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Growing Citrus in the Berkshires

Yes, you can do it!  Learn more below:

Growing citrus plants indoors was once a sign of prestige. In Victorian times, the landed gentry and royalty often invested in greenhouse structures called orangeries.

It may not be practical for you to grow large fruiting citrus trees in a dedicated greenhouse, but it is possible to grace a sunny area in your home with a dwarf or miniature citrus.

Citrus plants have very attractive, glossy dark green leaves and the scent of their flowers is incredible!  Even their lightly fragrant leaves can flavor curries and sauces.  Several varieties of lemons, limes and grapefruits make great indoor plants.  You can also grow dwarf kumquats, tangelos, mandarins, and oranges.  Not all of them will bear fruits like you see in the grocery store, but some do, especially lemons and limes. Others will have smaller intensely flavored fruits that can be used in special recipes.

How to choose your plant:

To select a citrus for indoors, look for plants that are full of dark green glossy leaves. If the variety is grown as a standard, pick a plant with a strong, straight trunk. Whenever possible, select a plant that is just beginning to bloom so you can enjoy the fragrance right away. Handle citrus plants carefully. Many of them have thorns.

Cultural Tips for a Healthy Citrus Plant

  • Provide Southern Light for Citrus Grown Indoors

Citrus need full sun to do their best. Put them near a south window in winter and only protect them from the midday sun in summer.  Even better— each summer, bring your citrus outside to a morning sun location (eastern light).  Avoid blasting sun as they will get a sunburn after spending all winter inside (just like us!)  Exposure to summer sunlight outdoors will give your citrus a great growing boost.

  • Check the Soil Surface Regularly to Learn How Much Water the Plant Needs

In summer when they are outdoors and actively growing, citrus trees need water every 2 or 3 days.  Mulch the potted soil surface to help prevent evaporation when outdoors.  Regularly check the soil to the depth of your first knuckle of your finger until the soil is dry.  Then give the pot a good deep soaking of water. When indoors, the soil surface (not the mulch) should be allowed to dry to the touch between waterings.  Indoor conditions vary and will change from fall to winter when heat systems start running.  Check the soil moisture daily.  Do not allow plants to stand in water after the pot has drained into the saucer.

  • Citrus Plants Like a Slightly Cooler Indoor Temperature Than We Do.

You don’t have to crank the heat to grow citrus!  They grow well in 50o to 55oF at night and 68oF during the day.

  • Increasing Indoor Humidity in Winter Can Help Prevent Problems

Citrus need humidity, especially when blooming. Berkshire homes in winter can be very dry from hot air vents, baseboard heating or wood stoves. Low humidity often causes dropping blooms and fruit. Increase ambient humidity when necessary by placing pots on a pebble tray full of water or use a humidifier.

  • Citrus Should Be Fed Three Times A Year

Feed the plants in early spring, early summer, and late summer.  They prefer an acid fertilizer applied no stronger than the recommended rate on the package. Ward’s Nursery recommends Dr. Earth Fruit Tree fertilizer.

  • Your New Citrus Plant Can Stay in the Grow Pot for at Least 1 Year

You can select a more decorative pot to go around the greenhouse container.  Smaller potted plants may need to be up potted in 1 year, but larger trees will do fine for 2 years.  Repot into only slightly larger pots and choose pots that have a wider surface area not just taller.  Citrus feeder roots form in the top of the root ball and will need to spread out.  If plants fail to bloom well, skip the repotting for a year or two. Being slightly crowded seems to encourage blooming.

  • Re-potted Citrus Need a Well-draining Soil

Some recommend acidic soil.  Try a regular potting mix with peat (for the acidity) and add bark or sand to improve drainage.

  • Plants That Get Too Big Can Be Reduced by Root-pruning

Instead of getting bigger and bigger pots, root prune! Remove your citrus from the pot and cut off 10-25% of the root ball at the bottom.  Refresh the soil and repot the plant in the original container.

  • Get the Most from Indoor Citrus with Regular Tip Pruning and Hand Pollinating

Pruning tip growth at any season will keep the plant compact and bushy.  Blooms fall off as they fade, and fruit will follow if the flower is pollinated – no need to deadhead! Indoors, you will have to pollinate the flowers by hand. Use a child’s paintbrush to stroke the pollen-bearing stamens and then the pistil in the center of the bloom of each flower.

  • Houseplant Pests Can Also Affect Citrus Indoors

If the leaves become dull and mottled, your plant may be under attack by sucking insects such as spider mites, whitefly, or scale. All of these can be safely controlled with insecticidal soap or horticultural oil if caught early.  Contact Ward’s for confirmation of what pest may be affecting your citrus at the first sign of trouble.

  • Citrus Often Lose Leaves in Late Winter Due to the Stress of Indoor Living

Don’t fret!  Citrus plants are extremely durable and more often than not come back even after losing all their leaves.  Yes, the lack of sunshine from the winter skies can make citrus care a bit trickier.  Leaves can turn yellow and fall off due to too wet or too dry conditions.  Make sure the soil is relatively dry between your good soaking waterings. In the winter, your citrus can go without watering for 5-14 days depending on conditions.  Just pay attention to your watering and make sure the plant has the sunniest spot available indoors.

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