Having a garden with fruit trees that provide fresh produce can be a delicious luxury for any home owner. Citrus especially seemed appealing for fruit and tree lovers like us. Being able to enjoy a freshly grown orange, or a tart lemon without ever having to run to the grocery store is a fruit lover’s dream. But not everyone has the proper outdoor space, or lives in the appropriate climate to make the dream into reality.
Citrus trees thrive in tropical and subtropical regions of the world. But don’t worry. It can actually be an easy and rewarding experience to grow a citrus tree in pretty much any home, anywhere. All it takes is a little bit of care and creativity to keep a lemon tree or similar type of citrus tree indoors or around the home.
Certain varieties of dwarf citrus trees can stay relatively small, and can be comfortably kept in small and medium sized planters. These types of fruit trees are ideal for easy keeping around the home. While it’s possible to keep a citrus plant indoors throughout the year, it can be very difficult. And unless you have a legitimate green thumb, it’s a tricky process that more often than not ends in disappointment.
In an ideal setup, grow the citrus tree in a transportable pot so that it spends the warmer months outside, and is brought indoors for the colder fall and wintertime. Since lemon and orange trees die at the first sign of frost, it’s important to bring them inside once it gets cold.
For ideal growth, Citrus trees need strong sunlight and consistent, heavy drinks of water with the right amount drainage. Like most fruit trees, they go through a full growth cycle throughout the year. They’ll even produce lovely flowers! In fact, fresh fruit isn’t the only awesome part about keeping these trees around the house; they’re beautiful additions to any space, adding height and a splash color from the lush, green leaves, delicate white flowers, or the ripened yellow fruit. True show-stoppers.
So we decided to try our hand at growing a lemon tree around the house. Here’s how it went, along with some things to consider.
Picking the Right Citrus Tree
The first part of this journey is among the most important. We decided to go with a Meyers Lemon Tree, recognized as perhaps the easiest of the citrus trees to adapt to indoor living. Lemon trees also seem to be less finicky about being shuttled between the indoor and outdoor environment.
One of the main attractions to using Meyers Lemon Trees is that they can produce fruit year round. Some citrus trees might only fruit once a year, so it’s definitely a major perk to be able to get fresh fruit at almost any time. Just know that it can take a few years for the plant to mature enough to flower, so don’t sweat it if it’s been a year and nothing has happened yet. Patience is key.
If you have your heart set on growing oranges, try to find dwarf varieties of orange trees to grow around the home. Dwarf orange trees are hardier and stay smaller than regular orange trees.
Although it can sometimes be tough to determine, try to grab a tree that is already mature. If a tree is 2-3 years old, the chances of them quickly bearing fruit is high. While it might be a romantic idea try and grow a tree with seeds, the process takes very long, and there is much smaller margin for error, and a high chance that the plant won’t ever flower or fruit.
The tree that we got was already pretty tall, but had no fruit growth yet. The leaves were deep green, and the tree was able to stand tall on its on, an important consideration.
Finding the Proper Pot
Settling on the perfect pot is another important factor to consider. Adequate drainage, as always with plants, is essential. The pot should be at least 5 gallons to help promote root fastening, and to give proper room for the tree to grow.
We decided to go with a terra-cotta pot…a timeless and proven pot that’s sturdy and drains exceptionally well. But keep in mind that these trees will probably be moved around a lot, especially once the seasons get colder, so you shouldn’t use a pot that is too heavy or cumbersome to move. The last thing you’ll want is to hurt your back, or to drop and break the pot, when trying to move your citrus tree around.
Plastic works just fine as a lightweight and easily transportable alternative.
Using the Right Soil
Once you’ve decided on the ideal plant/pot that you’ll be using, it’s imperative to make sure that that the soil is up to par. We used Miracle-Gro, and went with the variety that’s ideal for succulents and cacti.
*It’s very important to use soil that is mildly acidic and fast-draining for your citrus tree.
Finding the Perfect Spot
We grabbed our lemon tree in June, so we had the whole summer to keep it outside to soak up some sun. Citrus trees need a lot of direct bright light, so we found a perfect, unobstructed spot.
If you’re keeping the citrus tree indoors, make sure to keep it by a south-facing window. Lemon trees and other orange/citrus fruiting trees need around 8-12 hours of sun every day to truly thrive.
We kept the tree outdoors untouched for months, watering generously so the tree wouldn’t dry out. Being left in the sun all day can cause the soil to dry out quickly. Make sure to never let it get too dry; the more sun that it’s getting means the thirstier the tree will be.
