150 Tips: Growing Citrus and Tropicals Indoors

In an earlier post, we talked about ways in which northern gardeners grew plants indoors from the earliest days of the hort society’s history. Method have changed over the years, but the desire for a taste of the tropics is strong with winter-weary gardeners. Here are five more tips for growing citrus and other tropical plants indoors.

Lemons need light and love. In a 2014 article on growing citrus indoors, Eric Johnson offered advice about the best care techniques, including keeping plants in the brightest, most humid area you have. Six or more hours of light is perfect. If you have a four-season porch or solarium, that’s ideal. And, don’t keep it too warm in winter. He recommended monthly fertilizing from April through September and regular plant checks for spider mites and scale.

lemons on indoor lemon tree

You can get lemons from an indoor citrus tree.

Send them outside in summer. For best fruit production, Eric recommended giving plants a summer vacation on your patio or deck, where bees can buzz around and promote pollination. (Citrus is self-fertile, so no need for more than one plant.) If you keep your plants indoors all year, give plants a light tap or shake to move pollen around when they are following. Or, you can be the bee. Recommended citrus for northern homes: Calamondin orange, ‘Meyer Improved’ lemon and Kaffir lime leaf, which is used more like bay leaves in the kitchen.

 You can grow citrus from seed! A February 1978 article by Klara Peterson of the Como Park Conservatory outlines how to grow your own citrus tree indoors at home, recommending lemon, orange, grapefruit, and tangerine as excellent options. You can even use the seeds from fruit you bought at the store. Here’s how she did it: First, wash the seeds in cool water, then plant one to four seeds in a 4-inch pot with potting soil. Keep the pots in a location that is warm (70 degrees F) and away from direct light. Shoots should emerge from soil about four weeks later, and the pots should then be moved to a spot with abundant light, ideally near a bright window. It’s possible for six to eight seedlings to emerge despite planting only 3-4 seeds, as there might be two or more embryos in each seed. Transplant the seeds into individual pots to grow further. Growing citrus requires patience. It will be years until you get fruit, and you may not get any at all. But, this can be a fun project for children or those who just like to grow things.


Several types of ficus grow well indoors in the North.

With the proper care, fig plants can be wonderful and easy houseplants in northern climates. In a 2000 article titled “Who Gives a Fig?” horticulturist Deborah Brown broke down some misconceptions about the genus Ficus, specifically explaining that while warmth and abundant sun is ideal, it isn’t necessary for many ficus plants. In fact, several do well in low-light conditions as long as they aren’t over-watered. Fig plants should be thoroughly watered until excess drains through, and then water again when soil feels dry about half an inch below the surface. Brown recommends weeping fig, rubber tree, fiddle leaf fig, ficus alii, creeping fig, and Indian laurel as excellent houseplants.

When overwintering tropicals, provide extra light and humidity. Adding a grow light will help plant such as hibiscus, clivia, brugmansia and plumeria keep on growing indoors, according to Margaret Haapoja in a 2008 article. To keep mites off the foliage of hibiscus, give the plant a shower with lukewarm water once a week.

Watch this space for more tips from the archives of Northern Gardener and the Minnesota State Horticultural Society.




  1. Rochelle Brandl on February 15, 2022 at 10:36 pm

    Do you have a way to control scale? I had a wonderful meyer lemon that I needed to abandon after keeping if for more than 10 years because of the stickness from the scale insects and blackening of the leaves.

Leave a Comment