Citrus Bonsai: How To Care For Your Tree

Citrus bonsai are evergreen trees that are quite commonly seen around the world. These trees are native to Asia but can be found all over the world due to their popularity as fruit orchids on farms. Citrus fruits are very popular and come in yellow or orange colors and many sizes and different shapes depending on your cultivar or species.

Citrus trees will produce white flowers with a delectable scent. When your tree flowers, however, will depend on your species and cultivar. Species or cultivars that produce small fruits tend to flower more frequently where those with big fruits flower only once or twice a year. If they get pollinated, these flowers will turn into edible fruits.

Usually, the best variety of citrus to use as a bonsai are those with small fruits and leaves. Lemon (Citrus limon) and orange trees (Citrus sinensis) are the most popular as bonsai even though they don’t always have the smallest leaves or fruits.

Some cultivars or species have thorns like the lemon tree for instance. These trees should be handled with care while pruning.

Citrus bonsai should be kept away from pets such as rabbits and guinea pigs. These critters find citrus tree leaves and bark irresistibly tasty and will damage your tree quite remarkably.

If your lemon bonsai is correctly pruned and cared for, it will produce edible fruits. These fruits will be smaller than your regular lemons but will have similar qualities and taste almost the same.

The most popular orange tree as a bonsai is called the calamondin orange. This little tree produces small edible fruits and has the capacity to flower almost all year round. These small fruits have quite a strong tart flavor and not everyone will find them delicious.

Calamondin orange came to be by crossing a kumquat with a mandarin orange. This little tree produces tangerine-like fruits that have a strong tart flavor like a kumquat. Calamondin orange is also known as acid orange in some parts of the US due to its strong tart flavor.

Calamondin oranges are also quite popular as bonsai due to tier ability to tolerate temperatures up to 21° Fahrenheit (-6°C). This does not mean that you should intentionally leave your tree out and exposed, but it will survive for short periods in very cold weather.

Care Guidelines For Citrus Bonsai

Ideal Placement

Citrus trees enjoy a sunny spot in a warm area. They need to be kept in an area with at least six hours of sunlight every day. If you live in a warm climate, your citrus bonsai can stay outside all year round.

Keep in mind that citrus trees thrive at a temperature of around 69-90° Fahrenheit (21-32°C)

If you live in a temperate climate, you can keep your tree outside in spring and summer, but you’ll have to either move it indoors or into a greenhouse when fall comes around. Most citrus trees don’t do well in temperatures below 55° Fahrenheit (13°C) and even this can be damaging to your tree.

If your tree will be kept indoors out of direct sunlight, you will need to invest in some grow lights to keep your bonsai healthy through winter.

If possible, place your tree in a sunny window away from any drafts.

Water Requirements

Citrus trees are quite forgiving when it comes to watering. They do need regular watering during the growing season but will tolerate short periods of dryness every once in a while. Just don’t make it a habit to not water your tree.

Make sure to never overwater your bonsai. Citrus trees don’t tolerate constantly wet soil and will develop problems like root rot fairly quickly. The best way to know when to water is to check your soil.

To check your soil, stick your finger about one inch (2.5cm) into the soil. If it feels dry, thoroughly water your bonsai. If the soil feels moist, wait another day. It is best to never let the soil dry out completely but constant moisture is worse for your plant’s health.

In winter you can reduce the number of waterings.

Let the soil dry out between waterings but do make sure to not leave it dry for long periods of time.

Citrus trees like slightly acidic conditions. For this reason, lime-free water is best for wearing this bonsai.

Soil And Fertilizing

Citrus bonsai requires a special fertilizer specifically made for this kind of tree. This fertilizer is available in both a liquid and solid form. If you can’t find it in your area, a general fertilizer meant for acid-loving plants will do just fine.

If you decide to use liquid fertilizer, you will need to fertilize your bonsai weekly in the growing season. Once winter comes around, you can reduce this number to once a month. Make sure your plant is thoroughly watered when you apply the fertilizer to avoid burning the roots.

If solid fertilizer works better for you, you can fertilize your bonsai once a month during the growing season. Once winter comes around you can stop fertilizing for those three cold months. Make sure to water your tree thoroughly after applying the fertilizer.

The strength of your fertilizer will need to be adjusted when used on your bonsai.

It is best to use half the recommended strength on the bottle to avoid vigorous unwanted growth in your citrus bonsai.

Pruning Times

During the growing season, you can start to prune back new growth as soon as four leaves have developed on a shoot. Make sure to leave at least two new leaves on the pruned shoots. It is quite important to do regular pruning if you want to achieve some ramifications.

Shaping a citrus bonsai is into various styles is quite simple with only pruning.

Pinch back new growth regularly especially in areas that you’re trying to shape and style.

If you want your tree to develop fruits, make sure not to remove any buds. If your tree still has fruits when fall starts, remove them to prevent unnecessary stress on your tree. Your tree needs all its energy reserves to survive winter.

Repotting Times

Citrus bonsai need to be repotted every two or three years depending on the age of your tree. If it’s the first repotting into a bonsai potting tray, you will need to remove all the roots from your little seedling except for the main root stem.

Make sure to keep the soil moist but not wet until your tree recovered.

It’s a good idea to use mulch such as sphagnum moss to pack on top of the soil. This way you can prevent some evaporation while still allowing your soil to drain well.

If you have an established bonsai, repotting should be done in spring before the new growth starts. Do some root pruning and plant your tree in slightly acidic soil. A good way to ensure the soil is slightly acidic is to add some peat to your normal potting mix. Also, make sure that the soil drains well since citrus trees don’t tolerate standing in water for extended periods.

Propagation Management

Citrus trees grow quite quickly which makes them ideal for propagation from seed. It is also very easy to get a hold of citrus seeds. Simply buy the orange or lemon cultivar of your choice and let the fruit become overripe. Harvest the seeds just before the fruit goes bad and make sure to remove all the pulp. It is also possible to buy seeds of your choice.

It is also possible to take cuttings from your citrus tree of choice or you can try your hand at air layering. All of these methods have a great success rate.

Potential Pests And Diseases

Citrus trees are generally quite pest and disease resistant if cared for properly. It does happen however that your plant may go through a period of stress and contract mealybugs, spider mites, scale, leaf-miner fly larva, or vine weevils.

These pests are especially common on trees kept in a warm areas with insufficient light.

To treat these pests, simply buy a pesticide for that specific insect or get a general pesticide for your local gardening shop. If you would rather avoid harsh chemicals, try using a homemade mixture of vinegar, water and dish soap, or some neem oil.

Wiring Your Bonsai

Citrus bonsai can be wired at any time of the year. You will need to be very careful to avoid damaging the bark of your tree during wiring. Guy wires are often recommended for shaping this kind of tree.

It is usually best to shape your tree with the help of pruning. New growth is also a lot easier to train. Take care not to break any green shoots while bending them into place. Training takes time and requires patience.

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