If you can’t afford a trip to the tropics, take a trip to your local greenhouse instead and treat yourself to a dwarf citrus plant. There are many kinds to choose from but all bear edible fruit, have glossy, evergreen leaves, and delicious smelling flowers as well.
Varieties of Dwarf Citrus Plants
Here are a few of the more popular ones:
- Meyer lemon is a cross between a lemon and a tangerine. I have two of these little bushes and they always have either fruit or blossoms and 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 or Persian limes have larger fruit than Mexican or Key limes. The plants have lots 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 1-2 inch fruits that taste like a tangy orange. The fruits can hold on 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 the Year of the Red Monkey by giving one to yourself or a friend.
Caring for Your Main Squeeze
Dwarf citrus are frost tender so they need to be grown indoors in cold climates. I put mine outside for the summer and bring them in when the night temperatures dip into the 40s. They like bright light and average home temperatures. Keep them out of drafts and away from drying heat sources. They prefer high humidity so mist the leaves 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 when the top 3 inches are dry. They need good drainage and don’t like to sit in soggy soil.
I keep my lemons a manageble 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!