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Sweet-Smelling Citrus Plants

Several citrus plants are commonly available for use as houseplants.  The enjoyment is two-fold when growing oranges, lemons and limes as not only do the blossoms smell delightful, you can also harvest the fruits.  Calamondin Oranges, which carry highly-scented blossoms and fruits at the same time, are possibly the most popular fruited houseplants -  and for good reason.  The little oranges are tart and be used for marmalade or other baking.  You probably won’t get enough harvest at one time to make a batch of marmalade, but a very sensible person who knows her way around a kitchen once told me that she harvests the fruits as they mature, and pops them right into the freezer until she has enough to make her marmalade. Brilliant!

Most citrus plants prefer full sun, either a southern or western exposure in your house.  Again, night time temperature should stay above 60 degrees in order to keep healthy growth on the plant. At temperatures below 60, these plants will survive, but the results will not be satisfying. Humidity should stay above 50% if possible.

Most sources suggest keeping citrus in a clay pot in order to keep the air exchange active in the root zone.  Let the surface of the soil dry to the touch in between watering and then water thoroughly until the water runs out the bottom of the pot.  Citruses do not require too much fertilization.  About ½ tsp of soluble houseplant fertilizer per gallon every two weeks is acceptable.  Over fertilizing citrus can cause an overgrowth of foliage, so less is more in this case.  If you notice that your citrus is requiring water a lot more frequently, it’s probably time to repot.  Don’t increase the pot size by more than two inches if you do decide it’s time.  They actually prefer to be a little pot bound.

If you are lucky enough to have a young Meyer Lemon, Kaffir Lime or Calamondin Orange, be sure to prune it regularly to keep a bushy shape. This also keeps the stems strong, as the fruit can be heavy when it ripens.  The blossoms are numerous when they come into flower and they will scent the entire room.  The leaves, when crushed, are fragrant and can be left in areas where the fresh citrus scent might be appreciated. These varieties are all consistent bloomers and reliable producers.  Don’t despair if your lime or lemon drops some fruit after it begins to form.  The plant will only keep as many fruits on it as it can support, and those that remain will ripen better than if there are too many. Full size grapefruit trees can make decent houseplants, too, but be prepared…they will grow to 6’ before they produce fruit.  The other fruits mentioned here all will top out at about 3’ and continue to produce when pruned regularly.

Citrus are not highly susceptible to insects, but it you have other infected plants in the house, those bugs will probably migrate on to the citrus plants.  It’s important to use the most natural methods of insect eradication possible if you are planning on using that lemon in your iced tea, or making marmalade with those oranges.  A very good insecticide recipe for edibles is suggested by Rodale. Mix 1 cup of rubbing alcohol with ½ TBL insecticidal soap in a quart of water and apply once, then again every 4 days for three rounds. Regular cold showers for the whole plant are recommended to keep spider mite activity low. Keeping the temperature above 60 and watering only when necessary should keep root disease at bay.

Logee’s Greenhouses in Danielson, CT, is an excellent source for citrus plants.  They will arrive quite small, but very healthy and ready to grow in your home with very little care. They make very nice gifts for the gardener in your life!