Citrus Trees as Houseplants

A bright yellow citrus fruit on a branch, surrounded by leaves at Reiman Gardens
Fruit on a citrus tree at Reiman Gardens. Photo courtesy of Cynthia Haynes. 

Several species of citrus are excellent houseplants, if the proper environmental conditions are met. Citrus trees are easy to purchase online or at local garden centers, but they can be challenging to grow indoors. Purchase grafted plants as this helps keep trees more compact (under 6 feet) compared to full sized trees that reach over 20 feet. There are several species that are popular with home gardeners for their abundant fragrant flowers and occasional fruit.

 

 

Species to Consider for Indoor Environments

Common Name

Scientific Name

Comments

Tangerine or Satsuma Orange

Citrus reticulata

 

Kumquat

Fortunella species

 

Persain/Tahitian Lime

Citrus x latifolia

Thornless

Kaffir Lime

Citrus hystia

Edible bay-like leaves

Calamondin Orange

Citrus x citroforunella mitis

 

Dwarf Lemon

Citrus x limon

‘Meyer’ or ‘Ponderosa’ are popular cultivars

Care for Citrus Indoors

While citrus trees benefit from being outside in partial shade during the summer months, they will not overwinter outdoors in Iowa. All citrus prefer bright, direct light while indoors during the fall and winter. A west or south- facing window that receives at least 6 to 8 hours of direct light is often required for citrus trees. Warm temperatures are essential. Plants prefer 65-85F during the day and 55-65F at night. Temperatures below 50F can cause leaf

bright white flowers on a citrus tree.
A flowering citrus tree. Photo Courtesy of Cynthia Haynes. 

loss. Freezing temperatures or lower are lethal. Citrus plants also insist on moist, but well-drained soils that are slightly acidic. Too much water and the roots rot. Too little water and the plant starts dropping leaves. During the winter, place a humidifier near the plants to keep them healthy and thriving. In spring and summer, citrus benefit from fertilizers.  Apply a slow release fertilizer in April or May and it will continue to lightly fertilize plants through the spring and summer months.  Citrus also attract several insect pests like spider mites, whiteflies, and scale. Inspect plants frequently for insects.  Wash leaves occasionally to prevent insect infestations.

In late winter or early spring, many citrus will bloom indoors. Their highly fragrant flowers are welcome by indoor gardeners.  But not all citrus will set fruit without the assistance of pollinators.  This means the gardener sometimes transfer the pollen from one flower to another to ensure fruit set. Gardeners will have to be patient as fruit often take 6 to 9 months fully mature and ripen on trees grown indoors.

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