Growing citrus is easier than you think!
Indoor citrus isn’t like other houseplants & they’re not just for show, you will enjoy watching your plant go from pink buds & exceptionally fragrant white blooms, to producing citrus fruits you can eat! When the citrus are in bloom, everyone who enters the greenhouses constantly remark on the intoxicating aroma. These rewarding trees fill a large space with its perfume, and then provide a real show as the petals fall, flowers swell and transform as the fruits mature and ripen.
In regards to fruit production, the process of maturing from pollination to ripe fruit can take up to 6 months. (Flower in spring/summer, Harvest in fall/early winter) Most of the citrus varieties we carry are self pollinating meaning you only need one to get fruit.
Lemon, Lime, and Oranges have the same care but blossoms are slightly different in structure, color and smell. Their fragrance is clean, sweet and bright.
Despite being a tropical transplant in New England, they are a very resilient plant & given the proper care your indoor citrus tree WILL grow fruit, and once mature will produce prolifically. I like to consider the conditions they would want in Florida to help understand their care. They appreciate being patio plants, meaning they are kept outdoors in spring, summer and fall while evening temperatures reach above 40-50 consistently and overwintered indoors in a bright location. In regards to planting, they want to get thorough, consistent waterings accompanied by well draining, sandy soil so we recommend planting in a soil mix formulated for cactus, or augment your potting soil with sand and perlite. The golden rule of watering is to stick your fingers 2 inches into soil and if it’s dry water it if, it’s moist skip it allowing soil surface to dry between waterings. Another helpful tip is that terracotta pots are moisture wicking (they draw moisture out of the soil) so that can be a useful strategy to prevent the plant from becoming waterlogged. However if you want to plant in a more decorative glazed or plastic pot that’s absolutely alright, just be aware of how wet your plant stays, it may reduce the frequency of waterings. In terms of pot size, you don’t want to go more than 4 inches in diameter larger than the current pot size. Having a soil to root ratio too soil heavy in the pot can lead to the soil without roots retaining too much moisture and leading to root rot. Citrus trees don’t mind being a bit pot-bound; a pot-bound plant means that roots have filled the pot and the ratio of root so soil is root heavy, often the plant looks out of proportion with the pot.
In regards to winter care, as long as your citrus gets enough light through the cooler months, you are all set, a minimum of 4 hours of direct/bright indirect but the brighter the better. In winter the plant will not need as much water as it did in the warmer months so allow the soil surface to dry more but not go “bone dry.” My mother lives in VT and overwinters her lemon in front of a plate glass window with 4-6 hours of direct/bright indirect light- last christmas she had over 10 ripening lemons! My father lives in MA in a historic yet dark colonial and had his little lime tree by his bedroom window which got about 4 hours of direct/bright indirect light and it thrived. During the winter, and seasonal transitions indoors to outdoors, expect some leaf loss, they will grow back more plentiful next season. They don’t lose all their leaves, however we have seen many citrus trees completely lose their leaves. They are extremely resilient and can handle benign neglect and bounce back.
(Put in bubbles nearer to top) Fun fact, citrus trees have thorns! They are not especially numerous, but they are extremely long and sharp, growing over an inch in length. Some varieties are bred to have no thorns, however it’s important to be careful when harvesting fruit, repotting, and removing yellow leaves to avoid those thorns!
Fun fat, citrus blossoms are edible and can be made into a sugar syrup, flavorful tea or used as a creative cocktail garnish.
The most common issues new citrus owners encounter
Underfed citrus get a condition called chlorosis where the leaves look very yellow. They are heavy feeders, so fertilizer is a must. We recommend the granular True Organic or Sunshine Citron fertilizer one application lasts for about 6 months. However yellow leaves doesn’t always mean more fertilizer, it may be a watering, fungal or pest issue.
With this issue the plant could present with yellow leaves or leaf loss.
This could be caused by a variety of factors. Over watering or under watering, too much soil to root ratio (pot too big), soil that drains poorly (holds more water), lack of drainage hole in pot, lack of humidity (a factor in leaf loss)
To test if this is your problem, check the drainage hole at the bottom of the pot for moisture. You can also stick a dry dowel into the pot from the top and see if the tip is wet when you remove it like a dipstick in oil.
If the pot is too wet it can also lead to fungal disease and fungus gnats.
The most common pest for citrus are citrus mites and spider mites. They are very small, smaller than a period. Plants with this issue often have yellowing leaves, leaf loss, slow to mature fruit and leaves with a dusty appearance. Oftentimes in the warmer weather they may naturally end up on your plant, however outdoors there is rain and wind, as well as plenty of small predatory insects to eat the spider mites and keep the population numbers low. Bringing them indoors can result in an environment where their numbers go unchecked. We recommend Neem Oil spray to help with spider mites. You can also use orchard spray. Spider mites hate humidity & moisture so you can spray your plant with a forceful stream of water to physically knock them off and help keep numbers down. Another citrus pest we see less often is the dreaded mealybug, which looks like a white cotton almost moldy spot on the underside along the midrib of the leaves, and where the leaves meet the branches. If your tree is suffering and you don’t see these signs, check for what looks like brown, yellow warts on the bark it could be a scale insect (or even pink with gray spots shaped almost exactly like a turtle shell from Super Mario Bros)
All of these insects are like plant mosquitoes and feed on the internal sugars of your tree.
For Mealybug & Scale we recommend neem oil or orchard spray, as well as alcohol on a Q-tip. If you touch a mealybug with an alcohol Q-tip it soaks into its waxy fuzzy coating and changes color from white to an orange so you know you got it. Their eggs are also yellow. Scale will require manual removal after spraying by scraping the dead scale off.