When you live in a four-season climate, the growing season is a glorious, but fleeting, thing. The good news is you can extend the bounty long after cold weather sets in. Many varieties of dwarf fruit trees transition well indoors, lending freshness, fragrance and culinary inspiration to your home.
Craving an edible yield of your own? Here’s how to make it happen.
Dwarf citrus trees are created by grafting fruiting trees. While it’s possible to transplant a bare-root specimen, it’s a labor of love that takes time to bring to fruition. Our advice? Go with a healthy, mature dwarf variety that’s established. It takes less effort and fruits faster.
During the warm summer months, indoor fruit trees benefit from outdoor sunshine. In order to acclimate your plant to the brighter sunlight, you need to transition if gradually. Place it outdoors in a shady spot for a few days before moving it into intense sunlight. If you’re trying to move a potted outdoor fruit tree indoors, follow the same process in reverse. During that time, it should be brought back in at night.
As you plant grows, you may find that the fruit tree produces a multitude of blossoms, particularly if it’s of the citrus variety. Not all of these blooms will produce fruit. However, you can increase the number of fruit-bearing blossoms by aiding pollination. Simply brush the stamens of an open blossom with a soft paint brush and move from bloom to bloom.
Finally, there’s the matter of pests. Fruit trees — especially citrus — are susceptible spider mites, mealybugs and scale. Regularly check the plant for evidence, taking extra care to observe the joints, where the leaves join the stem. If you do see pests, treat the plant immediately by dipping a cotton swab in alcohol and rubbing the infected area. To treat spider mites specifically, spray your plant with insecticidal soap or horticulturist oil.
One of the biggest challenges to growing a fruit tree indoors is the amount of light they require. Dwarf citrus trees, for example, need as much as 12 hours of direct sunlight daily. Temperature matters, too — fruiting frees thrive between 55°F and 85°F degrees (65°F is ideal). Note that they also require water more frequently in warm, high-light environments, and less in cooler, lower-light spaces.
If you purchase a tree from a nursery, repot your plant right away. But first, be sure to squeeze the roots to loosen them. If the plant is root-bound, the roots may also need a light pruning.
When choosing a pot, consider that most fruiting trees require a snug pot in order to produce fruit, one only slightly larger than the container it came in. If transplanted to a too-large pot, its energy will go toward filling the new space with roots. When that happens it’s awhile before the tree bears fruit again. In short, only move up one pot size at a time.
When planting, use light, airy potting soil with perlite mixed in — not soil from the yard. Fill soil up to the line on the trunk where the original dirt ended. Make sure to leave enough space at the top of the pot to water the plant thoroughly, but not so high that dirt will wash over the top when you’re watering.
After potting your fruit tree, water it well and place it in bright, direct light. Preferred exposure depends on the variety.
Moving forward, don’t let the soil get too dry between waterings. To check if your tree is thirsty, just stick your finger or a wooden skewer five inches into the pot. If it comes out free of moisture, the plant is in need of a drink.
Because citrus trees, in particular, are heavy feeders, they should be fertilized once a month with a multipurpose fertilizer that contains a mix of manganese, iron and zinc. Of course, fruit trees as a whole require fertilizer when they’re productive. Usually a standard, well-balanced version does the trick.
Because most fruit trees love humidity, it;’s a good idea to add moisture to the air with a humidifier. Alternatively, you can mist the plant often or place it in a pebble-filled tray, adding water to the top of the pebbles. Fruit trees do not like drafts or extreme temperatures, so don’t place them in front of a vent or where drafts occur.
Want to help mother nature along? Purchase a few grow lights to expedite the process.
Because light is so crucial for fruit-bearing trees, you’d be wise to start with a lower-light option that can thrive in six to eight hours of sunlight each day. Once you gain a bit more experience, try growing brighter-light varieties.
Ready for some inspiration? Here are some of our faves.
Fig: Select a small cultivar like Brown Turkey (a.k.a. Negro Largo or Aubique Noire), which is self-pollinating and tolerates heavy pruning. It prefers a loamy soil-mix of clay and sand and should be placed in bright light with northern exposure.
