Caring for an indoor orange tree

Tiffany Daneff / 04 February 2016

An indoor orange tree can brighten up a gloomy winter, but make sure the plant is positioned and fed correctly.



One of the most disappointing Christmas presents anyone can give me is a pot of cyclamen. It’s one of those things. The plant takes one glance at me and, without fail, those beautiful fat flower buds just start dropping like heavy rain on the windowsill.

Oh I know it’s all to do with over or under watering, too much heat, not enough heat etc etc blah blah. I can tell you I’ve tried pleasing them every which way but it has never been good enough.

So, when a dear, kind friend gave me a little calamondin orange tree a couple of years ago my heart sank. It was such a healthy specimen in a nice galvanized bucket and from its branches hung a handful of little fruits. And all I could think, was how awful I would feel when the poor thing gave up the ghost.

Read our guide to growing citrus plants indoors.

Positioning the orange tree

As it was winter I had to find somewhere indoors that was light and bright but not too hot or too cold. Thinking ‘orangery’ I chose the downstairs cloakroom which is all those things. 

All seemed well for a while and then a few telltale yellow leaves dropped. 

Feeding the orange tree

I went back and examined the instructions and realised that I hadn’t got around to buy the feed. I ordered the winter citrus granules – and added a little tub of the summer feed to the order, in the hope the little tree would make it through.

The key, it seemed, was to water only when the soil in the pot was dry and then to water thoroughly before letting it drain. Thoroughly. So fussy.

Hardening off outside

We made it through to the longer summer days when, with all frosts over, I repotted it and put it outside. But I was too hasty. The poor thing didn’t like the sudden sun and the leaves began to show signs of stress. 

I learned that it was safer to treat it rather as you might harden off a tray of fragile seedlings, giving it a few hours at a time outdoors and building up exposure over a couple of weeks. First I set it in the shade of a mild morning, then gradually brought it out for longer until it was happy in the sun (though never the broiling midday heat), though I brought it in at night until we had arrived at summer proper.

To my amazement, it survived. It even put on some good leaf growth. As summer ended I returned to the winter feeding granules. At the same time I made sure to put out some buckets in order to collect some rainwater. (For watering houseplants.)

Bringing back in for winter

From the first frosts until now my little orange tree has been sitting on the floor in the cloakroom. The leaves are fine and I have fed and watered only when needed. Every so often I look at it wondering whether it will ever flower again.

And then, about 10 days ago, I did a double take. There were some waxy tear drop buds. I looked more closely: definitely flower buds. A few days later they began very slowly to open. And last week the first flower appeared. I am so chuffed.

Question is, will that flower make it all the way to a little orange fruit?

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