A zest for citrus fruit? How easily do oranges, lemons and limes grow in the UK? They are, in fact, perfectly able to survive. Theres something amazing about the sight of fresh, vibrant fruits growing boldly on even small sized plants. Grapefruits, particularly, are a sight to behold, weighing down small branches with seemingly ridiculous comedy.
Above: a full-sized grapefruit can be produced from even a small-sized house plant.
Of course, citrus plants are not hardy in the UK. But they can spend up to six months outdoors and they do look spectacular in pots. Provided you have a light, bright room indoors where they can overwinter and a sunny space outdoors theres absolutely no reason why these iconic plants cant make perfect house-and-garden mates. The picture below shows a great crop of edible oranges on a house plant. The fruit grows sweeter the longer it is left on the tree.
Of all the different types of citrus plants, lemons are the most popular and these, together with kumquats, are tolerant of cold down to around 1 degree.
Most types of limes and grapefruits appreciate a little more warmth and might need increased mollycoddling. They all love warm, sunny weather and a south-facing terrace represents the ideal spot. If you are lucky enough to have a verandah or covered balcony thats not too windy, this will give them protection from too much rain.
Not only do citrus plants produce edible and colourful fruit, but the flowers are highly fragrant. They can appear all year round, even in the winter. If so, they will fill your house with delectable scent. It takes around 12 months for fruits to appear and then ripen, so its not unusual to see fruits and flowers happening at the same time. Citrus are self-fertile, so you dont need more than one tree in order to set the fruit. You do need to provide certain things, however. The picture below shows limes growing on a small tree.
Provide free draining compost. Incorporate sand or grit into normal house plant compost to form about one fifth of the total. A pH level of around 6 is ideal. This is slightly acidic, but make sure the compost isnt completely lime-free.
Feed regularly all year round but change the fertiliser according to the season. Use a high nitrogen feed specifically for citrus from mid spring through to September. During the winter, citrus plants benefit from a winter feed which is higher in phosphorous and potassium. This will help the plant to develop fruits.
Use rainwater rather than tap water, as it contains fewer impurities.
Water far less frequently during the autumn and winter. Water from the top and dont allow the plant to sit in water. Only water when the top 2cms of compost feels completely dry.
Protect from the cold. Lemons and limes ideally need temperatures of around 10 degrees during the winter at night.
Avoid draughts and direct heat from radiators. Central heating can be harsh, and these plants prefer to be positioned away from fluctuations in temperatures.
Provide ventilation as it will keep pests at bay.
February is the ideal time to prune. You can gently re-shape your tree by about two thirds, where necessary. This will encourage new growth. You can also take out any twigs and shoots which are too close together.
Watch out for leaf-drop. These trees are evergreen and should stay green for most of the year. Obviously, leaves re-new from time to time and the old ones are shed. But if theres a sudden display of dead and dying leaves, you need to check your plant carefully. Sunlight helps. Your plant might be too dark/too wet/too dry/be experiencing a sudden change in temperature or situated in a draught. Most of the time, new growth will come in spring and all will be well.
Inspect for pests regularly. Citrus plants can suffer from scale, mealy bug, spider mite, aphids and more. Any sticky deposits or nibbled foliage is a sign that there are bugs about. Wash with a soapy solution or clean the plant with neat alcohol.
The fruits often first appear during late winter months and they will gradually swell until ripe for picking. Its a good idea to restrict the number of fruits on a young plant to around four.
You can enjoy watching the fruits developing but they can take at least a year to mature. At this point they will develop a good, strong colour. The kumquats on the plant below are orange when ripe.
Enjoy the fruits of your labour! Use them in drinks, in cooking and even for breakfast. Citrus has a high vitamin C content and can help you to stay healthy. Whats more, the fruit tastes amazing too.