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Indoor citrus

November 9, 2017

Living in Savannah, GA, my mother has a Meyer lemon tree growing in her front yard. Whenever I have been able to visit during the winter while the tree is heavy with fruit, she would pack a big box of lemons for me to take back to Washington, DC. And sometimes, when I haven't been able to visit, she would send me a box of lemons in the mail. I use them to make limoncello and lemon bars, and I always end up preserving some in salt for North African and South Asian recipes.

 

DC winters are too cold for citrus trees to be planted in-ground outside, but don't be discouraged. We just have to grow citrus in containers and bring them inside for the winter. There are even varieties that do well in containers inside year-round. Every houseplant book that I have ever seen sings the praises of the calamondin, a small-fruited sour orange that is reliably productive indoors. The Master Gardener program at the University of Wisconsin recommends sour citrus varieties for indoor growing because it's easier to meet their needs for fruit production than it is with sweet varieties. No matter what, all citrus needs plenty of bright light to flower and fruit, requiring a south-facing window (or growlight). And even when your citrus isn't fruiting, you can cook with the leaves; lime leaves are used in Thai cuisine and lemon leaves are used in Sicilian cooking. Like bay leaves, you shouldn't eat the actual citrus leaves because they are sharp. Instead, add the leaves to a dish to infuse their flavor during cooking, then discard them before eating.

 

I wanted to try growing citrus, so I recently bought a dwarf lime tree. I'm so excited because it's already flowering. And once the fruits are ripe, it's margarita time!

 

Citrus blossoms, like these on my dwarf lime tree, smell divine. They're edible too, but don't eat them all or you won't get any fruit.

 

 

My parents are preparing to move to Albuquerque, NM, where my sister, her husband, and their daughter live. Having grown to considerable size while planted in the ground, I don't expect that Mom's Meyer lemon tree will be moving with them. But since the Wisconsin Master Gardeners say that dwarf Meyer lemons are pretty easy to grow in containers, I think we'll both have to give it a try sometime soon.

 

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