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I would really like to get a couple citrus trees (lemon and/or lime). The problem is I live in an apartment. I hope to move at some point such that I will have some land that I can put these in. My question is, should I get the trees now and leave them in the pot on my apartment balcony which gets half sun? Or should I just wait until I have the land to put it in and get the trees then?

I know not to expect a significant yield, if any, on year one regardless. But I would expect a bunch of fruit in a few years in good conditions. Suppose two situations, (1) a tree in the ground, (2) a tree in a pot at my apartment. What are they going to be like at the 3 year mark? Would a tree in a pot for three years have it's growth significantly stunted such that I should just buy the tree in three years when I have the land?

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I've seen many citrus trees in pots. In fact where I live that is all I see since they'd have to come inside during the winter. I'd think that the trees would do fine in a pot. If you get a decent size pot they will grow to fill that pot.

I'm not sure what you mean by stunted by being in a pot. The tree size will be limited because of the pot, but if removed from the pot it should grow like normal. So it will not be permanently affected.

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I currently live in a condominium (on the second floor!). I own about a dozen citrus of different varieties, most small.

Some live indoors and some live outside on my patio (except for really hard winter nights when I bring everything in). Here are some observations (sorry about length):

  1. Light-stressed citrus tend to compensate by growing very large leaves. Leaves budded after they are moved to a higher-light environment will be normal-sized. However, the larger leaves will (generally) stick around for a while. This can lead to a moderately uneven appearance, if you're concerned about that sort of thing. The lifespan of an individual leaf on a citrus tree seems to be about a year and a half.

  2. If you have some outdoor space available (like a patio), it will be much better for the citrus than almost anyplace you can put them indoors. You mention you have an apartment balcony; I would describe my balcony as "full shade" (it faces northeast and is surrounded by taller trees), but my citrus aren't showing signs of light stress (see (2)). They just aren't producing much fruit. On the other hand, my indoor citrus are definitely light-stressed, and the larger ones were when they were indoors over the winter - even though I had them under a light!

  3. Container growing has some surprising advantages for citrus. Most notably, you can bring container citrus indoors if you have a cold night, and you can isolate plants which develop pest problems if you catch them early. So you're not at as much of a disadvantage as you might think.

  4. Transitioning citrus, especially really young ones, from a shaded balcony to a sunny field requires a bit of care - otherwise the trees will drop their leaves and grow new ones better suited to the new light conditions. This doesn't really harm the tree in the long run, but can cause it to lose young fruit and may cause you to lose sleep as well.

Different varieties of citrus, and even different specimens of a given variety, have different tolerances for low light. I have a few Meyer lemons and they are rather displeased when they don't have sun. At the other end of the spectrum, I have a Kieffer lime which has doubled in size in the last few months, after first doubling in size in the several months before that. Obviously my Seattle abode reminds it of its native tropics (?!).

That said, everything I have has grown at least somewhat. My largest, which I brought home from the nursery in the back of my little car, are now too large to fit back in through my patio door. (That'll be fun come winter.)

So IMO, if you're getting reasonably-sized starters and you're willing to fertilize them a little, you should be less concerned about whether they'll be stunted than how you're going to transport them to a new home in three years - you can't really throw a tree in the back of a moving truck without some risk to its structural integrity...

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