Key limes and other citrus trees adapt well to growing in pots and will produce fruit if given the right treatment.

Back in the pre-COVID days we would make an annual trek to Pensacola, Fla., to visit our son and his wife. One of the things that became somewhat of a tradition during those visits was being treated to key lime pie baked by our son. The main ingredients, key limes, are locally grown, local in Florida that is. The pie has become such a favorite of mine that I wish key lime trees could be grown in our climate. Actually, they can be — as potted plants.

Key limes and other citrus trees adapt well to growing in pots and will produce fruit if given the right treatment. To start with, go with a dwarf variety that will achieve a maximum height of 3 to 5 feet at maturity. These may be found now at some local garden centers, but if not, there are mail-order nurseries, such as Stark Brothers, that sell many different kinds of citrus trees. A tree bought at a garden center will already be potted but one via mail-order will arrive as a bare root seedling. As such, plant it immediately in a deep pot filled with potting soil amended with coarse sand or poultry grit to facilitate drainage. The soil should be kept moist but not soggy. An application of a high nitrogen fertilizer once each month will promote healthy growth. If yellowing of the leaves occurs, that is a symptom of a lack of nitrogen or that the soil is too wet.

For now, the tree can be kept outdoors in full sun or part shade, but once night temperatures dip to below 50 F it should be moved indoors. The ideal indoor environment is one where the tree will receive a minimum of 6 hours of direct sunlight and a room temperature that varies only by five to 10 degrees between day and night. That temperature variation will promote flowering. Yes, the tree will flower indoors in winter. Since citrus trees are self-pollinating, there’s no need for two trees. To facilitate pollination, use a small artist paint brush and swirl it around in individual flowers. Once fruit appear, it will take at least six months to ripen.

I only had a potted citrus tree once, a long time ago. It didn’t survive very long since scale insects and spider mites quickly converted the tree from a living specimen to a leafless coat hanger. Therefore, monitor regularly for presence of these pests. If found, spray the foliage, especially the undersides with neem oil or a solution of one tablespoon of liquid dish soap in a quart of water.

Hmmm, key lime pie anyone?

Before devouring your pie, tackle these tasks:

  • Dig some potatoes as you need them, but wait until the plants have died back fully before digging the bulk of the harvest for winter storage. The potatoes that store best are those with thick skins. If the skins rub off easily, those potatoes will not keep long in storage.
  • Break off some of the lower sprouts of Brussels sprouts for roasting or sautéing but don’t be in a rush. The sprouts taste best after exposure to frost. Some folks like to cut out the top of the plants to promote faster development of the sprouts. That’s okay but since the plants are very tolerant of frost and cold temperatures, I prefer to let the sprouts develop at their own pace. One thing I will do is break off any of the lower leaves that are turning yellow.
  • Apply an organic pesticide containing Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) to control cabbage worms on broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and cauliflower. Be thorough in making the application as the worms are often tucked into the fold of leaves around the heads of these vegetables.
  • Even if not harvesting vegetables daily, do make an inspection tour of ripening crops every day. With all the rain of late, fruit rots and leaf diseases are quite common. With melons and squash in contact with the soil, lift each fruit to look for signs of decay. If decay is just beginning, pick the fruit if it is mature, cut away the decaying portion and use it right away.
  • Make a list of spring flowering bulbs to be planted this fall. If doing mail order purchase, do it promptly as supplies diminish rapidly.
  • Take leaf cuttings of African violets, coleus, impatiens, ivy, rubber plants, philodendrons, tradescantia and other house plants. They’ll root well at this time of year and provide extra plants for your collection and to give to friends.
  • Read the label before buying grass seed for your lawn construction or renovation projects this month. Look for specific names of grass varieties such as Liberty Kentucky bluegrass and Jamestown Chewings fescue. If variety names are not listed you could be getting grasses of inferior quality.