GROWING CITRUS AS HOUSEPLANTS

GROWING CITRUS AS HOUSEPLANTS

By
Dr. Leonard Perry

Extension Nursery and Greenhouse Crops Specialist
University of Vermont

Although northern New England lacks Florida’s
semi-tropical climate needed to produce citrus fruits
as an outdoor crop, it is possible to grow oranges,
lemons, grapefruits, kumquats, and other citrus varieties
as ornamental indoor houseplants. The key ingredient
to success is patience although you also need the proper
lighting and temperature. Even then–not to discourage
you–there’s no guarantee that your plants will produce
fruit.

You also need to be aware that citrus
plants grown from seed may not yield the same varieties
as the original plant although I find that waiting to
see what you’ll get makes it all the more interesting.
Most commercial varieties are grown from cuttings and
are often grafted as well to ensure the right variety.

As it may take six or seven years, even
longer, for citrus grown from seed to bloom indoors,
one way to shorten the waiting period is to buy a plant
from a reputable garden center. Or take cuttings from
a plant that you know has flowered and fruited in the
past.

But let’s say you want to grow your own
plants from seed. Where do you start?

First, you need a good soil mix of half
peat moss and half perlite or sand, and a small pot
or flat, if you want to start several seeds to increase
your chance of success. Container size isn’t that important
as you will need to replant in small pots once your
seeds sprout and start to grow.

Use only fresh seeds, and plant at a depth
two times the largest dimension of the seed. If you
are planting more than one variety, label containers
so you don’t get them mixed up. Water thoroughly, then
cover loosely with clear plastic wrap.

Place in a room with 70 degree F temperatures
until the seeds germinate (in about three to six weeks).
Then remove the plastic, and move the container into
bright light. Avoid direct sun as this could burn the
tender young plants.

Once the seedlings have several sets of
leaves, transplant into individual four- to six-inch
pots filled with a sterile potting soil. Fertilize with
a dilute potassium fertilizer, according to manufacturer’s
instructions, repeating the application every two to
four weeks. Don’t overwater, but do keep the soil slightly
moist. Your plants will need about four hours of direct
sunlight daily and temperatures between 60 and 70 degrees
F. A window with a south or west exposure is best.

As your plants grow bigger, they will
require pruning in early spring to prevent leggy branches
and encourage new growth. Repotting in the next larger
size pot every spring will help promote fruiting. During
the winter months water sparingly, stop fertilizing,
and keep the plant in a warm, draft-free place. You
also need to check for insects. Plants grown indoors
are particularly susceptible to mealybugs and spider
mites.

Ripe fruit may be too tart to eat raw,
but it can be made into delicious jams, jellies, or
fruit drinks. But even if your plants never produce
fruit, don’t despair. Your efforts were not in vain.
Citrus plants with their glossy leaves and fragrant
flowers are sure to brighten up any room in the house.

 


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