Tuesday 25 March 2014

Growing our calamondin orange

Bought at Homebase ten years ago. It was a little careworn and had been on the shelves rather long. Nothing that a little tender love and care would put right, it had been reduced from £40 to £10! What value for a then 18 inches high (and bedraggled) evergreen glossy leaved plant that would give us scented delicate white flowers and perfumed long lasting edible fruit every year. Restricted by annual pruning our plant is now maintained as a sturdy shrub five foot high.

Citrofortunella micocarpa is a multiple hybrid between varied species and genera of citrus plants. Its exact origins as a sub-tropical edible fruit are lost in antiquity. It is one of the easiest citrus to grow as a conservatory plant in temperate climates such as the UK. Our stately homes have a long tradition of orangeries where citrus plants were brought inside to overwinter.

Our conservatory faces east and gets substantial morning sunlight. It is heated to suit our own comfort. Today in late March our orange carries over a hundred small fruits and looks quite superb.

Growth tends to come in flushes and will be strongest in Summer. Such growth will often, but not always carry new flowers. To some extent fruit formation is therefore staggered becoming apparent in December, the plant increases in beauty throughout winter and early Spring. It is orange with fruit for almost five months. 

Our plant in December

Calamondins will survive several degrees of frost but because it looks so nice inside I am in no hurry to put it outside for Summer when it is still beautiful inside. It will stand outside in what we pretentiously call our courtyard from early June to first frosts in early October. It is a convenient time to prune it when we bring it in at that time. Let me remind you that your pruning should look natural and not be apparent to the casual observer!

Standing outside in Summer in it’s previous earthen-ware pot 

Calamondins do not make a good houseplant if rooms are dingy and if they are not put outside in full summer light that lasts at least part of the day. Otherwise they are easy and I fully recommend them. Ours is now in a fifteen litre, square plastic pot. We have gone plastic because it is lighter and as we get older feel less inclined to heave inside its previous heavy earthen-ware container. 

All my conservatory plants (other than the orchids) are in our own sandy soil. I know many gardeners need to use compost because their own garden soil is unsuitable. For large volumes of soil in a tub, I believe more gardeners have a more appropriate soil than they think. I generally recommend they add slow release fertiliser and sometimes dolomitic limestone or chalk when preparing such soil. In my own case I know I will be top dressing the calomondin with my yaramila fertiliser four or five times a year and sometimes omit the more expensive slow release stuff. As I have suggested in a previous post, plants like calomondins that make substantial new growth through the winter need generous feeding at that time despite what some of the books say. 

I have nothing against liquid feeding, it is normal sound practice. I take the easy way and top dress by scattering fertiliser on the surface instead. Every time I water some of my granular fertiliser washes in. My  yaramila compound fertiliser contains NPK and the other major elements calcium, sulphur and magnesium and all the trace elements. Every nutrient my plant needs. I generally recommend to those who liquid feed  to use a proprietary tomato liquid fertiliser. I don’t recommend taylor made ‘special’ citrus feeds.

You will see that my calomondin  looks a little chlorotic.Leaves on  evergreen plants do become senescent at certain times of the year and some leaves will fall. Do not imagine that this will always indicate your plant needs a special feed.

I think I have only repotted my calamondin three time in ten years. First when it came to its new home base, second, when it needed a bigger pot and latterly when we moved to a square plastic  pot from a round one!

In its new pot

When grown in the open ground in warmer climates calamondins are known to be tolerant of a wide range of soils but are sensitive to poor drainage. Same in a pot, never let them stand in saucers of water other than when a little run-through soaks back in a couple of hours. Water them generously on the occasion of watering but wait until the compost or soil looks distinctly dry at the surface before watering again. Outside in Summer they will need generous watering when dry - even if it has rained, unless you have had an absolute downpour!  Plants can dry out very quickly in warm windy conditions, beware. 
As long as your growing media drains freely do not worry that in extended periods of heavy rain your soil or compost is repeatedly watered when it is already wet!

Beautiful blue ball

You might be intrigued by the blue watering device standing in our pot and might be thinking it’s really not quite my style! You would be right and as for actual irrigation it is pretty useless!
It was given to us by a particularly dear friend -  and a regular post peruser so I am trying to be  diplomatic. It has a place in our hearts but merely as an ornament. On a technical note a typical single watering with my watering can when inside, or hosepipe outside, will be ten times the blue balls’s capacity.

We are sometimes asked whether we eat the fruits. My usual reply is that they look far too nice to spoil the plant’s beauty by picking. Last year however when the fruit was getting really ripe we did pick some and Brenda made the best marmalade ever. Billy, Brenda’s grandson regularly sucks a lemon. She cut one of our citruses for him to try. He never asked again! The flesh is apparently rather tart but the peel is sweet. Apparently they are very nice cut in two and frozen and used as an ice cube with drinks. So maybe the next time we serve dinner to friends in our conservatory we can savour it’s flavour!
It has only just dawned on me - I am pretty slow on the uptake - that if this year I collect a few seeds I can raise some more plants. I don’t know what I will do with them but it will be fun.

