Growing citrus in the Pacific Northwest may be somewhat challenging, but it’s totally worth it! Citrus plants have shiny, evergreen leaves, fragrant flowers, and attractive fruits that hang for months. It’s best to grow dwarf citrus in pots in our climate to help facilitate winter protection. The fruits produced on container-grown citrus are the same size as those from a full-grown citrus tree, and they are just as delicious!
Varieties & Selection of Citrus Trees
Some citrus plants are more cold-resistant than others, though all citrus can be damaged by frost. In general, grapefruits are the least hardy, limes and oranges are slightly hardier, and lemons and kumquats are the hardiest.
Best citrus varieties for the Pacific Northwest:
- Improved Meyer Lemon
- Variegated Pink Lemon
- Bearss Seedless Lime (yes, that’s how it’s spelled!)
- Mexican Lime
- Navel Orange
- Satsuma Mandarin Owari Orange
- Moro Blood Orange
- Paradisi Rio Red Grapefruit
“Improved Meyer Lemons” are the clear favorite for Pacific Northwest gardeners and are actually a type of sour orange (not a true lemon)! A heavy producer with orange-yellow fruit that is extra juicy and less acidic than regular lemons, Improved Meyer Lemons can fruit year-round, and the fruit becomes sweeter as it hangs on the tree. Their thin skin makes them less durable for shipping, so they are not commonly found in grocery stores—even more worthy of growing at home!
The most cold-hardy of all limes is Bearss Seedless Lime, aka “the bartender’s lime.” Although we aren’t the coldest place in the country, their cold-hardiness makes them a great choice for growing citrus in the Pacific Northwest. Usually ripening in late summer or fall, it produces a heavy crop of juicy, seedless fruit on semi-dwarf, self-fertile plants. Sometimes in cooler climates the ripening fruit turns yellow instead of green.
TIP: Select sturdy, nursery-raised plants with only a few fruits and flowers; they’ll have stronger tops and better root development.
Meyer Lemon flowers
Improved Meyer Lemon
Variegated Pink Lemon
How Much Sunlight Do Citrus Plants Need?
Citrus plants do best in full sun or with at least 6–8 hours of direct sunlight daily. High light levels promote blooming and fruit development. If kept indoors during winter months, it is best to use grow lights for 12 hours per day.
Watering Citrus Plants
Water thoroughly until water drips from the holes in the bottom of the pot. Be sure to let the soil dry down 2–3 inches between waterings.
Never wait until the leaves wilt to water—the stress can cause developing fruit to drop, and prolonged drought causes leaf drop and may even kill the plant. In winter, water less and do not fertilize in order to accommodate the lower light levels.
Fertilizing Citrus Plants
Fertilize in Spring and Summer prior to the flush of new growth, and again in late August; do not feed in Winter. Feed with an organic acid fertilizer such as G&B Citrus & Fruit Tree Fertilizer or G&B Rhododendron, Azalea & Camellia Fertilizer. They are both organic, probiotic, people and pet safe, and feed for several months. If you’re new to fertilizing plants, check out our blog Fertilizing Basics.
Temperature Requirements for Citrus Plants
Growing Citrus Outdoors
Citrus plants can be grown outdoors in the Pacific Northwest almost year-round and most are hardy to Zone 9. For winter protection, move potted plants close to the house, out of wind and rain, and water as needed. If temperatures drop below 28°F, bring plants into a more protected area like a garage or a mud room. Return plants to a sheltered outdoor location when night time temperatures come back above freezing.
Growing Citrus Indoors
In Fall, citrus plants can be brought indoors to a cool, bright location. When growing citrus indoors, keep plants away from heat vents, fireplaces, or areas that experience frequent temperature fluctuations.
In Spring, bring citrus plants back outside. Place in morning sun and afternoon shade—as plants acclimate to sun, they can be gradually moved to a full sun location.
Remember—citrus plants lose leaves in heat or with sudden changes in temperature, humidity, or light; foliage should grow back when the environment stabilizes.
Paradisi Rio Red Grapefruit
Satsuma Mandarin Owari Orange
Pruning & Repotting Citrus Plants
Dwarf citrus can be pruned any time to keep the plant compact and bushy; unpruned plants can grow 6–8 feet.
If needed, repot in early spring into a slightly larger container every 3 years or so. Citrus plants prefer being rootbound to encourage blooming – smaller containers help to prevent root rot due to overwatering.
If you don’t want to repot citrus into a larger container, you can treat as a bonsai: Remove plant from pot, trim some top growth and roots, add fresh potting soil such as G&B Palm, Cactus & Citrus Planting Mix or G&B Acid Planting Mix, and replant in the same size container.
Citrus Pests & Disease
A few pests are common to citrus plants, especially when kept indoors. Keep an eye out for aphids, spider mites, mealybugs, and scale. Prevention is key—inspect your plants often to catch problems early. Spray monthly with horticultural oil or clean leaves with an alcohol solution. Look for sticky honeydew as an indicator of insects.
If pests are present, use insecticidal soap, horticultural oil, neem oil, or Spinosad for treatment (ask one of our experts for a product suggestion). For more on pests, check out our blog to understand common houseplant pests and problems.
Fungal diseases are a symptom of overwatering and water should be reduced to diminish issues.
Why You Should Grow Citrus in the Pacific Northwest
Citrus plants are a fun, impressive addition to any container garden. Multiple varieties mean that seasoned gardeners can curate a collection of favorites, while those new to container gardening can try their hand with a favorite like Meyer Lemons.
The leaves are a pleasing, even green color all year round and can be used culinarily as they often smell like the variety of fruit the plant produces when they are crushed. The flowers of citrus plants are white, simple, and attractive, with fleshy petals and an intense, sweet aroma. Often the blooms occur during the coldest, greyest months of the year, with a second flush in summer.
The real star of the show, however, are the stunning, delicious fruits that are produced on even the smallest citrus plants. Rich in vitamin C, sweet and acidic, truly nothing beats the flavor of fresh, homegrown citrus.