Monday, December 17, 2012

Indoor Citrus for Gardeners Who Can't Wait for Spring

Key Lime flowers, in December.               Photo/Amy Whitney
For gardeners willing to risk potential scratches from long thorns, dwarf citrus trees grown in containers can be very rewarding. When the little trees are well-cared for, they tend to produce an abundance of sweet-smelling flowers that will, if pollinated, result in a lot of healthful, delicious fruit.

Illinois Cooperative Extension Education Specialist Sandra Mason provides a list of consistent indoor producers in the article "Add a tropical flair to your home with citrus": "Ones that bloom and fruit reliably indoors include Meyer lemon, Ponderosa lemon, Otaheite orange, Persian lime, calamondin orange and kumquats."

Although these all will bloom and fruit when grown outdoors year-round in warmer regions of the country, North Georgia is still a little too cold for most of these to survive the winter outside. Like in Illinois, gardeners in North Georgia who are tending citrus need to keep the trees indoors during the colder months.

Mason recommends keeping citrus outdoors in summer, and then moving the plants indoors when the temperatures outside get below 50 degrees F.  The plants will need to be placed near the sunniest windows, according to Mason, and humidity in their space will need to be kept fairly high.

The Mississippi State University publication "Growing Citrus in Containers in Mississippi" echoes Mason's recommendations and adds specific information on the best growing medium and fertilizers for citrus in containers.

For the growing medium, the MSU publication explains that "A good mixture is four to five parts ground pine bark and one part sand." Plants should be watered when moisture can no longer be detected "below the top inch or two of soil," and a slow-release fertilizer that contains the essential micronutrients iron, manganese, and zinc is recommended.

The MSU publication closes with this statement: "Mississippi gardeners can produce a limited amount of high quality citrus products by growing them in containers anywhere in the state. There are some challenges to this type of production, but the effort is worthwhile."

Ditto, for gardeners in Georgia!