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Indoor gardening: Growing Citrus in Containers, Part 1 of 3

Part 1 of a three-part Indoor Gardening series on Growing Citrus in Containers

Washington and New York are known for apple crops, but did you know you can mix oranges with those apples? You don't have to move to California or Florida to step out of your kitchen, pick a fresh lemon off the tree, and spritz it over your evening salmon. You can do it if you have an appropriate setting and a little knowledge of container planting.

5 indoor gardening tips for growing citrus in containers

Here are five things you need to know to get started growing citrus trees in cooler climates:

  1. Sun. You may not need to live in the Sunbelt to grow citrus, but you do need sun. In a container in the house, your tree needs to have a western or southern exposure, the brightest spot your house offers. Citrus is also a great design element for a sunroom, if you have one--its foliage always looks gorgeous and the fragrance of the flowers will fill the room. If you are short on sunshine, a little grow-light assistance won't hurt.
  2. Flow. While the citrus tree needs good air circulation in the house, it should be kept away from the drying effects of a heat vent. Indoor climates are drier than outside, and your citrus will appreciate a source of humidity--either a humidifier or perhaps a gravel and water-filled tray to sit in.
  3. Acid. In the reduced sunlight and coolness of the northern climes, trees with acidic fruit, such as lemon, lime and kumquat, are more likely to produce fruit in the winter than the sweeter fruits. The orange tree will grow and produce flowers, but fruit might be sparse.
  4. Size matters. Dwarf varieties are best--the trees are spending time in containers indoors, after all. The Improved Meyer lemon, Satsuma mandarin, Bearss' lime (also knows as Tahitian lime and Persian lime) and kumquat are all well-suited to indoor gardening as they are naturally small trees. Larger citrus varieties can be grafted onto dwarf rootstock to keep them small. A Web search should guide you to a selection of dwarf trees -- or phone your local nurseries to see if they carry citrus.
  5. Seed. You can grow citrus trees from seed, but they will not produce fruit for years or may need to reach a certain height before fruiting--most likely higher than your ceiling. Even a seed from a dwarf plant will want to grow to standard size.

With proper conditions and plant selection, it is possible to grow citrus fruit in colder climates. Part 2 will look at getting your citrus garden growing and keeping it lush.