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How to grow citrus plants indoors

Martyn Cox / 10 December 2012

Citrus plants are perfect for providing winter interest, as their fruit are often produced during the colder months of the year. And, as well as having aromatic, evergreen leaves, they have scented flowers that will lift your house with their evocative fragrance in spring.

Indoor lemon tree
There are lots of fantastic, ready-grown citrus plants to try growing indoors

Mention citrus and most folk will naturally think of oranges and lemons. But there are so many other fabulous types of citrus that are perfect for growing indoors. Among the best are limes, mandarins, grapefruits and a host of more obscure species. 

Despite their exotic origins – China, India and parts of South East Asia – citrus plants are dead easy to grow. All you need to do is give plants a warm spot in a conservatory, porch, green house or stand them on a light windowsill.

Visit our Home and Garden section for gardening guides, home improvement tips and much more.

What to grow?

There are lots of fantastic, ready-grown plants to try. ‘Washington’ is often considered to be the best flavoured oranges, while ‘Verna’ is one of the easiest lemons, producing fruit three times a year. American Wonder Lemon, or ponderosa, is the variety normally seen on the Amalfi Coast in Italy – its fruit can reach 17cm in length and are ideal for making lemon curd or limoncello.

Citrus hystrix, which is commonly known as kaffir lime, boasts lots of bumpy green fruit, along with odd hour-glass shaped leaves. Both the juice and the foliage are a key ingredient of many Thai dishes. Key Lime is equally worth growing - the juice is the main flavouring of key lime pie, an American desert with a meringue topping.

Remember the mandarin that used to be at the bottom of your Christmas stocking? This was willow leaf mandarin, a variety with small fruit containing seeds. Its flavour has an unmistakable spicy tang. It’s far superior to those bland, seedless varieties that took its place in our festive celebrations.

For a true taste sensation, check out kumquat. You can eat the 5cm-wide orange oval fruit whole. The thin skin gives you a sharp kick, followed by a hit of juicy sweet flesh.

If you’d prefer something even more unusual, track down Buddha’s hand citron, a large yellow fruit with many finger-like tentacles. These highly aromatic fruit are used to perfume rooms in China and Japan. The skin and white pith are delicious when candied and added to cakes.

Plants are available in a number of sizes. Make sure you buy a size that’s suitable for your home.

Looking after citrus plants

Place plants in the sunniest spot possible indoors, not in the corner of the room where they will struggle to get any light. Avoid putting them anywhere near a radiator or fire. Plants can be given an airing outdoors in summer – put them in a shaded spot for a few days before moving them into sun, to avoid giving them a shock. They’ll need to return indoors before night-time temperatures start to fall in late summer.

Water regularly, but don’t overdo it. They hate to be waterlogged. Feed them every time you water by adding a few drops of citrus feed.

Plants will eventually need moving into larger containers. Fill with soil-based John Innes No.2 compost or buy a bag of citrus compost from a specialist grower.

Sudden leaf loss

The most common problem faced by those growing citrus is sudden leaf loss. This is generally caused by overwatering – make sure you allow the compost to completely dry out before giving them another soaking. Don’t worry if your leaves do fall. Most plants will make a full recovery.

Where to buy citrus plants

The Citrus Centre -
Global Orange Groves -
Cross Common Nursery -

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.