If you have ever seen a citrus tree, you may have admired the lovely shiny, dark green foliage and inhaled the fragrant blossoms. Maybe the climate you live in makes growing an outdoor specimen incomprehensible. Perhaps you thought to yourself, “I wonder if it is possible to grow indoor citrus trees?” Let’s find out.
Growing citrus houseplants is not only possible, but will add a refreshing aroma when in flower as well as being a decorative addition, with the added benefit of a potential fruit harvest. While many varieties of commercially grown citrus are too large to be grown inside, there are several suitable cultivars of citrus plants for the home gardener, such as dwarf varieties. The following all make wonderful indoor citrus trees:
Although citrus may be grown from seed, it does not generally yield plants that are replicas of the parent, and the tree will seldom flower and fruit. Still, it is a fun project. If you really desire the juicy citrus fruit, purchase starts from a nursery.
Now that you have chosen the particular cultivar of citrus plant for home growing, you’re probably wondering, “How do I grow a citrus indoors?” Growing citrus houseplants is really not all that difficult; however, getting them to bear fruit is another matter. The best way to think of growing citrus indoors is to consider it a lovely houseplant which may, with luck, produce fruit.
Citrus grow best indoors at 65 degrees F. (18 C.) during the day, dropping 5-10 degrees at night. The tree will adapt to lower light conditions, but if you are after fruit production, the citrus needs direct sunlight (five to six hours a day).
Plant the citrus tree in soil with a considerable amount of organics such as leaf mold, peat moss (Use peat in the soil mix to keep the pH down) or compost. A mix of one-third sterile potting soil, one-third peat and one-third organic matter works well.
Relative humidity is an important factor in the growth of citrus. Running a humidifier during the winter and placing the plant atop pebble trays will raise the relative humidity.
Water your citrus tree similarly to any houseplant. Water in thoroughly at intervals and allow the soil to dry out between watering.
Citrus tree houseplant care also requires fertilization, especially if you want it to flower and set fruit. Use a formula made for acid-loving plants at half the recommended strength, only when the citrus is actively growing from April through August or September.
If this tender loving care results in flowers, they may not develop fully into fruit. This is probably due to lack of pollination, which you can assist with. Shake, flick, or brush with a cotton swab or artist paintbrush gently to distribute the pollen from flower to flower and encourage fruiting. Additionally, moving the plant outdoors to a sunny, protected area will stimulate blooming.
When pollination is a success, fruit will develop and take a few weeks to ripen. It is fairly common for smaller, young fruit to drop off shortly after formation due to ineffective pollination or less than desirous environmental conditions.
Indoor citrus trees are relatively devoid of most pests; however, scale, whitefly and spider mites may come calling. Wash the foliage periodically to deter these insects, paying careful attention to the underside of the leaf. Serious infestations may require an insecticide, like neem oil. Consult with a nursery or garden center for a recommendation and proper use. Infestations or disease are more likely to occur if the tree is over watered, has poor drainage, increased salinity of the soil or a lack of nutrients – usually nitrogen.
Vigilant care of your citrus will reward you with year round aromatic blossoms and, fingers crossed, fruit.
The amazing orangery at the gardens of Versailles, with more than 1,000 perfectly kept potted plants, might be the world's most famous showcase of citrus trees, indoors or out. But you don't need to be Louis XIV or have nearly as grand a setup to grow, display, and even harvest citrus at home.
Like the plants at Versailles, your orange, lemon, or lime tree can grow in a container, thriving indoors during cold-weather months before basking outside in spring and summer.
The best pick for homegrown citrus is a dwarf variety, a plant that is grafted onto special rootstock that prevents the tree from growing too large. Many citrus trees can be grown as dwarves, including Meyer lemon, kaffir lime, and 'Trovita' and calamondin oranges, which are amenable to indoor cultivation.
Soon enough, you could be harvesting oranges for marmalade, preparing desserts with Meyer lemons, or picking kaffir lime leaves for an authentic Thai curry. What a wonderful way to beat the winter blues.
For a plant that will produce fruits and blossoms right away, choose a two-to three-year-old dwarf tree. Calamondin orange trees, which have a high tolerance for indoor conditions, are a good choice for beginners. Buy one from a reputable nursery to avoid diseased or inferior plants. We like Four Winds Growers.
A vessel with adequate drainage is essential. Select a clay, ceramic, or plastic pot slightly larger than the root ball. It should have several holes at the bottom. Fill the drainage dish with stones to provide air circulation.
Well-drained soil is also crucial. Use a slightly acidic (pH 6 to 7), loam-based potting mix. Better yet, buy premixed potting soil formulated specifically for citrus trees.
Most citrus trees require eight to 12 hours of sunlight daily. When growing them indoors, position your plants beside a south-facing window with good airflow. If necessary, supplement sun with a grow light during dark winter months.
Dwarf citrus perform best when temperatures stay between 55 and 85 degrees an average of 65 degrees is ideal. And they dislike abrupt temperature shifts, so be sure to protect them from chilly drafts and blazing heaters. Avoid spots near exterior doors, radiators, fireplaces, and ovens.
