult to get them to thrive. However, the four winds trees come in some sort of soil that is light and drains well and their trees seem to do better--and I think their main (or only!!)component is something like the soil conditioner. And I will occasionally bring home trees and let them stay in their nursery containers ( I just put another pot over them for cosmesis) for a long time. In fact I have a Chandler pummelo that I did this to, left it in it's pot, still drains well after nearly 2 years (gasp!! ;), and it grows well and is pretty and green and gave me a huge pummelo this last winter. I am planning to repot it but I hate to mess with what is going well.

That's the other thing--no one here really talks about long-term management of the containerized tree. Why not, I'd like to know. I think proper root management is key, not just soil--after all, citrus can live to be hundreds of years old, and there are supposed to be containerized citrus in French orangeries that were from the 1700s. Who I'd like to hear from is those that have had potted citrus for like 20 years or more--what have THEY been using? How do they deal with not potting-up-->for surely those who live in colder regions must keep their trees in containers permanently? Where are you guys anyway?? I have a very large and old lemon tree in a large container and I am going to need some advice for that one....!!

To take it a step further, I am going to try also to create a mostly inorganic/rock based medium--once again see the container forum. I have tried the CHCs, I can tell you where to get some "over-the-counter" in the East Bay for not too much money if you want, but I fall into the category of not-too-impressed. Though I am also working on that...maybe we will have success soon. I do understand the potential though, if the lack of compaction and degradation over time turns out to be accurate. Other stuff you can try is cactus or orchid media--I've used the cactus and the tree is ok, though I added extra perlite. I like perlite as an additive--works well for me, easy to get, and inexpensive. Also consider placing a wick if you are worried about drainage.

Regarding your container choice, as I have read it will really depend on the growing medium you choose. If it drains really really well a large container should not be an issue--there will not be a pathological amount of water being retained in your container. However, if you use anything that may have a tendency to retain too much water, if you then choose a smaller container the roots will have an opportunity to take up that water before you get rot. I believe, based on your previous postings, this is the WN costco italian lemons and I've got trees from the same grower in that size--I put mine in a 14" ( I think) BTW, that heavy sandy potting media they use washes off quite easily--very simple to bare-root the tree if you need to.

Shuttin' up. Got carpal tunnel syndrome now ;)

    Bookmark   April 5, 2006 at 9:20PM
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nkt38238(Z9 CA)

thanks as always for sharing information, rickjames. I think you've raised some valid points. I think I am probably in the same category of gardners as you do...not enough time to garden, but still can't stay away from growing citrus,etc...

I'll go over Al's tips in container gardening. Maybe, you can post this message in container gardening forum as well as some gurus might respond to your real questions.

I suppose my expectations are just too high. I just wish that someone would suggest longer lasting (4-5 years) soil mixture that's available locally at low cost that drains water well. :( I just won't have time to change soil every or every other year in pots.

    Bookmark   April 6, 2006 at 9:49PM
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rickjames(9 Cali)

I have absolutely no intention of repotting a whole mess of trees and other stuff every other year. Which is why I am going to try the mostly inorganic media--I expect it to be inexpensive and not that hard to put together, really. I hope to be getting it together in the next few weeks.

Long-term good drainage is what I am after too, but the CHCs just didn't work out well for me. The trees just didn't thrive--though no casualties either. I am making some changes though, and I hope they do end up being the holy grail of container citrus.

Another thing--with the way citrus roots are (tough and net-like) they really end up supporting themselves and creating their own airpockets as the media breaks down and then is washed out of the pot. Which is probably why I haven't had as much problems with compaction as I should have had. Is this good horticultural practice? He** no, but it works for me at this time. Another reason for me to not use a gigantic container. ;)

nkt, you're the one that grows curry plants, right?

    Bookmark   April 6, 2006 at 11:22PM
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nkt38238(Z9 CA)

>>. I hope to be getting it together in the next few weeks.

well, I am looking forward to hear on what type of mixture you come up with

>>nkt, you're the one that grows curry plants, right?

yup. been playing around with it for last several years, learned a lot.

