Citrus fruits have a long-standing relationship with the Christmas holiday. Oranges appeared in stockings as early as the 1800s. According to the legend of St. Nicholas, oranges represent the gold balls he left in the first Christmas stockings. Their long-lasting popularity is understandable. Oranges were a rare treat back then, and the sweet fruit is still a winter favorite in the U.S. today.

The only thing better than a Christmas orange is a Christmas orange tree. Growing your own citrus fruits is rewarding and surprisingly easy. If you need a gift idea for your gardening loved ones or a holiday surprise for your own family, consider a dwarf citrus tree.

Citrus Trees Are Easy To Grow Indoors

Grafting revolutionized the way fruit growers grow their fruit. It has also made it possible for us to enjoy dwarf fruit trees suitable for containers and small-scale gardening. Most growers use a "dwarf root stock" for the roots and trunk of your citrus tree. They then graft branches of non-dwarf fruit trees onto the dwarf root stock for producing your fruit.

Pruning

Fruit trees look nicer and actually produce more fruit if properly pruned. The benefit of container fruit trees is that you can prune year round. Pruning leggy branches as needed prevents your fruit tree from taking over the room. Prune weaker branches and try to leave strong branches. This will reduce the risk of branches breaking and increase your yield of citrus fruits.

Only branches that grow above the graft point will bear fruit. Identify the graft point using the instructions that come with your fruit tree and prune any suckers that grow beneath it. These branches will not produce fruit and take valuable nutrients away from your fruiting branches.

Choosing Containers

Your citrus tree needs space, whether you plan on gifting it to your family or a friend. One-year-old trees require at least a 6 to 9-inch diameter pot. Two and three-year-old trees need 10 to 14 inches in diameter containers, and ultimately your tree requires a 16 to 20-inch diameter pot to thrive.

Tempting as it might be to start out with the largest size, it is important to work your way up. Moisture levels are easier to control in smaller pots as your tree grows. Jumping to the largest size puts your tree at risk. Make sure all pots have adequate drainage holes at the bottom.

Soil Mixes

Citrus tree stock sellers recommend using potting mixes designed for outdoor plants like roses. Indoor potting mixes may contain chemical wetting agents and fertilizers that can damage your tree's roots. Instead, look for lightweight soils that drain well. If you mix your own soil, add lightweight materials like shavings, coconut fiber, sand, or perlite for optimal drainage.

Citrus trees are heavy nitrogen feeders, which means you will need to fertilize your tree every once in a while. Applying organic fertilizers high in nitrogen and citrus specific fertilizers every two months keeps your tree growing year round. Look for slow release fertilizers to avoid burning your tree's roots.

Watering

Proper hydration is crucial for citrus trees. Too much moisture causes root damage and too little water leads to drought. The best way to monitor your tree's water needs is a moisture tester that keeps track of the moisture where it matters - at root level.

Most citrus trees require watering once a week indoors. A 1/4 to and 1/2 gallon once a week is usually sufficient.

Best Growing Conditions

Citrus trees love warm, sunny environments. South facing windows and greenhouses are the best locations for your potted dwarf citrus tree. 9 hours of daylight or more is optimal, so if your area gets 6 hours of daylight or fewer in the winter, you might want to consider putting a grow light on your tree to make up the difference.

Kids Love Citrus Trees

The best reason to give your family a citrus tree instead of an orange this Christmas is education. Children love watching things grow, especially when the end result is edible. Trees offer lessons in environmental stewardship as well as the rewards of gardening.

There are health benefits for your family too. Trees filter large amounts of air each day, helping to remove toxins and promote a healthier air supply in your home.

The Gift That Keeps On Giving

Your friends and family will think of you each time they look at their dwarf citrus tree. By gifting a citrus tree, you are giving them something to remember you by year round. Plus, with the impressive yields of most citrus trees you will also contribute to their table, providing delicious citrus fruit from the convenience of their home.

Best Citrus Trees To Gift

Choosing the right citrus tree for your loved ones is a little tricky. There are two factors to consider as you make your selection.

Gardening Skill

Not everyone is comfortable gardening, and not all gardeners have experience cultivating fruit trees. This is something more experienced gardeners sometimes forget, resulting in gifts that overwhelm the recipients. Look for varieties that are "easy to grow." This varies from nursery to nursery, so be sure to check out their website and don't hesitate to call a representative for their recommendations.

Favorite Citrus Fruits

If you don't already know their favorite citrus fruits, try and find out by consulting mutual friends and family members. Oranges, grapefruits, lemons, and limes all offer distinct tastes and come in many different varieties, giving you plenty of options to choose from.

Citrus trees are a creative alternative to traditional Christmas oranges. This holiday season, try something new and give your friends and family a gift they will enjoy for years to come.