Come spring, the tree can spend more time outdoors, being brought inside during cold spells. When all threat of frost has passed, slowly acclimate your citrus tree to its new outdoor home by placing it in a semishaded spot for a few days, then slowly bring the tree into the sun. It's very important to make a slow, smooth transition to avoid shock and scorched leaves. Select a protected location in full sun with good airflow. Patios, balconies, and terraces are all great spots. To move the tree indoors for winter, slowly reverse the process well before the first anticipated frost date.
Care and Watering
Regular watering is key. Adding pretty, decorative mulch (such as pebbles or moss) will help reduce evaporation and retain moisture at the critical surface-root zone. But keep in mind that your tree's potting soil should be kept on the dry side of moist, particularly in winter, to prevent fungal infections and root rot. Using a water meter (available at most garden centers) to measure the soil's moisture level will help. Citrus trees also like moist air. Positioning your plant near a humidifier or regularly misting the leaves with a spray bottle will help keep foliage looking its best in dry winter months.
From spring to summer, feed your tree every three weeks with a high-nitrogen fertilizer made for citrus (a tomato and vegetable formula can be substituted). Feed half as often in fall and winter.
Watch for Pests
Citrus are vulnerable to scale, spider mites, mealybugs, and aphids. Be on the lookout for early signs of infestation: curled, speckled, or yellowing leaves sticky residue and silky webs between the branches. Use the least toxic treatments available, such as insecticidal soap or neem or horticultural oil, to combat pests as needed.
The Orangery display in the Hughes Conservatory features citrus trees. These plants can be a beautiful and bountiful addition to the home if provided with the right conditions. Use these tips to grow your own citrus tree in your Iowa home.
Prepared by Aaron Steil, Assistant Director
At their New Year’s Day brunch, our neighbors, Harry and Dottie Mann, served slices from oranges grown on their own tree inside their house. What a treat! Dottie says citrus trees are easy to grow indoors she doesn’t give hers any more can than she gives her other house plants. Here are some hints so you can be successful growing citrus trees in your home:
Use dwarf citrus trees because they grow well in a pot, and, your home may not be big enough for a full-sized tree. Most sources suggest growing the sour varieties, like lemons and limes, which ripen without as much sunlight. The dwarf Meyer lemon is an excellent choice for growing indoors. (The Manns have two Meyer lemons.) Or, you might want to start with a kumquat, which is supposed to be easier than other citrus to grow indoors.
Citrus trees thrive in temperatures between 55 and 72 degrees F. Citrus need sun-a sunny east or south window or a sun room is best. Some experts suggest using grow lights to keep your trees fruiting all winter citrus needs at least 12 hours of light a day to produce. The Mann’s orange tree likes its cool, sunny spot in a room above their garage. This tree has had as many as 60 blossoms at a time! In the summer, our neighbors sometimes put their citrus trees outside, in a shady spot, so the leaves don’t scorch in the hot sun.
Growing citrus from a seed may be possible, although the tree will not grow up to be a dwarf variety, and may produce fruit poorly or not at all. It is better to buy a dwarf, grafted variety, already growing.
You will need a large pot with good drainage holes in the bottom. A 15 gallon nursery pot, or one about the size of a whiskey barrel, is about right. You might want to raise the pot slightly off the floor to facilitate drainage. It works well to plant the tree in a plain plastic nursery pot with drainage holes. Then insert it into a decorative pot that matches your decor. Use an all-purpose, sterile potting soil containing peat moss and perlite or vermiculite never use garden soil.
Keep the soil evenly moist. Because of our low humidity, mist your citrus tree often. Or wipe the leaves off with a moist sponge occasionally. Dottie waters her orange and lemon trees once a week, adding 1⁄4 teaspoon of Miracle Gro fertilizer to a gallon of water each time. In the winter months, when growth slows down, she discontinues the fertilizer. Use a fertilizer such as Miracid which contains manganese, iron and zinc in addition to N, P, and K. Slow release fertilizers such as Osmocote, will save you time.
Even if you never get fruit from your citrus trees, the waxy white blossoms are lovely and fragrant. To assist in fruit set and pollination indoors, use a paintbrush to move pollen from blossom to blossom.
Citrus are susceptible to spider mites, mealybugs and scale. Jerry fought scale on a lemon tree growing in his office and never did win the battle. When Dottie sees scale on her citrus trees, she wipes the leaves down with liquid dish soap mixed in water. She also uses a multipurpose houseplant insecticide-fungicide-miticide occasionally. Or, try rubbing a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol on the pests.
Our neighbors, the Manns, have proof you can grow fruiting citrus trees indoors. They say it’s easy. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a touch of the tropics growing inside during the long winter months with citrus from your own tree?