    Bookmark   April 7, 2006 at 12:24AM
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rickjames(9 Cali)

Cool. Off topic but may I ask, how do you use them and can you root them from the cut stems that I see in the grocery store? I am only familiar with curry powder spice mixes and pastes...

Went shopping for rocks today for the media. Gonna have to check someplace else or maybe ask al a question...might go with plain lava rock.

    Bookmark   April 7, 2006 at 7:54PM
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nkt38238(Z9 CA)

rickjames, well, maybe you should check w/ my wife on its usage... :) I love food, but just not expert at cooking. Well, she uses it mainly in Indian curries (adds great flavor) and some Indian vegetable dishes (called subji). It is used just as Bay leaf is used in western cooking (e.g. becomes part of simmering soup, in other words, you don't sprinkle leaves on top of dish as one may do with Cilantro in mexican dish or parsley in Italian dish). Hope I am clear.

If you enjoy ethenic food, try out something called Dosa crepe and Sambhar (Indian Curry). I think Copper Chimeny in your area is ok restaurant. There are lots of great Indian restaurants in south bay.

As for growing them from cut stems, I think you can forget about it, unfortunately. I've never heard anyone trying it [successfully]. A new plant grows mainly either from seeds or suckers. Either way, it grows pretty well.
Most varieties produce suckers as well as seeds, but not all.

As I mentioned in other forum, if you want to learn bit more about growning it, have a look at brief article that I wrote at:


    Bookmark   April 8, 2006 at 7:51PM
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rickjames(9 Cali)

Thanx nkt.

Darn, was hoping to root some... Are seeds hard to find?
Thanks for the link.

Copper Chimney is closed down....we go to New Taste of India now in Milpitas, sometimes to Bombay Gardens in Fremont, but the best (restaurant) Indian food I have ever had is in L.A., unfortunately...you must be from south India?

I am thinking that I may also try pea gravel as the main inorganic component of the soil instead of lava rock...we'll see. Depends on my mood at the time of purchase :)

I am really trying to find grower's grit but I can't find any without osyter shells. If you guys need to find me I am scoping out all the feed stores in the Bay Area:) Was in San Jose today, but I only got some alfalfa blocks (I am trying to go organic sorta) and I am going to try an alfalfa tea.

Trying CHCs again BTW...it will be a while before I have any results...2 trees repotted recently, including one 2 days ago (seedless Lisbon, Ethrog), skipping the peat b/C I am sick of mixing it up, no transplant shock and I ripped off the blossoms :(

    Bookmark   April 8, 2006 at 11:03PM
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nkt38238(Z9 CA)

rickjames, well, just been really tied up w/ things and have not had chance to respond. Well, the seeds are hard to find. You will have to find someone who has mature plant and is willing to share. I'd be more than willing to give it you when and if my plan starts producing seeds. If my variety is seed generating, it should start producing in an year or two. We will see.

I am originally from West India (Bombay region). To come to think of it, it's interesting that lemons are grown at home without any problems over there, however, I've never seen any orange tree. The grapefruit is pretty much unknown fruit. I don't know why organges don't grow (maybe, since it does not get colder than 60-70F back there). The oranges are, I believe, come from beautiful Himalayan ranges up north. I don't really know.

Well, I will still await your final potting mix. Seems like weather is going to be better from next week, so I will be transplanting in next couple of weeks.

    Bookmark   April 13, 2006 at 2:19AM
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Nkt, like you, I do not want to bother w/CHC's or anything that's going to cost a lot of money and more work.
I use soil from bags, but do my own mixing..All purpose (black soil) peat moss, sand and peat moss. You can use 1/4 of each medium..It's well draining and inexpensive. Because of the number of plants I have, I buy 40 and 50lb bags of each so I hardly ever run out of soils. Toni

    Bookmark   April 13, 2006 at 1:08PM
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sultry_jasmine_nights (Florida 9a)

This spring I put all my citrus in a mix of miracle grow for roses (acidic), perlite, and cedar shavings. Four winds recommends ammending potting mix with redwood or cedar shavings to loosen up the soil. I have seen a few shows lately by master gardeners who talked about cedar and wood shavings in general tying up the nitrogen in the soil (short term and release it long term after breaking down/composting). However my plants are flourishing in this mix. It is very well draining, which I need here in humid LA. I do fertilize with Miracle grow acid and feed my citrus occasionally with slow release citrus food. Early this spring I also side dressed with a little composted manure. That must of been enough nitrogen lol. Anyhow, I am getting very good fruit set on most of my citrus this year.
Another bonus is that the cedar in the mix seems to have chased the whiteflies, gnats etc away as well. They were attacking the citrus before repotting and havent since. They were still going after the gardenias, so I repotted them in the same mix (they also like acidic soils) and poof no more whiteflies. I am convinced. Good luck with your trees.

