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Vermont Garden Journal: Growing Citrus Indoors

Oranges and other citrus fruit can be grown indoors in colder climates by using certain dwarf varieties and creating proper conditions.
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Oranges and other citrus fruit can be grown indoors in colder climates by using certain dwarf varieties and creating proper conditions.

On my garden tour to France last fall, we went to Versailles. The city is famous for gardens, palaces and its orangerie. An orangerie is a building built to grow lemons, oranges and limes year-round in a cold climate. But you don't have to build an orangerie to enjoy citrus even in our northern climate.

First, select dwarf varieties of citrus trees that will fit in a home such as Dwarf Improved Meyer lemon and calamondin orange. As a fan of Thai cooking, I grow a kaffir lime tree. The small limes are used in drinks and the leaves flavor our Thai curries.

Next, buy a plastic or clay pot that's a size larger than the root ball of your tree. Make sure it has several holes on the bottom for drainage and place it in a drain pan to collect excess water. Add a moistened, well-drained potting mix to the container. After planting, add a light layer of mulch or stones on top of the soil to reduce evaporation.

Place the tree in a sunny window protected from any cold drafts. Ideally, citrus like a room with a temperature between 60 and 65 degrees in winter. Keep the soil moist, but on the dry side. Don't water too much or your leaves will drop. Group your citrus with other houseplants and mist the leaves regularly to raise the humidity levels. 

Come spring, move the potted plant outdoors into full sun and increase watering. Add a citrus fertilizer monthly from spring until the end of summer. Transition the tree back indoors in the fall. Within a year, citrus should be forming. Even if the fruit doesn't form in winter, the citrus flower's scent will perfume the whole room. 

Now for this week's tip: give your foliage houseplants, such as rubber trees, ficus and philodendren, a shower every week or so to clean off the leaves and increase the humidity for the plant. They'll perk up, just like we do, after a shower. 

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