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Growing Citrus Indoors is Easy

by Dawn
grapefruit tree

Or Can you Name a Grapefruit Tree Spike?

Yes, yes you can.  You see, I have a grapefruit tree and his name is Spike, so yes, you can name a grapefruit tree Spike….or Gigi….or Fred for that matter.  Since grapefruit trees can’t talk, they can’t object to anything you name them.

Note: If you’d rather skip the story of Spike, you can skim down this post about halfway to find my Indoor Citrus Care Tips.

As you may know, I live in CT, so Spike doesn’t live outside all year.  He spends about 6 months in my living room and 6 months outside by the driveway. 

Up until this year, he’s been living in my dining room, but he enjoyed this past summer so much that when I brought him in, I discovered he no longer fits in my dining room.  I told my husband he’s going to have to cut a hole in the ceiling for Spike soon. He didn’t agree.  I don’t see why…..

Indoor grapefruit tree in pot
This is Spike today

The Story of My Grapefruit Tree

Spike is very special to me.  He was planted by my dad over 20 years ago from a seed he took out of a grapefruit from the grocery store.  He did it just to see if he could, and Spike was born.  In fact, Spike and my daughter have grown up together.

My daughter and small citrus tree
My daughter and Spike in April of 2000. They were both so little!
And this is my daughter now.  They’re both grown up!

Spike needs a friend for cross-pollination

I have discovered that Spike needs a friend in order to make grapefruit.  He did get blossoms one summer, but no fruit ever developed because there are no grapefruit trees growing around here to cross-pollinate him.  Oh well, he’s cool anyway.  If I had more room, I would be tempted to grow another one so I could get grapefruit, but I have nowhere to put another 7 foot tree in my house!

Why his name is Spike

By the way, he’s called Spike for a reason.  The earliest growth has the most evil thorns, and as he grows up, the thorns are getting progressively smaller.  Those early thorns are killers, though, as you can see.  I always manage to get spiked when I move him around. And that’s how he got his name.  

Thorn on indoor grapefruit tree

I’ve never tried to grow a grapefruit tree from a seed myself, so I can’t really give advice on that, but if you want to try it, go for it and let me know how it goes.  If you do decide to do it, keep in mind that your own Spike (or Gigi or Fred) will eventually be 7+ feet tall, so unless you live where he can be outside all year, you need to have room for him. 

Then again, you can always use him as a Christmas tree and save yourself some money every year.  I wouldn’t recommend letting your kids decorate him though.  Remember, his name is Spike.

Indoor Citrus Care Tips

If you want to grow a citrus tree indoors (because you live in an area like I do and you have to bring it in for the winter), here are some tips for you:

Potting Soil

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It’s best to use citrus-specific potting soil for your plant, although I must admit that I’ve been successfully using regular old potting soil for years now. If you would like the citrus-specific mix, this is what I’ve used for repotting cacti (it’s also for citrus).

pH is Important

The important thing is for your soil to be slightly acidic (pH of 6-7). You can test this using a pH meter, but my experience with potting soil has been that it is often slightly acidic right out of the bag.

Light Requirements

As you can probably guess, citrus likes bright light. A south-facing window in the winter is ideal, and temperature extremes are something you want to avoid.

I do have Spike in a more westward-facing window at the moment because there’s just no room for him anywhere else and he seems to be doing fine, but it’s admittedly not ideal. Normal household temperatures of 65F or so are fine during the winter.

Grow Lights will work too

If you absolutely don’t have the window space for your citrus, you can use grow lights as well. I have a (much!) smaller citrus plant in my plant room under grow lights for approximately 15 hours a day, and it’s doing fine.

Water Needs

Spike drinks an incredible amount of water because he is a tree at this point, several gallons a week at least. However, you want to be careful of how much water you give in the winter, as you want to prevent fungus.

As with any plant, sticking your finger into the soil and only watering when it’s dry down to an inch or so is a good rule of thumb (haha, thumb, finger, get it? Sorry.)

Pests to Watch out for

Citrus is very prone to aphids and scale (Spike has had both). When he’s outside during the summer, neither is an issue because there are enough beneficial insects around to take care of the problem. But, as with any other houseplant, the lack of beneficial insects indoors allows pests to proliferate.

If your plant starts looking a bit sick or the leaves start to curl, do an inspection. If you’re not sure what these pests look like, check out my post here on houseplant pests and how to control them. Anything in that post about pest control holds true for your citrus as well.

Summer Care

Summer Sun Requirements

What about summertime? Spike goes outside every summer and lives at the front of my house. I’ve found that he seems to prefer being just a bit shaded during the summer, so he’s situated where he gets lots of morning sunshine, but is then shaded during the hottest parts of the day.

Most authorities do say that citrus can tolerate full sun during the summer and that may be true for most, I’ve just found from personal experience that this works for mine. You’ll need to gauge your own plant to see what works for it. If it seems to be wilting every day, even when it’s well-watered, you may want to consider a shadier location.

Gradually Acclimate your Plant from Indoors to Out

Also remember that, just like other houseplants, you’ll need to gradually acclimate your citrus to outdoor living. Bring it outside to a shady location, and move it into a progressively sunnier spot over the course of 2 weeks or so.

When to Move Back Inside

One last note: Don’t wait too long to bring your citrus plants indoors in the fall. I waited one year until the nights had gotten quite chilly, and as soon as I brought Spike indoors, he dropped every one of his leaves. Yes, EVERY. LAST. ONE. That was a lot of cleanup.

He did recover, but it’s certainly a huge stressor for a plant to lose all its leaves (not to mention a huge mess!) As soon as our nights start falling into the 55F range, I bring Spike in. Sometimes this means he comes inside in early September, but that’s fine, it’s healthier for the plant.

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Posts Related to Indoor Houseplant Care

I hope you enjoyed the story of Spike and that my citrus care tips were helpful. The two pictures below are pinnable on Pinterest, and I’d appreciate pins if you have appropriate boards.

As always, keep smiling and have a crazy organic day.

Indoor grapefruit tree in pot
Closeup pic of grapefruit
sliced citrus fruits

Can you Name a Grapefruit Tree Spike…and Grow it Indoors?

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