    Bookmark   April 13, 2006 at 1:29PM
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rickjames(9 Cali)

That's real nice of you nkt. I'll let you know when the new mix is ready...soon I hope...busy with work...

    Bookmark   April 13, 2006 at 6:38PM
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Hey guys....this is sort of an old thread but why start a new one when an older, still-relevant one exists? Besides, we're all interested in growth, right? That's why we're in this forum. Ok, enough natural fertilizer. I need to replant some small lemon trees. I bought some Scotts potting soil from Home Depot and wanted to ask the panel if it would work OK with a little Perlite thrown in to aid drainage. Like Rick "Superfreak" James said in an earlier post, I'm sort of a lazy gardner and don't want to spend too much time and energy mixing up a batch of the perfect soil in a lab. I realize the soil I've got is a little rich and compact on its own, which is why i mention the perlite. Any thoughts?

    Bookmark   May 3, 2006 at 6:01PM
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Jr, I would definately add the Perlite. The soil you bought may be fantastic, but I notice w/all purpose soil, it's either too heavy or too light..too light w/a ton of peat included which won't hurt at all.

LOL on the Natural Fertilizer..hehe

Funny you should mention, Rick James as in Superfreak, because everytime I see Rick's posts, I think about that song..LOL..Toni

    Bookmark   May 3, 2006 at 8:13PM
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Cool, thanks. I'll give it a try and report back if something goes horribly wrong!

    Bookmark   May 3, 2006 at 8:18PM
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rickjames(9 Cali)

How coincidental this thread has been revived...I picked up my first bag of "rocks" just this afternoon to try...Professor Al, if you are out there I am not *trash-talking* hehe...My new mix of the month is gonna be Turface MVP, bark and some perlite...will decide on the proportions when I actually run my paws thru the stuff, which is ETA approximately 2 hours from now...I am after NOT having to re-do this cr** for a long-a** time..having a bad day...

Anyway, I think you gotta use what you gotta use...I still think that bagged potting soil is not the best thing for you to use in the long run, but your goals and my lazy goals may not be the same....thus I would amend heavily with perlite, which I like a lot. Some people hate it, ok fine; I like pistachio ice cream and some people hate that too, ok fine...However, I don't know where you are, but I can sorta suggest a brand of potting mix that I've seen hold up rather well for maybe a year or two: Last year my sister switched her pot-grown tomatoes (she is one of those people who can grow anything, anywhere without any trouble or thought) to a brand called Bandini that I actually liked b/c it isn't dirt and compost--it is mostly redwood bark fines/soil conditioner; she bought it at Home Depot. Great drainage, she has some filled pots left from last year, dumped it out, and it still is very light.

I am starting to see what uses as a medium will be affected a good deal by climate, reference another post where Toni and I have had a little chitchat. I am beginning to hypothesize that perhaps you get quicker breakdown of potting mixes in areas where there is more exposure to the elements and higher average temperatures...yeah I know, that it is prolly obvious to most of you out there in TV land butI never really thought about it for potted plants (I know--->DUH! I think Sir Isaac Newton's apple just bonked me on the head)...which may be why some who do the potted thing in cooler climes may have a little more leeway...or maybe not, I've got no randomized double-blind placebo-controlled studies in the pipeline...which is why I am going largely *inorganic*...I expect my upcoming battles will be delivery of enough moisture and nutrients, espceially the micros...And when I really have my act together I am going with an automated drip system for the containers...but my act may never actually *be* together...Next stop, pending this failure (though I have complete faith in my mentor's advice :), is intermittent flood hydroponics...isn't it Friday yet??!

HTH. I'm goin' to happy hour...

