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.
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 - www.citruscentre.co.uk
Global Orange Groves - www.globalorangegroves.co.uk
Cross Common Nursery - www.crosscommonnursery.co.uk