There will be ripe seeds in these fruits

I have written before about conservatory plants that we put out for the Summer.


  1. I've always wondered about growing a citrus but with no conservatory it would be a problem. I do have what I think is a tiny lemon plant on a house windowsill. I say I think because it was given to me by a friend who is always growing things from pips etc. He doesn't always remember what he has planted!

    1. Nor do I, Sue my labelling is atrocious. I do eventually work out what a batch of seedlings are!
      I might be back to you for instructions how to sow my orange pips!

  2. Hello.
    I rescued three of these lovely trees from Lidl about four years ago, my flat is too dark and I panicked about what to do with them in the winter, then I remember my mother used to wrap her citrus trees in coir matting, so they were bundled up in sheets of coir, tied securely with string and they wintered the winter and snow etc of 2012 quite happily. Last winter 2013/2014 they were fine, the fruit ripened happily. They sit on a wide window ledge in south east facing basement area.
    Yes, the smell from the flowers is divine and the fruits are delicious popped into a game casserole!

    1. They are clearly very versatile. I think one settles on techniques suitable for ones own conditions. I imagine, but don't know - that Victorian orangeries were pretty chilly places and their citrus were grown more for their later outdoor performance rather than Winter enjoyment. Perhaps a reader might be able to cast a different light on this. No pun intended but light and temperature are the key factor in how they perform.

  3. It is indeed a beauty and you seem to grow it to perfection.

    1. Yes Alain our own conditions are perfect for the way I grow them. If my pips grow when I sow them next month I can try a few harsher regimes that they clearly withstand.

  4. I had grown a lemon at home once, but it wilted eventually. I wish I could grow a citrus at home.

    Your orange looks amazing!

    1. Why not try a calomondin, it might be easier to grow. I have never tried growing lemons

  5. Hi Roger, that is a beautiful specimen! I love calamondin plants and they are thought to bring good fortune in Chinese households,particularly popular at Chinese new year. I am just nurturing my 12inch specimen back to health. Also, calamansi juice (made from the green or orange fruits, sweetened with sugar syrup or honey) is delicious, refreshing and lovely by itself or in cocktails! Do try some next time you have a surplus.

    1. Thanks for the information anon.
      I wonder what happened to your twelve inch specimen. I have two twelve inch plants currently in my greenhouse that I raised from pips sown two summers ago.
      I have upped my rate of fertiliser this year and my featured plant is even healthier.
      Even coming in on anonymous you can put your name at the bottom if you wish

  6. Hello,we have a calamondino plant and just noticed white blobs, which when touched are a syrup like consistency on some of the leaves, any idea what it could be?

    1. Is it flowering Theresa?
      It could be nectar. Our Hoya does this.
      Otherwise it might be the honeydew droppings of a sucking insect such as me mealy bug or scale.

  7. Hi Roger. Thanks for the reply.no it's not flowering but it does have fruit on it we haven't seen any insects or bugs on it at all and the substance is only on the bottom of the leaves,is very sticky and white/clear in colour and is formed in round balls or globules

  8. Hi Roger.
    An interesting read. I have noticed my calamondin plant has a few flowe buds (about 5). It flowered around May/June time this year. Is this flowering normal?
    However in June it literally had a few hundred flowers.

    At the moment it has around 6 "orange" fruits and around 20 "green" ones.

  9. At this very moment anon I am contemplating with three degrees of frost forecast for tonight to bring mine in! Looking at it now through the conservatory window it has about 8 orange fruits, 8 green ones 'turning' and thirty variously sized green ones. Very similar to yours!
    Last year brought into the warmth it produced several Autumn flowers and I think a few new leaves.
    Like yours mine made loads of new flowers when put out in June
    Whoops- this is turning into a running commentary. It has been lifted inside -(no dropped leaves) and Brenda has allocated me a space at the back of the Conservatory. It will get direct sunlight with the low Winter sun. The orchids have got the front space!
    Readers might note that the methods I describe are bringing inside into a heated and very light living space and contrast with traditional methods of bringing citrus into an only frost free cold conservatory

  10. [Roger Brook - the no dig gardener] New comment on About Roger Brook.
    Michael Hall
    Today, 11:56
    Michael Hall has left a new comment on your post "About Roger Brook":