    Bookmark   May 3, 2006 at 8:33PM
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gardner_dragon(z7 NE AR)

I grow all my citrus in 100% soil conditioner. This is the pine/cedar shavings that is SUPPOSED to be tilled into garden soil to loosen it up. The citrus seem to love the stuff and since I can get it for $15 a truck load,its cheap. I am not in the citrus growing area and my trees come in for the winter and I haven't had any trouble so far. I agree that the gnats,whiteflies, and other assorted nasties to not like this stuff so thats another plus. I also use it to start seedlings and to plant cuttings AFTER they have rooted. I root them in construction sand.
BTW: I am about as lazy as it gets. I start seeds in the baggie(usually pot up after green is peeking out into the bags airspace). Root cuttings in a fish tank and pot up after it gets too crowded in there. Hubby waters the citrus so there is a wick at the bottom so I don't have to re pot cause the stuff in the bottm is mush. I am also cheap.

    Bookmark   May 3, 2006 at 10:11PM
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RickJames, I opt for Pistachio if Mint Chocolate Chip is unavailable. I went thru a Rum Raisin period but now I'm back on the wagon.(Hehe) As far as the perlite, unless I hear any objections I'm going to fill my 3-gallon pot with three-fourths soil and one-fourth perlite, mixing thruout w/ my soon-to-be very filthy hands!

    Bookmark   May 4, 2006 at 12:18AM
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rickjames(9 Cali)

jrdribble, I'd go 2/3 to 1/3 but that's just me, it's a free country :) I like rum raisin too...which is odd because I hate raisins. I like rum though, see happy hour, above...

And that is what I am trying my darndest to avoid, what gardener_dragon said at the end: mush at the bottom.

that is the song you are *supposed* to think of when you see my screen name :)

    Bookmark   May 4, 2006 at 1:07AM
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gardner_dragon(z7 NE AR)

With the wicks placed in the bottom of the pot I seem to have eleminated the "mush at the bottom" problem. The wicks hang about 12" above the ground so there is no chance the water will wick back up. Hubby tends to over water so the wicks really help.
Since its cloudy today,its a good time to re pot. They have grown so much that the roots are trying to climb out of the pots. This is not due to "mush at the bottom" but rather they are very much pot bound. At the moment they are all in 1 gallon pots. I am going to re pot them into 3 gallon tree pots. This should hold them safe and happy until sometime next year or even the year after. I had Christmas lights wrapped around the pots throughout the winter and it produced massive root growth.

    Bookmark   May 4, 2006 at 10:58AM
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Excuse me for asking...But what the heck is soil conditioner that u grow ur citrus 100% into and where can I buy the stuff...I too am tired of worrying about what kind of soil to plant my citrus into and how many kinds of soil easily break down. I ahve even been told that peatmoss is no good to use. I just want to buy some soil that is simple measy to use and it seems to me that everyone has a varying opinion on this. Then if I mix my own they are talking about dolomite and lime? what is the eaisest soil to make and if soil conditioner is good where do I get it. Are u growing ur trees indoors for the winter. I forgot if u mentioned that. I suppose the soil u use depends on where u live and the amount of climate change..Right. Please someone tell me an easy soil to make or use without worry of breaking down so quik. Thanks

    Bookmark   December 21, 2007 at 5:27PM
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txcactus(7b Dallas/Fort Worth)

How have these soil mixes/conditioner worked out for those of you who have tried it?

    Bookmark   July 24, 2008 at 6:49AM
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Has anyone had any long term experience with the soil conditioner stuff or any other easy to make mix???

    Bookmark   June 26, 2010 at 2:18AM
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I use Fafard B3, no mixing, no fuss. Have had a 15 year old Bearss lime in it for an unconscionable length of time (though it has been repotted several times). It has not been as bursting with health the last 1 1/2 - 2 years as it could be but it still bears over 20 fruit on it annually. It is in a 22" clay pot and I think the key is clay because it "breathes". I always use clay for the 16" and larger pots.
I arrived at the Fafard by asking the local, well-run, family owned (third generation) nursery what they use. After all, I like their product and they are in business to make a profit.

    Bookmark   June 26, 2010 at 11:58PM
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