If you’re a lime-lover who believes the joy of growing your own limes is out of your reach based on where you live, it might be time to consider getting a dwarf lime tree! Dwarf lime trees allow growers to attain the same lime citrus as a full-sized tree, only on a smaller scale. Dwarf lime trees reach a height of about eight to ten feet tall, and can be grown in a container, meaning you can keep them indoors. Just like with a full-size lime tree, the limes grown on a dwarf lime tree can be used for juice, cooking, zest, or any recipe that requires fresh lime.
Growing citrus trees comes with many benefits: its fresh fragrance works as a natural air freshener, and the delicious fruit it puts within your reach can be used for cooking, mixing drinks, baking and even cleaning. Plus, it’s so easy to grow!
Before you start looking for lime trees for sale, you may want to consider what type of lime tree you’re looking to get. How you want to use the fruit, and what kind of “look” you want to add to your indoor garden can definitely play a factor, as well as the environment you have to offer. Citrus.com has the following varieties for lime tree for sale:
How is caring for a dwarf lime tree different than caring for a full-sized lime tree? Not as different as you might think, actually – like all plants, Dwarf Lime Trees have a few simple needs, and you must attend to these if you’re aiming to produce beautiful trees with delicious fruit.
When people decide to buy a lime tree, the big question on everyone’s mind is this: how long does it take for citrus trees to bear fruit? The good news is that Dwarf Lime Trees can produce full-size fruit in as little as 3-5 years (much sooner than a standard-sized lime tree). Limes ripen all year – consult the planting information that came with your tree when you purchased it to know approximately when its fruit will be ready for harvest.
Seeing ripe citrus fruits hang like bright zesty ornaments from their branches in late fall and winter is surely a pleasing sight. And now with summer on the horizon there’s nothing better than enjoying the fruit harvests by sipping on a nice refreshing glass of OJ or Lemonade under the heat of the sun.
Even though most Citrus trees prefer warm sunny climates outside (Zones 9 or above), they can still be appreciated by being brought indoors for winter, though some varieties have proven themselves quite hardy in our Zone 8 climate. The Yuzu Ichandrin, Sudachi Hybrid Yuzu, and the Flying Dragon are all cold hardy down to 15°F and can be grown outside year round in USDA zones 8 and above.
Since our citrus are all grafted on Flying Dragon dwarfing rootstock, they do well being grown in containers and make a great indoor houseplant.
Growing citrus can be a fun and rewarding experience and we’ve provided some helpful tips below to guide you in getting started on your citrus growing journey!
1. Don’t Overwater! Since these heat loving plants like to spend a lot of time under the sun, it can be assumed they will need to be watered frequently. Quite the contrary is true since citrus trees are very susceptible to root rot and overwatering is one of the main causes of death in these precious plants. For both container grown and outdoor grown citrus, we recommend deep waterings and waiting until soil dries slightly until you water next. Potting media or soils with sharp drainage are recommended to keep your tree’s root system healthy.
2. Don’t pot them up in fall or middle of winter! During fall and winter trees are not actively growing so potting them up at this time creates a wet mass of soil around their roots which can cause root rot. Even though you might be super excited to pot your new babies up as soon as you get them, we recommend potting up in late spring or summer once active growth has commenced.
3. Be sure to feed your citrus! While you can get away with low or infrequent fertility on some plants, citrus require a lot of nutrients to stay healthy and continue producing loads of fragrant flowers and fruit. Especially after flowering be sure to give them a good dose of citrus fertilizer to keep them lush and green.
4. Move tender varieties outdoors once all danger of frost has passed. Plants will require a hardening off period if they’ve been indoors as the light intensity is much lower. When nights are reliably above 40 degrees is typically when we move our indoor citrus outside.
5. Plant them in a well draining and acidic soil. Most potting soils are high in nitrogen and naturally acidic but adding a bit of citrus mix can help lower the pH to the 5.5-6.5 range that citrus plants prefer. We recommend planting in a regular organic potting soil and then adding 30% – 40% perlite, vermiculite or coarse bark to help with draining. If planting in ground, then it’s recommend to plant in the native soil and to amend the planting hole with an acidic mix per instructions on the box of acidic mix of choosing.
6. Spray off the leaves frequently. For almost any houseplant it’s valuable to spray off the leaves frequently so that dust does not accumulate on the leaves and it is especially important after flowering on citrus plants. That sweet nectar from the flowers drop onto the leaves and can cause a sticky mold to develop if not sprayed off a few times after flowering.
7. Keep an eye out for pests! Citrus plants are as beloved by aphids and scale as they are by us. These little sap suckers are farmed by ants that bring their eggs up from underground and place them on your precious plant. If you see ants then you likely have scale or aphids on your plant, but not to fear! There’s an easy solution. Simply take an old toothbrush and scrub them down with isopropyl or rubbing alcohol or you can make a soap spray to suffocate the little buggers. Outdoors pests are not as much of a problem but still be on the lookout for them!
8. Enjoy the harvest! Don’t forget that citrus isn’t just for fresh eating. Thai Lime Curry, Yuzu marmalade and sake, Chinotto Sour Orange liquer, or Pink Lemon drizzled on salmon or made into pink lemonade are just a few of the creations you can make with your homegrown citrus!