If you can’t visit the tropics, try growing your own citrus trees in containers! Dwarf citrus varieties will grow year-round if kept in the right conditions. They all bear edible fruit and have glossy, evergreen leaves and delicious-smelling flowers. (The scent is heavenly!) Learn how to care for your indoor citrus trees.
There are many kinds of citrus that work well as container plants. Even northern gardeners should consider giving them a shot. Here’s a look at a few of the most popular ones!
Varieties of Dwarf Citrus to Try
Meyer lemon is a cross between a lemon and a tangerine, and is one of the most popular citruses to grow in a pot. I have two of these little bushes and they always have either fruit or blossoms on them—or sometimes both at the same time! The blossoms are extremely fragrant and the lemons are good sized, very juicy, have soft, heavenly-smelling skins, and taste better than store-bought lemons. Since we know these fruits were raised organically, we have made homemade limoncello from their zest. It takes 9 to 12 months for the fruits to develop and ripen, but they are worth the wait. The fruit turns an orangey-yellow when ripe.
Bearss limes (also called Persian limes or Tahitian limes) have larger fruit than Mexican or Key limes and are slightly more hardy, too. These medium-sized trees produce many of branches and bear lots of juicy, seedless limes—perfect for pies, limeade, or margaritas.
Kaffir lime is popular in Thai and Indonesian cooking, which uses the fragrant leaves as well as the fruit.
Calamondin is a cross between a kumquat and a mandarin orange. It has tiny 1- to 2-inch fruits that taste like a tangy orange. The fruit can hold onto the plant for a year, making it decorative as well as practical.
Kumquats are fairly tart and tiny, but make a wonderful marmalade. Their skin is sweeter than their flesh. ‘Nagami’ is a sweet variety with 2-inch oval fruit. ‘Meiwa’ is even sweeter with round, seedless fruits. Kumquats are often crossed with other citrus to make limequats, orangequats, and mandarinquats.
Kumquats are a symbol of prosperity and good luck in China and are often given as gifts for the Chinese New Year. Celebrate by giving one to yourself or a friend!
Tips for Growing Dwarf Citrus in Containers
How exactly do you care for your main squeeze? Dwarf citrus are frost tender, so they need to spend part of the year indoors in cold climates where frosts occur. Here are some things to keep in mind when it comes to care:
Keeping your citrus outdoors during the spring and summer is a good way to get them plenty of light and foster healthy growth. When moving them outdoors in the spring, don’t put them into direct sunlight right away; they need time to adapt to the more intense light level. Put them in a shady spot for a few days, then move them to a spot with partial sun.
Bring citrus indoors when nighttime temperatures start to dip down to about 45°F (7°C) outside, if that’s a concern in your area.
Citrus do best with bright light. Indoors, this can be difficult, but a sunny southern window will keep them happy through winter. Consider using supplemental lighting (such as an LED bulb) to give your plants more light during the darkest winter days.
Keep them out of cold drafts and away from drying heat sources. Temperatures between 60° and 70°F (15° to 21°C) are preferred.
Citrus like high humidity, so mist around the plants often, place the pots on a tray of wet pebbles, or keep them near a humidifier.
The flowers are self-fertile, but you can help pollinate indoors by shaking the branches or using a Q-tip or soft paintbrush to move pollen among the flowers.
Water citrus when the top 3 inches are dry. They need good drainage and don’t like to sit in soggy soil. One thing to keep in mind if you bring them indoors for winter: Outdoors, in bright sunlight, the trees will require a lot more water than they do when brought indoors and put into a dimmer environment. Adjust your watering habits accordingly!
I keep my lemons a manageable size by trimming the tops and the roots an equal amount—about 25%—every 2 to 3 years when I repot them, almost like a bonsai.
Dwarf citrus are proof that good things come in small packages!