Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
January, 2006
Regional Report

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Just imagine the intoxicating fragrance of these lime blossoms!


I suppose I've always had a love affair with citrus plants. Not only do I love the taste of lemons, limes, and oranges, but I also think the plants are among some of the most beautiful houseplants there are. They are very easy to grow indoors, and, even better, they give us color and fragrance almost year-round.

I'm fortunate enough to have a variegated calamondin orange, a dwarf Meyer lemon, and a dwarf Bearss lime sitting on my windowsill. I walked through the room the other day and was alerted by sweet fragrance that my lemon is back in bloom after a brief rest and a bout with spider mites. With at least a half day of direct sun, citrus plants will bloom at least twice a year and almost continuously provide you with attractive pungent fruits. Calamondins in particular will often have blossoms and green and orange fruit at the same time, making them quite an outstanding focal point.

All citrus have glossy dark green leaves except the variegated calamondin. Its light green leaves have creamy variegation. Citrus leaves are fairly large and tropical-looking and have a wonderful fragrance when rubbed. Keffir lime is one of the most well-known for its wonderfully fragrant foliage that's used to flavor Thai dishes.

In most cases, you will want dwarf varieties of citrus for indoor growing unless you have a very large window with lots of space around it or a greenhouse. Dwarf citrus plants generally get no larger than about 3 feet high and 2 feet wide.

Keeping Citrus Happy
Citrus plants perform best in temperatures of around 55 to 68 degrees F. They will tolerate higher temperatures but may have a problem fruiting. Keep the humidity at an average level (30 to 60 percent) by a room humidifier, pot in pot system, or pebble tray.

Keep the potting mix moist but not soggy. Water it just as it begins to approach dryness when it is actively growing. Feed your lemons and limes every two to three months with an acid plant food, and help maintain the acidity of the soil by feeding with 1/4 teaspoon Epsom salts in a quart of water once a month.

Citrus plants should be repotted every three years, but make sure not to plant into too large a container. They have shallow root systems, so a wide pot will serve better than a deep one. They respond quite well to pruning, and the best way to keep them looking good as well as producing fruit is to thin the plants to three sturdy stems.

Although citrus plants may bloom periodically during the year, they might need help with pollination in order to produce fruit. There are no natural pollinators indoors, so take a small, soft paintbrush and dust it over the stamens of each flower. Fruit should begin developing in a few weeks.

Citrus plants benefit in many ways from spending the summer outdoors, especially for pollination. Be sure to gradually introduce them to a protected spot outdoors or they will tend to drop leaves and abort fruits. Do the same when bringing them back indoors in fall (don't let them remain outdoors at temperatures below 50 degrees).

Citrus are fairly carefree when grown indoors, but they can have a problem with spider mites and scale, especially if the humidity is too low. Control populations with horticultural oil and frequent showers.

There are countless varieties available, so why not try a grapefruit or kumquat? They are all related and take pretty much the same conditions. And you just might be rewarded with luscious fruits in the middle of winter!

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