Introducing an indoor citrus tree into the home is an excellent way to bring a dose of sunshine to your interiors—especially during the darker months. Bright, cheery, and available in many beautiful varieties, in addition to looking lovely potted in a corner, they can also bear fruit that’s perfect for everything from cocktails to classic dishes. Recently, we asked Kirk Moore of Asheville, North Carolina-based Oakleaf Style and Michael Giannelli of East Hampton, New York-based East Hampton Gardens for expert advice on selecting the right indoor citrus tree for your home. Here, they discuss four dwarf varieties that are ideal for cultivating indoors—and provide a primer on how to maintain them year-round.
PICK YOUR PLANT
Consider a kumquat
Beautiful and bearing sweet fruit, kumquats are a wonderful choice when it comes to indoor cultivars. “Native to China, many people consider it ‘the little gem’ of the citrus world,” Moore says. The fruit is sweet and tart, and the thin skin holds most of the sweetness. For this reason, it is eaten whole.
Make it a Meyer lemon
“Meyer lemons are a small, sweet hybrid,” Moore explains. “Most people consider them a cross between a lemon and a mandarin orange.” Less tart than lemons, Meyers won’t make your mouth pucker as much as their conventional kin. For this reason, and because of their thin, less pithy, edible skin, they are favored by epicureans. The perfect winter plant, they fruit from late-November or early-December and end by March. This fleeting fruiting lends to their coveted status.
Choose a Calamondin orange
This orange variety is a great choice for indoor enjoyment as they have three to five flushes of blooming and fruiting during the course of the year. Calamondin oranges are also a hardy citrus, surviving down to 20 degrees Fahrenheit. Though edible, this fruit’s highly acidic nature makes it best for use in marmalades and as an addition to cocktails. Most loved for the flowers’ haunting fragrance, the trees also make excellent bonsai plants.
Cultivate a Kaffir lime
Kaffir lime is a perfect choice for the indoor gardener, according to the experts. “Ironically, it’s the leaves of this dwarf citrus tree that are most loved,” Moore shares. Used in Thai cooking, the citrusy bouquet of the crushed leaf is delicious in soups, salads, curries, and stir fry dishes. Use the leaves as you would bay leaves to add sparkle to any dish. While the fruit is rather unremarkable in cooking, Moore says that the juice is thought to improve gum health and makes a healthy mouth rinse. The perfect plant for any sunny window, “Folk doctors believe it can improve one’s mental outlook and ward off evil spirits” he adds.
KNOW THE BASICS
Opt for a gritty soil
Set your citrus tree up for success by choosing a gritty soil composed of two parts sand and one part potting mix, Giannelli recommends. “This allows water to drain and stay a bit moist, so as not to have wet roots,” he says.
Fertilize twice a year
Giannelli recommends using Citrus-tone fertilizer two times a year, once in the spring and once in the summer. During the fall and winter, when the plant is about to flower, fertilizer isn’t necessary, he adds.
Provide bright light
All citrus plants need bright light to thrive, and prefer south-facing windows with good airflow—but out of direct heat or drafts. “Kitchens and sunrooms are usually good candidates for placement,” Moore says. Giannelli adds that for plants to be the most fruitful, they need four to six hours of direct sun.
Experts advise using the “two-knuckle-deep” rule to determine if your plant needs water, meaning, when you insert your finger into this depth in the soil, if it’s still moist, there’s no need to add water. If it feels dry to the touch, however, it’s time to get out the watering can. “An overabundance of water will cause root rot,” Giannelli warns, so you want to be vigilant. Indicators of this condition include yellowing leaves, and signs that the plant is starting to die from the top down. Moore recommends adding gravel or moss to the top of your plant, as it will help avoid rapid evaporation in addition to imparting a nice decorative element to the pot.
Invest in a mister
It’s important to mist the leaves every day or so to keep them hydrated and healthy, Giannelli says. He prefers the nickel Haws fine mister made in England for both its beauty and usefulness.
Pay attention to outdoor temperatures
If you live in a climate that supports outdoor citrus (check with your local garden store if you’re unsure), Giannelli suggests you only move your plant outside once the overnight temperatures are certain to stay above 45° Fahrenheit to avoid leaf drop and yellowing.