HOW TO GROW CITRUS (orange, lemon, grapefruit) INDOORS AS HOUSEPLANTS

7 deg C/45 deg F

It is a great temptation to grow citrus plants from pips obtained from commercial fruit. Pips usually germinate well in window-sill conditions, and it is possible to grow attractive young plants. However. these plants become far too large and it is a matter of chance whether they produce flowers or fruit. Most of the fruit that comes on to the market is from grafted trees, or plants specially treated, and seed may not give identical results. Oranges are particularly unreliable, but lemon and grapefruit sometimes Qower and bear fruit. For conservatories it is best to buy known species, such as C. sinensis, from a specialist nursery.

Undoubtedly, the finest species for the home is C. microcarpa (syn. C. mitis) from the Philippines. It is dwarf and neat, and bears flowers and fruit, often together and on the same plant, over a long period – usually when the plant is young. In good conditions, the plant may exceed 90cm (3ft) but it is easy to keep it small by pruning. As with most citrus fruits, the starry waxy-white flowers are delightfully frag-ant. These are followed by miniature

fruits about the size of a walnut, green at first but soon turning to a rich orange colour. The fruit is edible, but sour. If there is a good crop, they can be preserved in syrup and used for desserts or cocktails.

Little success will be attained in centrally-heated homes. The plants like a cool atmosphere, not too dry. Hence. conservatory conditions are ideal. A cool and airy room, or sometimes a hallway or porch, provided the minimum temperature can be maintained, may be suitable places. Select a position with good light, but not direct sunshine as the foliage may be damaged. When repotting or potting make sure an acid potting compost is used. This ensures a fine, healthy green leaf colour and vigorous growth. In alkaline conditions. yellowing is common. For the same reason, avoid watering with hard tapwater. If there is difficulty in this respect, collect clean rainwater. If a plant shows a tendency to yellowing. water with a solution made by dissolving a saltspoonful (1ml) of aluminium sulphate (obtainable from a chemist or

Left to right: All-year-round chrysanthemums; Cissus antarctica; Cilnts nicrocarpa.

supplier of horticultural chemicals) in 500ml (1 pint) of water. This can be done from time to time during summer, when watering should be generous. Keep the plants only slightly moist in winter. Treatment with one of the special sequestrinated trace-element preparations sold by garden shops may also be beneficial from time to time where the water tends to be limy. Pruning or cutting back can be done during March, and all weak, straggly growth removed each year. The plant likes a spray with a mist of water. especially during the hottest time of the year. If there is too much chill in winter, the foliage may fall, but provided the temperature does not fall to near freezing for long, the plants usually make fresh growth in spring. The most probable pests are aphids. mealy bugs and scale insects, which may cause the foliage to become covered with a sticky secretion on which a black fungus grows.

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