Citrus Tree 101: A Growing and Maintenance Guide

New varieties of the citrus tree make this a stylish addition to any home garden. Whether you are looking for interesting tree specimens or a new growing challenge, citrus trees have options available. They give your indoor and outdoor garden an elegant style, sweeten the air with fragrant blossoms, and once every season, provide you with glorious fruit. 

Citrus trees grow warm climates, but for people who live in cooler climates, citrus trees work well in pots. Using citus trees in combination with Dwarf umbrella trees and areca palms will allow you to create your own indor paradise. 

What is a Citrus Tree?

Citrus poted treeView in gallery

Citrus trees are part of the family Rutaceae. They are an evergreen tree that grows best in subtropical regions without harsh winters. Most citrus trees for home use are of the ornamental or dwarf varieties. These do not need large spaces to thrive. Instead, you can grow different varieties as indoor trees or as portable trees that you transport inside when the cold temperatures begin.

Citrus trees have become a trendy house and patio plant option. According to the plant experts and the University of Minnesota, getting your trees to fruit is not as easy as it seems. Instead, it is best to grow these trees for their foliage and treat the fruit as a welcome surprise.

Caring for Citrus Trees

Each variety of citrus tree has specific care needs, but here are general guidelines to help you get an overall picture of their care.


Light Needs

Citrus trees prefer bright sunlight to thrive and produce their tart sweet fruit. Allow the trees to remain in the full sun for around 6-8 hours. Too much sun can cause the leaves to wilt. Excess sunlight can also cause sunburn on new growth leaves. Rotate the position of indoor plants to be sure light reaches every side in order to keep the growth even. 


Water Needs

Make sure the roots of your citrus tree never sit in excess water as this can cause root rot. You can avoid this with well-drained soil and a pot with good drainage holes. Be prepared to water more often in the summer, at least once to twice a week. Plant experts at Westland recommend using room temperature rain water for your citrus trees. During the winter months, allow the soil around the tree’s root ball to dry out before watering again.


Soil Conditions

Citrus trees like acidic soil. Citrus trees thrive in both pots and in the ground, but the soil must not allow water to sit around the roots. When you plant your citrus trees in your garden landscape or in pots, use a sandy loam soil. To create your own, mix one part well-draining soil, one part perlite, and one part peat. The surrounding soil should have a pH between 6.0 and 7.0.


Atmospheric Conditions

Citrus trees prefer temperatures ranging from 55-65 degrees indoors. If you live in a climate where temperatures dip below 55 degrees, you will need to keep the trees indoors until the danger of frost has passed.

Citrus plants like humid conditions. They will thrive in humid rooms like bathrooms and kitchens. Also, you can raise the humidity of other rooms by running a humidifier or placing the citrus trees on a pebble tray that you supply with water.


Fertilizer

A fertilizer designed for acidic plants or specific citrus tree fertilizer administered during the growing season from early spring through summer will allow this plant to thrive. Fertilize once every week from April through August. Continue to fertilize once every two weeks from October through March.


Pollination

Even if your citrus tree is thriving, it may lack citrus fruit. Most indoor trees will lack the best pollination partners for helping fruit emerge. Outside, wind, water, and insects like bees carry pollen from one flower to another. 

You can pollinate citrus trees indoors using two methods beginning in early spring when the flowers produce pollen. In one method, take one flower with ripe pollen and rub it against the other open bloom’s center. You can also use a dry paintbrush to transfer pollen from one flower to the stigmata of another flower.


Pests and Diseases

Scale insects, aphids, mealybugs, whitefly, and spider mites are the most common pests of the Citrus Tree plant. If you see evidence of bugs in your trees apply an insecticidal soap to the top and bottom side of the citrus leaves. Apply neem oil to the tree for more serious infestations of pests.

Some of the common diseases for citrus trees are root rots. These are caused by overwatering. When you see evidence of rot like yellowing leaves or leaf spots, remove affected branches. Make sure the roots are not waterlogged and that the tree has good circulation. Some other common diseases for citrus trees are scooty mold and bacterial blast. Prevent scooty mold by keeping away aphids and other pests with neem oil. Treat bacterial blast with a commercial copper-based fungicide.


Pruning

Citrus trees will not need extensive pruning. You may need to remove small to medium size competing branches called “suckers” that grow along the larger branches. According to the University of Arizona, it is best to remove suckers by hand when they are small. Also, remove diseased and broken branches to improve the look of your tree.


