HOW TO GROW CITRUS TREES INDOORS
Think it’s impossible to grow trees indoors? Think again!
If you live in a climate that makes growing citrus trees outdoors very difficult, or maybe the idea and aesthetics of a having a small fragrant filled tree indoors is something you’ve always wanted... well you can.
With enough care and attention you can grow a citrus tree that produces fruits perfectly fine. However, there are a few extra steps that you will need to follow, to guarantee the success of your tree.
Here are a few tips to help you have a flourishing citrus tree in no time.
1. The Soil
To have long term success growing citrus trees indoors, taking care of the soil is paramount. Using bagged soil is not such a great option as you’d think.
Citrus trees have very finicky roots, they grow in arid climates, in very well draining sandy soils. This means you must choose a soil that matches that kind of environment, or the roots will rot and die.
A great soil for citrus trees is a mix of one part sphagnum moss, one part vermiculite, one part perlite and one part coconut coir. This will provide a very well draining mix.
If you can’t find those soils, mix two parts of sand with one part bagged compost.
You want a gritty texture to allow little air pockets to allow the water to drain through very quickly. If the water sticks around for too long, you will have problems.
It needs a very high porosity soil that will hold on to water just enough, like a damp sponge, but no more than that.
Citrus trees have very specific needs and share some of the same requirements as avocados and palm trees.
Whenever you are purchasing or sourcing a fertilizant, try to get one specifically for citrus plants.
You should also mind the frequency and timing of fertilization. Citrus trees need to be fertilized two times a year, and you can’t do it any time. You must do it at the right times!
Spring and summer are the best times to fertilize, and when fall approaches and you’re moving the plant back indoors, you must lay off the fertilizer because the process of moving the plant indoors stresses the plant.
By reducing the amount of fertilizer, you will also reduce the growth of the plant and the stress it will suffer when you move it back indoors.
You should also lessen the fertilizer when it’s getting ready to flower as well, which is during the winter months. If not the tree will push a lot of flowers, and that is also very stressful on the plants because they will be indoors. So you want to ensure they don’t over flower by reducing the amount of fertilizer!
3. pH Level
You need to keep the pH of your citrus trees around 5.5 or 6.0 because they like it a bit more acidic. If you can replicate that in your pot, you will have a better chance of success. There are some brands of fertilizers with the right pH built in so you don’t need to worry about that, just do a bit of research.
Sometimes you may want to move your citrus tree outdoors, make sure when you do they stay above 45 degrees because citrus loves hot climates. They can tolerate something in the high thirties, but that can stress them out and cause the leaves drop.
Sometimes colder temperatures can shock the plant and cause some yellowing on the leaves. They typically don’t get that kind of shock in their natural environments.
So try not to expose it to cold and abrupt temperature changes.
5. Sun Exposure
If you want your citrus tree to fruit, they will need to get 4 to 6 hours of full sun daily.
To keep the foliage you need only three to five hours, but it won’t bear fruit as the fruiting process requires some extra energy.
If you don’t have a patio, a south facing window will suffice. No south facing windows? Get it next to the best window you have and supplement with a compact fluorescent bulb during the night for another 4 to 6 hours and you will be able to get some fruits.
You do not want to over-water your citrus! To prevent that you can get a soil moisture meter that will cost you between $10 to $15 and will save you a lot of trouble! Or, you can use the knuckle method, which is free.
Measure about two knuckles deep in the soil and check if it’s dry. If you feel no water, it’s time to pour some down. Do it cautiously because citrus trees are very prone to root rot!
When the soil stays damp for a long time, the bacteria will eat away the roots and they will begin to rot, stressing the plant. The first sign of root rot is the leaves turning yellow and dropping off. The next sign is that the plant will die from the top down.
Just reduce the watering and you should be fine.
Growing Citrus from Seeds
It is possible to grow indoor citrus trees from seeds, but it will take a lot of time. Some species can take up to 10 years until it fruits, and you might be disappointed with the quality.
Imagine waiting 10 years for an orange, just to find out you can’t even eat it…That’s a very long time, and it is discouraging.
Oranges are open pollinated, so if any bee touches any other orange, you’ll get a combination. This means even if you plant a seed from the sweetest orange you ever eaten, it doesn’t mean the fruit produced by a plant from that seed will be sweet.
The fact is that you never really know what you’re going to get. That’s why you should start from a seedling!
You can get one of these from a nursery or even optimized big box stores. You can also get them online. Make sure when you’re purchasing the seedling that you get a grafted citrus tree, that is going to be a dwarf. You don’t want a huge 20 feet tall tree indoors!
When it’s grafted, you can also know what the genetics are and you know what you’re going to get when it fruits. It will also fruit sooner because they take the graft from a fully mature tree. So instead of waiting 10 years, you’ll wait only one or two years.
Once you find the variety you want to grow and get your hands on a beautiful plant, you must transplant it within one or two weeks because the pots they come in are called root pots.
They are very deep, but narrow and the plants are going to be stressed if you leave them there. Transplanting into a pot that is way too big is also a huge and common mistake.
It doesn’t work like that. You shouldn’t transplant it to a big pot just because you only want to transplant it once… it will end up killing your plant because you won’t be able to control the moisture of the soil properly.
The more soil you have, the more likely it is that your plant will get root rot because it will hold too much water.
Get a small clay pot to start with, because clay wicks the moisture away. When you are transplanting, just put a few handfuls of soil in the bottom to cushion it up and get the plant without damaging any roots.
To do so, put your hands between the stem using your pointer finger and middle finger, making a “lid” for the plant and turn the root pot upside down.
Squeeze the bottom a little bit and give it a nice couple of taps. The whole plant should come right out with the roots undamaged.
Don’t pull! Let gravity do it’s thing. You want to also make sure that the stem is not buried up or it will cause girdle. That can happen, so pay attention that the stem is right at the soil level.
If it girdles the stem can rot. Take away the excess soil, and you’re good to go.
After you add enough soil around the plant to fill halfway up the pot, it’s time to fertilize.
This is only done at transplanting time. After that, you can top dress the fertilizer by taking one cup of fertilizer, sprinkle it around the plant, and then work it in with your fingers to push the fertilizer right where the roots need it.
Don’t do it with chemical fertilizers or it will burn the roots! Use organic fertilizers instead then fill the rest up with soil, and you’re almost done.
After transplanting, you need to take a good look at your plant and make sure the top of the soil level in the container is just below the root ball.
That will create a bit of a slope down, and that’s exactly how orange growers do it on large citrus farms, because they are so prone to root rot. The slope will help the water slide away from the roots.
Mount up a little bit of the soil around the base or elevate the plant a little and you’ll give it a nice slope to wash the water down.
After the first transplanting, you must soak the plant. If you have the right soil, it will run water right out in the bottom. Let the plant soak and then let it dry.
The next thing you should remember to do is remove the white bands that they put to stabilize the plant. If you don’t remove, they will girdle the stem.
Sometimes they are stapled on, which makes it a little bit harder, but usually it's very easy. Make sure you take it out or it will choke the plant.
Finally, top dressing.
It’s very easy: take a cup of fertilizer and sprinkle it around the base, then work with your fingers to mix it with the soil.
Don’t use shovels or other tools or you may damage the roots. After fertilizing, water it in to make sure the fertilizer gets carried down into the root system where it is needed, and you’re done.
Now it does take a bit of work in the initial stage, but it is totally worth it!
If you do it right, you’ll have a thriving citrus tree packed up with fruits in no time.