Growing Indoor Citrus

Texas citrus rakes in more than $200 million for the Texas economy every year. Though the bulk of the harvest comes from ruby red grapefruit and sweet orange orchards, did you know there are almost endless modern varieties of citrus that can be grown indoors in containers? Whether classic or modern hybrid, between the multitude of lemons, mandarin oranges, makrut limes, tangelos, clementine, and lemon or lime-kumquat crosses, there’s a citrus tree suited for every style

Growing citrus indoors isn’t hard, but there are a few important things to consider. These plants need specially formulated, slightly acidic potting soil, and they do best in an environment free from drafts with at least eight hours of sunlight during winter and temperatures kept between 65° and 85°. Citrus plants need higher nitrogen levels during the flowering stage and lower levels of fertilizer during dormant season in late spring and summer; check with your local nursery to find the proper fertilizer. Choose a plant that’s at least 2 or 3 years old if you want it to fruit immediately, and make sure that the leaves are dark, well-formed and glossy, and that the major branches are balanced. Citrus can be planted in any kind of pot or planter that’s big enough — just be sure the pot has several drainage holes in the bottom, because citrus plants don’t like wet feet. Consider adding a water meter to make sure the plant is adequately hydrated without being overwatered.

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When will you get to see the fruits of your labor? Well, oranges are traditional Christmas gifts because most varieties ripen beginning in October. Some varieties fruit nearly all year, including the beautiful but sour calamondin, a miniature orange variety traditionally used in Asian cuisines. Lemons and limes also produce often, with four to five “flushes” of growth annually, each capable of flowering and setting fruit. These stop in spring and lay dormant until the heat of summer recedes. Meyer lemons produce from August through March, and the Eureka variety of lemon produces from July to March. During growth, all citrus plants have phases of fruit drop, where they normally shed flowers and fruit.

You can probably find citrus plants for sale year-round, but they’re more likely to be available during the flowering/fruiting seasons (March through September) and on sale during dormancy (after Christmas).

In addition to the visual beauty of your new indoor fruit plants, they’ll help clean your air and provide an intoxicating fragrance. You’ll enjoy fresh fruit and fruit juice, and you can even make use of the whole fruit by candying the citrus peels for delicious snacks, garnishes and gifts.

By Sarah J. Nielsen • Photography by Jenna Northcutt and Brooke Lark