Indoor citrus trees have a reputation for being difficult, but if you provide the proper care, you’ll be rewarded with all sorts of tropical fruit! One key component of citrus tree care is watering. Citrus trees aren’t drought-tolerant, yet they dislike saturated soils, so you’ll need to find the proper balance. Keep reading for when and how to water your indoor citrus tree.
When Should I Water My Indoor Citrus Tree? Key Takeaways
Citrus trees prefer soil that is moist but never soggy. Therefore, water when the top inch of soil is dry, about every week in the summer and every two weeks in the winter. Bright light, high temperatures, and low humidity will increase the amount you need to water.
Things to Consider When Watering
The age of the tree does have an impact on how often you should water. Young trees that are still forming their roots won’t handle drought, as well as mature trees. Therefore, you want to be extra careful to provide enough water during a tree’s first year.
Temperature & Humidity
As your home or office temperature increases, your indoor citrus tree will lose more water through transpiration and evaporation. Therefore, you’ll need to water more often when the air is hot versus when it is cool.
Humidity decreases evaporation. That means you’ll need to water more often in dry conditions than in humid conditions.
For more, see our in-depth guide to the best temperature and humidity for indoor citrus trees and the best locations to position citrus trees.
The Prevailing Light Conditions
Citrus trees like bright, direct light. During the summer, they need at least ten hours of light daily to thrive. When winter arrives and daylight fades, they can grow with only eight hours of light.
The more light a citrus tree receives, the more water it will require. As light increases, so does evaporation.
Therefore, you’ll need to water your tree more often if it receives 12 hours of light than eight hours.
During the winter, citrus trees don’t enter tree dormancy. However, they do slow their growth rates.
Winter also typically comes with less light and lower temperatures.
These factors combined mean that your citrus tree will require less water in the winter than in the summer. While you may need to water every week in the summer, you might be able to get away with watering once or twice a month in the winter.
Citrus trees’ water needs increase in the spring and decrease in the fall.
The Soil Mix
You should plant your citrus tree in a well-draining soil mix. The ideal mix will hold some water but allow excess moisture to escape quickly.
If you are using a potting mix that is compacted or poorly-draining, you won’t need to water as frequently as you would if your tree is planted in a well-draining mix. While this may sound nice, excess moisture can lead to fungal diseases.
On the other hand, a potting mix that is high in sand or large particles like pine bark or perlite will drain very quickly. That means you’ll need to check your pot regularly and water often.
For more, see our complete guide to the best soil for citrus trees.
The Potting Container Size & Type
The container size and type don’t dramatically affect how much you’ll need to water. While larger containers will hold water longer than smaller containers, they typically contain larger trees. Since larger trees use more water than smaller trees, the water needs to even out.
Terra cotta pots can absorb some water from the potting soil. This means soil in a terra cotta pot will dry out quicker than soil in a plastic container.
When to Water
Citrus trees prefer soil that is moist but not saturated. That means you should water your lemon trees, lime trees, or other citrus trees when the potting soil is a bit dry.
Your finger is an easy and inexpensive way to check the soil moisture level. Gently stick your finger into the soil near the center of the pot. If the top inch of soil is dry, it’s time to water. If it’s still moist, wait to water.
A good rule of thumb is to check the soil every week. Make sure to check near the tree’s trunk since the edges of the pot can dry out quickly.
Another way to test the soil moisture is with a moisture meter. You should water your citrus tree when the meter falls from moist to dry.
How Often Should I Water?
While the exact watering schedule depends on the above factors, here are some estimates regarding how often to water a citrus tree.
Water every 6-8 days during the summer and every 14-20 days in the winter. During the spring and fall, water every 8-12 days.
What Type of Water is Best?
Citrus trees aren’t too picky regarding the type of water. Regular tap water is typically fine. If you have very hard tap water, use rainwater or filtered water (the one I use for one my plants).
How to Water
When you water your citrus tree, use a watering can or hose to apply water at the base of the plant. Avoid watering the leaves as this can lead to disease problems.
Thoroughly soak the soil until water runs out of the pot’s drainage holes. Deep watering will encourage a deep root system.
Should I Mist My Trees?
You don’t need to mist an indoor citrus tree unless the air is very dry. While citrus trees like moderate humidity, they can develop diseases if their leaves are constantly moist.
What to Do In-Between Watering Cycles
Keep an eye on your tree in between watering cycles. Avoid watering small amounts and wait until the soil is dry to water again.
If you notice any problems, check the soil moisture. If the soil is saturated or very dry, these problems could be linked to an improper watering schedule.
Watering Tips After Repotting
After you repot a citrus tree, make sure to water when the top inch of soil is dry. As the plant is recovering from the shock of repotting, it will be more sensitive to underwatering and overwatering.
Overwatering and Underwatering
Citrus trees will suffer from problems if they are overwatered or underwatered.
Signs of overwatering include yellow leaves, dropping leaves, and rotting roots. If you suspect you have overwatered your tree, increase the time between waterings. If your tree is infected with root rot, repot it.
It’s important to remember that signs of overwatering can resemble underwatering. Rotten roots prevent plants from taking up water, leading to wilting and discolored leaves.
Signs of underwatering include drooping leaves and flowers that fall off before fruit set. Make sure to water when only the top inch of soil is dry. Another tip is to deeply water your tree so deep roots are also receiving water.
How do I know if my citrus tree needs water?
Leaves that start to curl, droop, or crisp up at the edges are common signs that your indoor citrus tree needs watering.
How much water should I give my tree?
Water liberally until you see water running into the saucer underneath the pot. The exact volume will depend on the tree size and the potting container. Aim to saturate the soil and water deeply so the full soil base receives some moisture.
Should I mist my tree?
A gentle mist can help to hydrate the leaves and provide a degree of humidity. Be careful not to saturate the leaves, though stagnant water on the surface can lead to decay and fungal infections.
How do I know if my indoor citrus tree is healthy?
As with all house plants and interior trees, the key is to find the right balance of light, water, and temperature. Every home or office presents unique circumstances, so you must monitor and adjust to ensure your indoor citrus tree thrives. A happy, healthy citrus tree will display robust and healthy foliage and steady growth.
Can indoor citrus trees recover from overwatering?
Indoor citrus trees can recover from overwatering if you’ve mitigated early and adjusted the watering cycles moving forward. Monitor closely over two weeks and observe for general signs of improvement in the plant’s overall health.
Now you know all about how to water your indoor citrus tree. By paying attention to your plant’s health and the soil, you’ll be able to find the perfect watering schedule.
Briana holds a B.S. in Plant Sciences from Penn State University. She manages a small market garden where she grows vegetables and herbs. She also enjoys growing flowers and houseplants at home.