Historically, citrus fruits have been relegated to more tropical climates, but these days, growing your own lemons, limes and oranges is as simple as caring for a houseplant.
These can now be grown on dwarf citrus trees that bloom and fruit indoors. The fresh fruit, fragrant blooms and glossy green leaves of these miniature trees are a joy to have inside during the winter or close at hand on the patio during warm weather.
They’re grown on dwarf fruit trees, which are created by grafting a standard variety onto a dwarf rootstock. Though standard trees may grow up to 12 feet tall in the yard, when grown this way and planted in containers, they remain a more diminutive size.
Late winter is the perfect time to order these trees. They will most likely arrive as bare root plants, meaning they haven’t been grown in a container but in the ground, and when they were prepared for shipping the soil around the roots was removed. Although they won’t look like much, those bare twigs have a lot of potential in them.
Once removed from the packaging, prune damaged or broken stems and then soak the roots in water for at least 5 hours, but no longer than 24. This completely rehydrates the plant before it is potted up.
The next step is to select a container. The size will depend on the size of the plant. If you purchased you dwarf citrus tree in a nursery pot, go up one container size. Bare root plants should be planted in a container large enough that the root system can be comfortably spread out, but not so large that the tree is swamped by soil. Dwarf citrus trees must have good drainage; so select a container that has plenty of holes in the bottom.
Citrus fruits require 6 to 12 months to mature, depending on the type and cultivar. Lemons and limes usually take about 6 to 9 months to go from bloom to edible fruit, while oranges generally take a year.
These trees require a long day of full sunshine and good air circulation to thrive. When the weather is warm, position your plant outdoors so it receives plenty of light and protection from strong winds. They can remain outside as long as temperatures stay above 40 degrees F. When it’s time to overwinter your plant indoors, place it in a shady spot for about two weeks prior to making the move. This will allow it to acclimate to the temperature change and prevent leaf drop.
To maintain a nice shape, prune the limbs any time of the year if the plants are overwintering indoors. If you live in a mild area of the country and leave your citrus trees outside for winter, it is best to refrain from pruning until the danger of freezing temperatures has passed. Pruning encourages new growth, which is susceptible to cold weather and even some of the warmest regions of the country can experience a surprise drop in temperature. It is important to prune back any growth that emerges from below the graft. This is sucker growth, which will not bear fruit. The graft is identifiable as a knobby area on the trunk.
Recommended Citrus Varieties:
- Meyer Lemon: bears large, sweet lemons almost year round.
- Dwarf Bearss Seedless Lime: large fruits ripen in winter and early spring, established plants can be everbearing.
- Minneola Tangelo: a grapefruit and tangerine cross, winter through spring ripening fruit.
- Kaffir Lime: leaves and zest are used in Thai recipes, very fragrant leaves and unusual fruit.
- Owari Satsuma Mandarin Orange: seedless, juicy fruit produced in winter and early spring, hardiest of all the mandarins.
Tips for Growing Citrus:
- Citrus won’t give you instant gratification, but you can enjoy the sweet scent of the blooms while you wait for the fruits. Look for a variety known to thrive indoors and produce year-round such as Meyer lemon or Bearss lime.
- Place container near a bright, southern or western facing window and away from sources of heat.
- Deep soak the soil every 5 to 7 days.
- Citrus prefer slightly acidic soil and high nitrogen fertilizer. Feed with a slow release fertilizer designed for citrus plants. Once a month is best for fertilizer, but be sure to follow the manufacturer’s directions.
- Every 2 or 3 years as the plant grows, it should be repotted so it doesn’t become root bound. As you increase pot size, consider using a more light weight material than terra cotta or purchasing a plant stand on casters so that you can easily move your tree around.
- It is hard to determine ripeness just by looking at the fruit, so your safest bet is to taste one. Look for fruits that have deep color and feel heavy. Harvest from the lowest branches first and work your way up.