September 28, 2015


In a week or so, I will be relocating most of my city, such as this variegated Calamondin orange, back into the greenhouse for the winter.

One of the first houseplants I ever grew all by myself was a grapefruit tree. I was probably around ten years old when I found some grapefruit seeds already sprouted in a half of a grapefruit which my dad would always serve us kids for breakfast. It was winter, before school, and being the youngest, I was small enough to grab the choicest seat at the breakfast table - on the hot radiator under the window. Grapefruits always remind me of hot butts and Maypo. Long story.

A larger view of this larger Calamondin plant, which is quickly growers too large for its container.

I potted those pre-germinated seeds up secretly, and set the pot on the windowsill in my room and you can probably foretell the rest of the story. What I didn't know then, was that even though I raised that plant into a large shrubby and thorny monster which I regretted leaving behind when I went to college, it was only later when I realized the sad truth - that the odds of seeing that tree bloom and produce edible fruit, were slim to none. Flowers maybe, but most likely, mostly thorns and foliage. Not to mention scale, mealy bug and the other host of pests citrus trees indoors eventually succumb to.

The 'Loimequat' just completed blooming, it's second bloom this summer.

I really didn't' care much at that point. As many of you who have raised citrus indoors have discovered, the damaged  or bruised leaves on a citrus plant smell of the essential oils somewhat, and even the roots carry a scent which one discovers when repotting.

Larger Limequats are maturing, but they will turn bright yellow when they are fully ripe.

 After many years of attempting citrus indoors, they remain a favorite, even though I have much better success now with them in the cool greenhouse, it was not that long ago when our home seemed to have citrus trees in most every room that had a window, particularly the cooler, unheated rooms in the winter - empty bedrooms with an Eastern exposure, and in the studio where my father painted his paintings which was heated with a wood stove (eventually, however, the wood stove made the room too hot for them, and many perished - but when he only heated it during the daytime, the plants enjoyed the temperature shift at night when it could dip near 50º F. They love that.

Fortunella hindsii, is a very tiny citrus. They will look much nicer when they mature and turn reddish orange.

 If you've been dreaming about owning a few citrus plants and raising your own fruit indoors, here are a few of my tips which I have discovered and implemented over the years.

1. Have patience, or buy a blooming sized plant.

Let me tell you a story about 8 year old Matt. With a 1968 Parks Seed catalog in hand, I walked on my knees into my mothers bedroom (yeah, it worked - don't laugh - we were Catholic and I was an alter boy - we had secret powers.), pointing at a key lime tree for something like, $5.99. We ordered it, and as I dreamed of key lime pie for eternity, it ended up seeming like eternity when the little 2 inch pot finally grew large enough to produce a flower, and then a fruit - (which promptly fell off - I don't know why, it happens for many reasons, so be ready for that, too).

Now that it is larger, this grafted Mandarin orange tree looks like it will be loaded with Mandarin oranges, very similar to 'Clementines', which is a seedless 'Mandarin' type.

This is particularly important if you are engaging your children to help raise the tree, since unless you live in southern California or south Florida, the idea of raising citrus indoors is pure magic, and nothing kills the high of magic with pre-millennials like time. I'm not suggesting that you buy a tree already blooming or with fruit on it, just be sure to get one which is a. grafted (which will ensure blooming at an early age) and b. A variety suitable for growing indoors. I suggest Logee's Greenhouses, naturally, but there are plenty of other sources as well - just do your research. I would target the price of $35 - the average price of all of mine.

2. Be Realistic - Remember, all commercial citrus are grafted. (i.e. Don't believe everything that you read on gardening  blogs.).

I'm not being mean, but if I read one more blog post about "Raise your own lemons from seed!" or see a pinterest pin that reads  "Kids DIY Clementines from seed!", I will scream. If you want to teach your kids about how to grow plants from seed, terrific ( I mean, come on, look how I started!), but explain to them what they are really doing. Now, I am not suggesting that you teach them how to graft (although, my next door neighbor Paul did win our science project in 5th grade with a grafting project utilizing bees wax from his fathers hives, leaving one little dude's Hummingbirds of the World (sculpted in clay) in second place, but I am over that. Really), but a grafting project does seem to make more sense if you really want to teach something practical and real.