Olive: Self-pollinating and prolific enough to produce up to 20 pounds of fruit annually, olive trees are less fussy than other fruit trees. Remember, though, that certain varieties are purely ornamental and therefore do not produce fruit. Seek out the upright Picholine or the slow-growing Arbequina variety, which drips (weeps) water through its leaves. Olive trees should only be watered when the top inch of soil has dried out. They require even less water during fall and winter, when they’re at rest. Whatever variety you choose, it’ll need six hours of bright sunlight each day and should be placed in a sunny, south-facing window. But be careful — searing sun will cause the leaves to frizzle.
Avocado: While you can grow an avocado plant from a spent pit, purchasing an established, grafted plant is an easier option. As an added benefit, it’ll contain tissue from a tree that produces tasty fruit. Seek out Wurtz, Gwen or Whitsell varieties, which don’t require cross-pollination. When planting, add some sand to the bottom of a pot before filling it with regular potting mix. This will prevent your tree from getting its “feet” wet. Place it in a bright, south-facing window and water it regularly, but do not let the soil get soggy. Ripe fruit can be left hanging on the tree for a few weeks.
Banana: Some banana plants are strictly ornamental, so be sure to buy a fruit-bearing, self-pollinating dwarf variety like Super Dwarf Cavendish or Dwarf Red. When planting, the soil should be light and peat-y. Fertilize it monthly, mist the leaves to simulate a humid environs and let the soil dry completely between waterings. Southern-facing exposure produces the best results, though you should rotate the plant occasionally so that all sides of the plant receive ample sunshine.
Mulberry: Go for the Dwarf Everbearing, which produces small, tart, blackberry-like fruit, which should be picked as soon as it’s ripe. Plant it in a spacious pot using regular potting soil before placing it in a warm, bright, sunshine-y space.
Meyer Lemon: Featuring a heady, almost pine-like fragrance and sweet-tart, juicy fruit, this self-pollinating variety doesn't require a great deal of heat to ripen its fruit. It prefers slightly acidic, loam-based soil with a 2:2:1 ratio of sand to silt to clay and needs eight- to-12 hours of direct sunlight every day. Place it in your sunniest window, ideally in a room with both southern and eastern exposure.
Kumquat: Look for a Dwarf Nagami tree and plant it using a well-drained potting mix with a pH around 6. Then, place it in an east or west-facing window, taking care to fertilize it monthly during the growing season. Given kumquats bear heavy fruit (and therefore can bend branches), regular pruning is required to encourage a sturdy, well-branched structure capable of carrying the load.
Lime: Kaffir or Key lime are both solid dwarf varieties. Bearss (or Persian), Rangpur and Australian Finger Lime varieties are options, too. The latter is particularly unique in that its chili-pepper-like fruit is filled with tiny vesicles that resemble caviar eggs. Plant the lime tree in slightly acidic, loam-based soil with a 2:2:1 ratio of sand to silt to clay. Then, place it in a window that receives eight- to 12 hours of direct sunlight daily. A room with both southern and eastern exposure is preferred.
Orange: Keep an eye out for Calamondin trees. While the fruit itself is very sour (almost lemon or lime-like), it’s the type most suited to indoor growing conditions. On top of being gorgeous, they’re also deliciously aromatic. Like other citrus trees, orange favors slightly acidic, loam-based soil with a 2:2:1 ratio of sand to silt to clay. It should be placed in a window that gets eight- to-12 hours of direct sunlight daily, ideally from both southern and eastern exposure.
Apricots: Keep an eye out for dwarf Moorpark or Goldcot varieties and plan on trimming it to keep the tree small. Plant it snugly in a pot filled with a loamy soil mix withf clay and sand, as well as a bit of compost or manure. Set the plant in a room that receives six- to-eight hours of south-facing light daily. Even with indirect bright light, an apricot should thrive.
Elegant and stately, fruit trees are aesthetically pleasing, fragrant and functional at once. Plus, they’re fun to care for and go a long way toward tiding you over until summer begins anew.