Your indoor tomatoes are flourishing in front of that southern window. Got a bit of space left next to them? If so, there’s no need to limit yourself to tomato salad. How about some fresh lemons to spritz over your guacamole or to squeeze for delicious lemon pie? While you’re at it, how about oranges and limes, too?

Dwarf Meyer Lemon

Meyer lemons are sweeter than store-bought ones.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Acornsprings.com

Containerized citrus trees

Talk with your nursery or garden center professional about which container will work best for your dwarf citrus.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Acornsprings.com

Kaffir lime branch

Kaffir lime trees are prized for their leaves and fruit as ingredients in Thai cooking.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Acornsprings.com

You may think the only way to get homegrown citrus fruit is to move to Florida or Southern California, but that’s not the case. Citrus trees are now available in varieties well-suited to life indoors. Not only do these plants provide plenty of fresh fruit to use in your kitchen, they make striking houseplants.

Citrus trees can be grown quite well outdoors in containers in warm climates, as well as grown indoors when winter temperatures dip below freezing. You decide: Grow your container citrus year-round inside (if you’ve got adequate bright light of eight to 12 hours a day), or move your indoor plant outdoors in spring when the danger of frost has past.

Under the proper conditions, there’s no reason why any citrus tree wouldn’t grow indoors, but you’ll want to stick to the varieties that growers have developed for small spaces. (Growing bigger varieties indoors requires continuously cutting the roots back and repotting, or keeping the plant somewhat root-bound so it doesn’t grow too big. Also, some citrus varieties have to reach a certain height before they can flower and fruit.)

The Plants

Citrus is a subtropical plant that can be divided into two types: acid (lemons and limes) and sweet (grapefruits and oranges). Sweet varieties often require considerable heat for the fruit to ripen, so growing oranges or grapefruit indoors can require patience, as the fruit may take a long time before it’s fit to eat. That said, remember that oranges have been grown indoors successfully for centuries. In fact, King Louis XIV of 17th century France had a fabulous orangerie – an indoor facility where the temperature was regulated year-round – built amidst the gardens of the Palace of Versailles because he wanted to smell the fragrance of orange blossoms all yearlong.

Here are some varieties that do well indoors:

Improved Meyer lemon (Citrus limon x Citrus sinensis) – sweeter fruit than the type you buy in the grocery store.

Variegated pink lemon (Citrus limon ‘Eureka Variegated Pink’) – larger than the Meyer lemon, with white, waxy flowers and beautiful variegated foliage.

Mandarin orange (Citrus reticulata) – not really an orange, it doesn’t require as much heat as most oranges do to bear fruit.

‘Trovita’ orange (Citrus sinensis ‘Trovita’) – thin skinned. Develops without the excessive heat most oranges need to produce good fruit.

Kaffir lime (Citrus hystrix) – leaves and fruit prized in Thai cooking.

Dwarf lime (Citrus aurantiifolia ‘Dwarf Bearss Seedless’) – also known as ‘Bearss Seedless’ lime. The small tree provides lemon-sized fruits turning from green to yellowish-green.

The Container

You can grow citrus trees in almost any type of pot, but ceramic or clay is usually recommended. (Plastic and metal containers will work, but these can transfer heat so quickly, that the roots become damaged.) Good drainage is essential, so if the container doesn’t have holes, drill some at the bottom. You should also raise the container to facilitate good air circulation.

Obviously, the size of the container you need varies with the size of the tree you purchase, but it’s wise to make sure it’s big – perhaps 15-20 gallons. A container this size should be adequate for a 10-foot tree. (Trees are likely to outgrow their containers, so be prepared. Otherwise, you’ll need to prune the roots back.)

Soil, Water and Fertilizer

Mix your own soil or buy a sterile, premixed medium, but never use garden soil when growing container plants. Watering trees in containers is tricky. Some growers recommend letting the top couple of inches of soil get dry between waterings – but never let the roots dry out. A moisture meter can help you determine this (and will come in handy with your other container plants). Misting or using a humidifier is helpful, too, if you live in a dry climate. (Increasing the humidity is beneficial to tropical and semitropical plants; it can also reduce dust and some plant pests.) As for fertilizer requirements, citrus needs heavy nitrogen. (2-1-1 is recommended.) Other important minerals include zinc, manganese and iron. Osmocote®, a slow-release fertilizer, is recommended in early spring.

Light

A sunny room that allows eight to 12 hours of sunlight is vital for citrus plants. If the natural sunlight inside your home is inadequate, you can supplement with artificial light – full spectrum fluorescent is recommended. Otherwise, your plants will become leggy and the leaves will drop.

You don’t have to go as far as King Louis did to enjoy your citrus trees, but once you’ve made this latest addition to your indoor garden, you can pass the days till harvest by reveling in the delicate fragrance of your lemon, lime or orange tree. Chances are, winter won’t seem nearly so cold in the company of one of these delightful subtropical beauties.