By the way, the same thing goes for apples.

We now keep many large tubs of various varieties of Citron, this one has lost its label, but I know that it is different than 'Etrog', one used in many Jewish ceremonies.

3. Be bold, and try some Citron's indoors this winter, they are very grow-able.
Large citrus to very well indoors. All you need is a large pot, good sandy soil and some scissors to trim the long, sharp thorns off with, since they can tear cloths, skin and be a risk to your pets' eyes. It's the fruit however which are awesome, fragrant and flavorful. Most are pithy, with very little flesh, but the pith is sweet and often crispy. It candy's well if poached in simple syrup and makes terrific marmalade. Of course, you could just keep the fruit on the tree, as a natural air freshener, and to show off to visitors.

This large 'Etrog' citron, is only about half mature, it will be nearly the size of a football before I will harvest it.

WIth some heavy rain expected this week, our apples and banana's will be grateful. Not a very New England looking garden, certainly, but in a few weeks, autumn will transform the garden into what a calendar photo in October should look like - pumpkins, sugar maples and winter squash. Bananas will retire for for the season.


  1. Matt - How would you comment on (1) the scent of the citrus trees relative to each other and (2) the overall look? I was struck by Tovah Martin's accounts of growing citrus in her book "The Unexpected Houseplant" and agree with what she writes... mostly. She states that she grows her citrus mostly for their wonderful scent (which they do have), but i find that the scent varies among the various species. I only have 3 citrus trees to draw my experience upon (improved meyer lemon, fukushu kumquat, trovita orange - all bought from fourwindsgrowers.com) but i find that the bigger the fruit, the stronger the scent (orange >> lemon > kumquat). I also find that the smaller the fruit, the more... tidy the tree (kumquat >> lemon > orange). Tovah Martin remarks that citrus trees aren't the most... attractive trees (i agree with her - they don't grow symmetrically, have thorns to prune, can look gangly, have thorns to prune, etc), but the smaller the fruit, the smaller the leaves, the more tidy they look. Would you agree with those statements? How do you think your particular citrus varieties pan out in terms of scent and overall appearance?

  2. john in cranston12:10 PM

    Oddly, it is the folks at Logee's that gave me the encouragement that my seed started trees would bloom. I started them from the fruit of a small orange tree (a gift, I don't know what kind) that would bloom and fruit reliably. The summer after I started the seedlings, the parent plant died. 10+ years later, I still have 2 handsome orange trees (that crave iron), pruned into standards about 2 feet tall, that spend summers outside and winters in a cool southeastern window, and never blooming.
    That said, the Key Lime, Kaffir Lime and Meyer Lemon that I have since picked up at Logee's have all had some semblance of fruits and blooms (I have pollinate the flowers by dabbing with an ear swab*). Last January I bought a Myrtle Leaf Orange, I'm looking forward flowers on that one too.

    *Does this make sense, is this a good way to pollinated these indoor plants?

  3. Those first gardening experiences form us for ever! Yours was growing from grapefruit seeds and men was planting a stone from a date and watching it germinate and grow. In chilly, austere 1950's UK it seemed like a minor miracle !

  4. Great post. I agree. Buy grafted and blooming size. None of us are getting any younger. Funny, I posted my earlier comment before I saw this post. I love citrus trees. Maybe I'll put that variegated lemon in my east window in the house. It may be too warm in here though. Maybe when the kids all move out, I'll keep one bedroom cool. Maybe. ~~Dee

  5. Anonymous5:11 PM

    dear matt
    what iron formula product do you like best for your citrus?
    i have a calamondin that my mother handed off to me in about 1970 on account of her fears of her "black thumb". now my grandsons fight over the fruits (they like sour.). but chlorosis is continual and it is a hog for iron, as will be a newer acquisition, a meyer lemon.
    all best,
    ~ 02568


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