Progress Builds Quickly
As the summer months rapidly came to a close, our lemon tree was healthier than ever. We started to notice the first signs of fruit growing from the tree; tiny green bulbs smaller than a quarter began popping up almost everywhere.
The fruit was so tiny that it took a close inspection to really notice the sheer amount of fruit. There must have been hundreds of lemons beginning to grow on this little tree!
Fertilize During the Growing Season
During the growing season, which generally runs between April to September, it’s important to feed your tree some high quality fertilizer to help promote growth and boost it’s overall health.
For indoor trees that don’t have the benefit of direct sunlight, fertilization is a must. We used an organic blend designed for citrus and avocado from Espoma about once a month from June (when we got the lemon tree) to when we brought it indoors around September.
Once inside for the colder season, we fertilized more sparingly, or about every 2-3 months.
If you can’t find a fertilizer blend designed for citrus, avocado, or other fruits, try to use a fertilizer for plants that prefer higher acidity. Something geared for cacti and succulents will work perfectly fine.
Bringing the Citrus Tree Indoors
Assuming that you don’t live in a tropical zone, it’s time to bring the citrus tree indoors before the year’s first frost. Remember – citrus trees are extremely finicky with the cold. If they’re left outside for too long once the weather starts to change, it could spell doom for their survival prospects, let alone their ability to ever fruit.
After a few weeks past in September, we decided to transition our lemon tree into the home. We found the perfect spot in a south facing window that got plenty of natural sunlight. It’s important to keep the tree in an area where the air is well-circulated. Winter is dry, and stale air can quickly cause the stress for the tree if ventilation isn’t up to par. If possible, try to open the windows from time to time, or run a fan to keep the air moving.
By this point the tree began to get heavy with all of the green lemons that had sprouted, so we decided to give the tree some support to keep it growing upright. A simple growing stick did the job perfectly.
Even in the winter months, the lemons seemed to continue their growth cycle uninhibited. We slowed our watering down considerably during these months. We still gave the lemon tree generous drinks of water when needed.
While it’s important to let the soil dry out between waterings indoors, try not to let the soil too dry. Also, overwatering can be a killer. The soil should remain somewhat moist, and never should it be kept constantly wet – it could get root rot, in which case the citrus tree would need to be repotted or it will die.
A benefit of slowing the watering cycle during the winter months for your tree is that it can induce your tree to start flowering, and ultimately, producing fruit.
The Flowering Stage
As the winter months dragged on, we started to notice tiny, white buds beginning to pop up on our lemon tree. Different from the tiny, green limes that grew in the summer, we recognized this to be the flowering phase of our tree.
While it was not spring yet, the seasons would soon change, and our lemon tree was acting accordingly.
In no time, the buds sprouted, opening up to reveal beautiful, delicate white flowers. These flowers will bloom about twice a year; in the fall and in the spring. While ours were a little early this year, they were a welcome harbinger of spring.
Aside from the lovely visual appeal of the flowers, they also emitted a very pleasant scent that wafted through the house.
With the flowering of our lemon tree in full swing, we figured that it was only a matter of time until more fruit began to sprout. The green lemons from the summer had grown and ultimately fallen off, but never ripened, so we hoped that this new stage of flowering would bring about more mature fruit.
Once the flowers naturally fell away, we began to notice tiny, green lemons popping up in their place. These little lemons grew quickly, and unlike our previous batch, they began to ripen and turn from green to that familiar, bright yellow. While it was tough to see the growth on the tree over the summer, these yellow limes added an intense splash of color amidst the bright green leaves.
Tons of lemons hung from the tree now. While not quite the size of the lemons that you might find in a supermarket, they were round and firm, and once completely ripe were ready to taste test.
The lemons were delicious. They tasted a little sweeter than we had come to expect, but there was still a general tartness to them that was refreshing all the same. Being able to add freshly cut lemon into drinking water, or to use the lemon to make home made tarts or lemonade, has been an absolute delight.
It’s impressive how such a tiny tree could produce such a large amount of fruit, now that it’s fully matured. I now expect to get at least 2 fruiting phases throughout the year, and am hopeful to get as many as 4.
Once the weather warms again we’ll be bringing the tree back outside. We try to repot all houseplants once a year, and a lemon tree is no different. Citrus trees exert so much effort into flowering/fruiting stages, so it’s vital to keep them fresh.
The process of growing a citrus tree was just as easy as advertised, and the added benefits of having a lovely looking tree that produces fresh flowers and produce is amazing. For fruit and plant lovers, growing a citrus tree in your own home is just too easy and rewarding to pass up on!
Mastered the citrus tree and want to keep planting? Learn all about growing a kitchen herb garden!