BONNIE’S GARDEN: Simple Secrets for Growing Citrus

Citrus trees are fun and easy to grow—if you give them what they need.

Correct light

Pick a window that gets six or more hours of direct sunlight. An unobstructed south window is best—no sheer curtains, blinds, tinted glass or overhang, and no trees outside. Because winter sun is weak and days are short, during long cloudy stretches, you might want to supplement with a grow light.

Humidity is important

A daily misting will help. Remember, the purpose of misting is to fog, not rain. Don’t mist so heavily that it drips all over the floor. Mist lightly in the air over the top of the plant so that tiny droplets just settle on the foliage.


Fertilize three times over the season—late winter, the beginning of summer, and late summer—think Valentine’s Day, Memorial Day, and Labor Day. I use Espoma Organiz Citrus-tone. Citrus fertilizers usually contain more nitrogen, because citrus seems to need a heavier dose. They also need magnesium, so a good citrus formula should contain both nitrogen and magnesium.


When you water any citrus, water until water seeps out the drainage holes in the bottom of the pot. DO NOT allow a citrus plant to sit in water for more than 10 or 15 minutes. When watering in the winter, remember tap water is COLD. Use room temperature or tepid water. Always allow the soil to dry out as far down as you can check it with your finger without letting the soil go so dry that the leaves begin to curl.

Citrus often bloom in winter

While citrus is self-pollinating, you’ll still want to hand-pollinate flowers when they bloom indoors. You’ll get more fruit set. You can use a small paintbrush for this. Dab it gently in the middle of the flower and wiggle it around, then move to the next flower.

Speaking of fruit set, citrus often set more fruit than they can realistically support so might end up dropping as much as a third of what they set.  Any dramatic shocks (over/under watering, bringing inside for the winter) can cause more fruit drop.  Also—it can take those tiny little citrus fruits six to eight months to mature.

Other things to keep in mind

When possible, move citrus trees outside for the summer—around the first week of May. When you move your tree outside, place it under a tree in dappled sun before moving it to full sun. Bring it in when night temperatures are falling just below 40 in the fall. In the fall, you can help avoid shock by moving it back into the dappled sun for a couple of weeks before moving it back inside.

Citrus are beautiful with fragrant flowers and healthy delicious fruit—and we have a good selection right now.

You’re Invited to a Free Citrus Growing Seminar!

Want to learn more about growing citrus like a pro?

Attend the FREE seminar on growing citrus this coming Saturday, February 29th at the Great Big Greenhouse starting at 10:00 am.

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13 thoughts on “BONNIE’S GARDEN: Simple Secrets for Growing Citrus”

  1. I’d love to know what, if any, suggestions you have for controlling Scale insects on citrus. I’ve never had a problem with Scale on any of my plants before, but a small Meyer lemon seedling I purchased & had growing outdoors all summer returned to the great indoors in the Fall with Scale. I’ve tried repotting, dish soap, rubbing alcohol, & Safer insecticidal spray at different intervals, but the Scale still returns. Am running out of ideas.

    This will definitely be my last attempt at growing citrus if this is what it’s going to be like – lol!

  2. Bonnie, I can certainly understand your frustration! The problem with scale is that dish soap, rubbing alcohol and insecticidal soap are NOT very effective against scale. I’ve had to deal with it on my Meyer lemon and what works for me–I wipe off every single scale I see, then spray the plant with a horticultural oil –oil is WAY more effective on scale than other products. When I put mine out for the summer, the scale disappears–natural “good” insects seem to take care of it. I spray my lemon with the horticultural oil just before bringing it back inside. It is a good idea to at least replace the top inch of soil, if you can, in case any eggs drop.
    Don’t give up. They are well worth growing and I get such enjoyment from squeezing my OWN lemon in my hot tea….

  3. I have a problem with my Meyer lemon tree it’s about 10 years old and produces an abundance of lemons – after bring it in last fall I noticed about
    Nov/Dec that it had some sort of bug or fungus on the leaves and fruit. I’ve sprayed it with Bonide Horticultural Spray Oil and it is starting to look better (I think) but don’t know exactly what it is and what to do to keep it from coming back. I don’t know what scale is but this looks like a cluster of individual very small cotton balls. Any help would be appreciated. Thank you

  4. Lois – that’s not Scale, but something equally irritating: Mealybug. I have that too in the past & have been able to eradicate it with Safer insecticidal soap, although I’m sure your oil treatment will kill it as well. You an also spot-kill them using a Q-tip & rubber alcohol, but on a large plant that would be a pain in the you-know-what.

  5. I have a Meyer lemon tree that flowers and starts to grow fruit but the fruits drop off when they’re small and green. What does this mean?

    • Hi Gail–citrus are famous for aborting about half of the fruit they set. That said, when the fruits are tiny, they seem to be more vulnerable to any changes in their environment–a prolonged cloudy stretch, for example. When blooming indoors, you may want to hand pollinate the flowers to ensure they get pollinated. Even though they are self-pollinating.
      I do that and it seems to help a bit.

  6. Hi! My orange tree got scales last year. I believe I’ve beat them, but my tree dropped a lot of leaves over the winter as a result (it’s in a sun-facing window). Should I trim back all the limbs without leaves? Trying to save her and not kill her further!

  7. Hi Deanna–
    I’d only trim off obviously dead branches at this time. Wait a few weeks to see if the others leaf out again. With the days getting longer now, they just might.

  8. I recently purchased a 1 gallon-size lime tree and an employee recommended Espoma Organic Citrus food. When should I start feeding the plant and should I follow the instructions on the bottle for frequency of feedings which would be every 2-4 weeks?

    • You’re gonna love that citrus tree! As long as you get LOTS of direct sun, they’re so easy to grow. Start feeding, according to the label directions, as soon as possible. Continue feeding until around mid-September, then stop for the winter. Resume feeding mid-February. Place outside around the first of May (do check the weather though–remember how wonky this past May was) in part-shade, gradually moving it every few days to more sun (to avoid sunburn). Bring back inside around the first to the middle of October. During the winter, go into the sunniest window you’ve got. Mine go into a Southeast window where they get direct sun from sun-up until three-ish. I find I have best results over the winter if I augment with a grow light.

  9. Diatomaceous earth sprinkled on the soil and around the stem can deter scale trying to crawl up to start their ugly cycle again

    • Oh yes! I’m a big fan of diatomaceous earth! I use it around my orchids every year when they go outside to keep slugs from crawling up inside the pots.

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