    Dear Roger I hope you will not mind me mentioning and it is only a mention but I've had a passion for citrus ever since I wen to Spain
    south of Barcelona some 50 years ago & saw lemons which I didn't notice much when I took the photo of my motor engineer pal but I noticed them on the actual photo which I still have.....
    Any way back to what I hope you don't mind me mentioning.........
    I have a citrus tree outside please see it( UK citrus home nottingham citrus) If you look at our citrus you;ll notice the leaves are a bit or a lot yellow. That's because Citrus in the UK are not in the ideal climate & I'm jealous of a friend in Crete who has better conditions than us to grow them. But technically you will see that the experts
    reccomend that citrus no matter where they are will benefit from foliar feeding and that applies to in the ground citrus or in containers...... I keep promising our Citrus outside that I will spray it's foliage and I will this year.... Please see Zinc shortage re citrus may be regularly short of that chemical always! even in citrus climes. I have found too late in my view at 76 that citrus love foliar feeding and I'll make an effort to foliar feed all my citrus plants until the day I die..... As you said there is no need for 'special Citrus products but foliar feed with all citrus trace elements is essential and any one regularly condesending to feeding their citrus by the foliar route will be amazed at the difference re the dark green leaves that foliar feeding produces......

    Citrus as you may well already know do not store their nutrients to a great degree in their roots but this store is in the leaves and twigs that's why citrus growers notice a decline in fruiting quality and amount if the leaves are not in a prolific and healthy condition.
    My wife swears by a product called Richard Jackson's plant invigorator which she sprays on the leaves but I saw a bargain on Amazon Formulex which apparently is a professional foliar spray (concentrate) based omn seaweed and it has worked wonders on a Lidl lemon tree I have that showed it was suffering from chlorosis. I sprayed it 3 times and the leaves are now dark green as they should be.
    What beautiful plants Citrus are.... The best of wishes with your tree/ trees.....

  11. Michael has placed the above interesting comment in another part of the blog and I have pasted it over.
    I don't agree that foliar feeding is essential but it certainly helps in your experience.
    I am still finding that my Yaramila is providing enough major nutrients and trace elements to keep mine green. I agree with you that they are sensitive to nutrients and I think I have mentioned elsewhere I am now using 50% more than in this article

  12. Hi Roger. Thanks for your excellent post on calamondins. I am planning to get one myself when I see an offer. Have tried lemons but they stayed small and pippy.
    Thought you might be interested that James Wong writes, in his fascinating "homegrown revolution", that calamondin limes are ripe when green and eaten for the scented acidic pulp.They can be used like limes such as key "lime" pie or savouries like in a salsa for chilli, or on fish or fried foods. The best idea I want to try is halving them, bashing them with sugar and ice and rum. then topping up with soda. Cheers.
    Jane Sewell

  13. You had better get started anon. The sooner you have some oranges the better!
    We are just picking this years crop before they go soft after a display of four months.
    My two new plants I have raised from pips are getting quite big now and might set a crop this year.

  14. I'm disappointed to realise from your photo's that what I've bought as a Calamondin plant isn't!! The fruits on mine are the shape of either an orlime or lemon. As they are still green I shall have to find out which. Still my plant is very healthy smells wonderful when in bloom and fruits have set what more could I ask of it

    1. They are all lovely Dana. I can report that I have now two extra calamondins from the pips I sowed two years ago

  15. Hi! Late last summer I bought a small calamondin (only about 25cm!) from ikea, and it had lots of fruit and flowers, and I was wondering what time they usually start showing flower buds, and if there’s anything I can do to help it along? I live in the uk, so it’s not the warmest, but it’s on a windowsill with lots of sun.
    I’ve also just started feeding it a bit of tomorite.
    Another thing I was wondering about is am I meant to cut off the little things the oranges grow from? I’ve left mine on the tree, do you think that would cause any problems?
    Also some new leaves that have grown over the winter are over three times the size of most of the others, should I prune these?
    I hope yours are doing well!

    1. You sound to be doing quite well May.
      I have found my plant to be quite erratic as to when when over the year it flowers. With larger leaves yours sounds to be doing quite well and flowers may come soon but don't panic if its not until Autumn. Keep the new leaves and all leaves that are healthy. Any old fruit stalks can be cut off. Consider standing it outside from June until late September (ish)
      Mine is still doing fine. I did sow some seeds and have kept one plant which might be about the same size as yours. Being from seed i might be a while before it flowers as it is still in the juvenile condition and has thorns unlike its mother!

  16. Hi roger i have recently purchased a calamondin tree from Lidl, not sure of the age, the tree is 12inch tall and although everything looks fine with the tree, the tree is full of fruit. my question is should I remove any of the fruit as some of the branches on the tree seem to struggling with the weight. I'm relatively new to gardening so I may be being a bit to overly protective.
    Any advice would be very welcome thanks
    Mel the novice

    1. speaking of fruit generally they often fruit so well a little weight needs to be reduced albeit less than you might imagine
      If you feel branches are at breaking point and hanging very severely just remove a few fruits and if ripe make some marmalade or freeze pieces to flavour drinks!

    2. perhaps a little optimistic for a 12 inch tree!

  17. Thanks for your reply the fruit is still at the very early green stage with only a few with a hint of yellow so sadly no chance of marmalade yet.


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