Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Pacific Northwest
January, 2004
Regional Report

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Meyer lemon is my favorite indoor citrus tree. It provides a bounty of luscious fresh fruits, beautiful and intensely fragrant flowers, and lush, glossy foliage.

Lemon Tree, Very Pretty

With the holidays over and the decorations packed away, I'm free to concentrate on gardening again. It's too chilly to be outdoors for any length of time, so I'm satisfying my urge to garden by rearranging my houseplants. I'm also scouting local nurseries for potential additions to my exotic collection.

Our warm, well-lighted homes provide just the right environment for growing miniature citrus trees. These evergreens, with their shiny, dark green leaves and fragrant blossoms, provide a wonderful tropical feeling during the cold winter months. As an added bonus, their brightly colored fruit can be harvested practically year-round.

The Calamondin, or Panama orange, is the citrus most commonly grown indoors. Its dwarf stature, shining foliage, fragrant white flowers, and tangy fruit make it an appealing houseplant. Both Meyer and Ponderosa lemon varieties will also do well indoors, but need to be pruned regularly to keep them small.

Growing Requirements
Citrus are subtropical plants, growing more or less all the time in subtropical regions. Most grow in flushes followed by several weeks of rest. Most indoor environments are warm enough to keep citrus growing nearly all the time. In fact, it is not unusual for citrus trees to bear three or four crops a year.

Grow citrus in a soil mixture of equal parts loam, peat moss, and sand. When watering the plant, soak it thoroughly and then allow the top inch of soil to become somewhat dry before watering again.

Citrus trees are heavy feeders and should be fertilized once a month with a chelated mix of manganese, iron, and zinc (most multipurpose fertilizers contain these minerals). Citrus trees also love humidity. You can add moisture to the air with a humidifier, by misting the plants frequently, or by placing them in a pebble-filled tray with water added to the top of the pebbles.

Don't be surprised if your citrus sheds a lot of immature fruit after blooming. Like many fruit trees, citrus produce many more fruits than the plants can support. So there is nothing much to worry about if your plant drops surplus fruit, provided it is otherwise healthy. To help increase the number of fruit-bearing blossoms on your tree, you can transfer pollen from blossom to blossom with a small paintbrush.

During the warm summer months, your tree will benefit from being outdoors. Be sure to expose it to the brighter sunlight gradually, by placing it outdoors in a shady spot for a few days before moving it into direct sunlight. As your tree grows larger, you might consider placing it on a decorative platform with casters to make moving it easier.

Citrus is susceptible to spider mites, mealybugs, and scale. Check the trunk for mealybugs and scale insects, and the undersides of the leaves for spider mites. If you find evidence of these pests, try dipping a cotton swab in alcohol and rubbing the infected area. Carefully check the joints where the leaves join the stem. To treat spider mites, spray your plant with insecticidal soap or horticultural oil, which will smother the insects.

Unusual Citrus Varieties
Calamondin (Fortunella japonica) ? These plants have wide, lush leaves and bright orange fruit that resembles small tangerines, though they remain sour.

Kaffir lime (Citrus hystrix) ? A lime-type tree, Kaffir lime has the added bonus of having delicious leaves used in cooking Southeast Asian dishes.

Limequat (Citrus aurantiifolia x Fortunella crassifolia) ? This plant is a cross between a Key lime and a kumquat. The fruit is about the size of an egg and a beautiful clear yellow. These plants also are relatively cold hardy, able to stand temperatures in the mid-20s F without damage.

Mandarin orange (Citrus reticulata 'Blanco') ? This actually isn't an orange but a mandarin. Like other mandarins it requires far less heat to ripen than true oranges, and the fruit on a Mandarin orange is deliciously sweet.

Meiwa kumquat (Fortunella crassifolia) ? Much different from the oblong and tart kumquats commonly found at the market, Meiwa kumquats are round and sweet, perfect for fresh eating.

Meyer lemon (Citrus meyeri) ? This lemon is perfectly suited for container culture and will bear heavily with a minimum of effort on your part. The lemons are deep yellow with a good flavor, though a little sweet.

For a splash of fragrant white flowers and delicious fruit, why not grow a miniature lemon or orange tree indoors this winter!

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