How to Grow Citrus Trees Indoors

by Jan Cashman

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?