Potting Citrus Trees

For citrus tree plants grown indoors, choose a spacious pot, but plant the tree with the root ball just below the soil surface. This will keep the plant from becoming waterlogged and prevent root rot.


The Best Citrus Tree Varieties for Indoor Use

Citrus trees make an attractive plant for front door or patio gardens. We have gathered some of the best indoor citrus tree varieties according to appearance, fruit, and height.

Calamondin Orange

This tree has small, tart fruit that is a cross between tangerines and kumquats. These citrus fruits are used in marmalades and as garnishes. Trees that are two years old will begin producing fruit and produce fruit year-round.

  • Botanical name: Citrofortunella mitis
  • Height: 3-4 feet indoors
  • Sun: At least 4 hours of direct sunlight per day
  • Water: Soak the pot, but allow water to drain. Allow soil to dry before watering again.
  • Growing Zones: 8-11

Kaffir Lime

This is a dwarf citrus tree variety that thrives indoors. The zest of Kaffir limes is prized in Asian cuisine. It is an easy care tree that is also resistant to many of the common citrus tree pests.

  • Botanical name: Citrus hystrix
  • Height: 5 feet indoors, responds well to pruning
  • Sun: Around 8 hours of direct sunlight per day
  • Water: Soak the tree, but allow water to drain. Keep the soil moist, but not soggy
  • Growing Zones: 9-10

Meyer Lemon

As a cross between lemons and mandarin oranges, Meyers lemons are sweeter than standard lemons. The delicious flavor of the zest and thin skin rind is prized by chefs.

  • Botanical name: Citrus × meyeri
  • Height: 6-10 feet with dwarf varieties of 5-7 feet
  • Sun: 8-12 hours of direct sunlight per day
  • Water: Soak the pot, but allow water to drain. Keep the soil moist, but not soggy
  • Growing Zones: 8-11

Kumquat

Kumquat trees have tiny oval fruit that look like colorful hanging jewels. Fruit and flowers crowd the tree at the same time, making it a colorful and beautiful plant. Kumquats are useful in marmalades and are also wonderful eaten raw, skin and all.

  • Botanical name: Fortunella spp
  • Height: Some varieties 3-4 feet others up to 10 feet
  • Sun: As much direct sunlight per day as possible for more fruit and flowers
  • Water: Soak the pot, but allow water to drain. Allow soil to dry before watering again. Mist if your rooms are dry.
  • Growing Zones: 9-11, can survive in zone 8 if protected from harsh weather

Dwarf Tangerine

The tangerine is wonderful for eating with ease. This beloved fruit is easy to peel and has a sweet bright flavor.

  • Botanical name: Citrus reticulata
  • Height: Up to 6 feet indoors
  • Sun: Full sunlight, turn plant to expose all sides to the sun
  • Water: Soak the pot, but allow water to drain. Allow soil to dry before watering again. Mist or humidify if your rooms are dry.
  • Growing Zones: 9-11

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)FAQ

Where can I find citrus trees for sale near me?

Look at local garden nurseries in your area. This allows you to pinpoint varieties that work the best in your area. You can also order these trees online. Just be sure to double check all the appropriate growing conditions to make sure that they will grow for you.

Do citrus trees grow in pots as well as outdoors?

There are certain varieties of citrus that make excellent houseplants. The factor that is hardest to control is the humidity of your interior spaces to provide the humidity levels for citrus trees. With a humidifier you will be able to supply your plants with the humidity that they need to thrive.

What are the health benefits of citrus?

According to the Mayo Clinic, citrus is a great source of Vitamin C. This supports your immune system and leads to healthier skin, bones, and blood vessels. Citrus fruit also helps you absorb more iron and is a good source of fiber. By eating the whole fruit, you can help reduce your LDL, bad cholesterol levels.

How can I cook with citrus fruit?

Citrus is used in all varieties of food from drinks to baked goods. Use the zest to flavor cookies and sweet breads or as an addition to a stir-fry.

Conclusion

Citrus trees are a popular indoor and outdoor plant for home garden use. They have a gorgeous form, produce fragrant flowers, and tasty fruit. Use these trees in formal gardens or as a focal point inside. Pair these plants with olive trees, lavender, rosemary, and bay laurel to produce an even more effective display.