Flowers and foliage add elements of nature and plenty of color to any room, and that can be enough of a reward for an indoor gardener. But being able to actually pick something edible can be a whole new world of enjoyment.
It may not be the first thing you think of for houseplants, but you can definitely bring some fruit into the house and have your own personal harvest.
Why Grow Fruit Indoors?
Like with any houseplants, one of the biggest benefits from growing indoors is that you can protect your plants from all sorts of outdoor hazards. This can be especially true with fruit. Soft and usually sweet, fruits are very vulnerable to insect and animal pests. Growing them inside means you don’t have to worry about losing your harvest before you get to pick anything.
Another perk is that you can control the temperature and the lighting, making it possible to grow your own fruit even if you live in the wrong climate zone. Speaking of lighting, all of these plants will need a lot of light, and sunlight can be augmented with artificial light if necessary. But you should forgo trying indoor fruit if you are trying to deal with a very-low light area.
So there are several reasons why growing fruit inside is a great idea, but there can be some difficulties in taking this route.
One can be space. While strawberries and tomatoes can be grown like any other potted plant, trying to manage a small tree in the house isn’t going to work out if you are tight on space.
The other issue is pollination. Most houseplants will grow, bloom and put out new leaves all by themselves regardless of what other plants you have or a lack of insect activity. Unfortunately, fruit is a little different. Fruit is produced along with seeds as part of the plant’s reproductive cycle, and that means they don’t burst into fruit at random. There needs to be some sort of combining of male and female elements.
All of the intricacies of plant reproduction are too detailed to go into here. Each type of plant can be different. You generally don’t need to worry about having a male and female plant though. Most fruiting plants will have flowers that contain both male and female parts. Your job will be to move the pollen (that yellow dusty stuff), from one flower to another, even if it’s on the same plant. A small craft paintbrush is a the perfect tool for this.
Fruit Plants That Can Be Grown Indoors
1 – Strawberries
If you only try one fruit indoors, it should be strawberries. They are so prone to slug damage, this can be the best way to grow them, even when you have space outside. You’ll need fairly bright sunlight for at least 6 to 8 hours a day, and since strawberries don’t have deep roots, you can plant them in reasonably-sized pots. Water whenever the soil is dry to the touch.
A hanging basket works very well for the varieties that put out runners, otherwise they can spread out quite a bit. You also need to look for either everbearing or June-bearing plants. Everbearing plants will give you fruit all through the summer, but June strawberry plants just have a once-a-year harvest.
Not sure? Go with Red Alpine. They’re very popular as indoor plants, with no runners and frequent fruiting.
2 – Citrus Fruit
The trick with citrus and any other fruit tree, is that you’ll want to get a dwarf variety in order to have it inside. Trying to grow a full-size tree is not a wise idea unless you have a very large sunroom or greenhouse. Just don’t be fooled by the term. In most cases, even dwarf trees can be several feet high and they do produce full-size fruit. You should get at least 1 to 2 bushels of fruit from each tree.
So, you can grow these dwarf trees for lemons, limes, or oranges. As warm-climate plants, you’ll need to give them a sunny spot with steady warm temperatures (around 65F). For lighting, you’ll need at least 8 to 12 hours of strong sunlight. If your windows won’t provide that, expect to install a few lamps to make up the difference. Give them a fertilizer feeding about once a month during the spring and summer with a high nitrogen formula designed for fruit trees.
Containers can be tricky given the potential size of the tree as it grows. You can repot as it gets larger or just start off in a big pot that holds at least 15 gallons, with good drainage holes.
You may have to be patient with fruit trees. Unlike smaller seasonal plants, it can be a year or more before your new plant is mature enough to start flowering and fruiting. Buying a tree that is around 3 years old can speed things up for you.
Though citrus fruits are very popular as indoor fruit, you can also follow these same general guidelines for dwarf apples, pears, apricots or nectarines.
3 – Tomatoes
Botanically speaking, tomatoes are a fruit and they do make excellent houseplants if you get the right variety. Trying to grow enormous beefsteak tomatoes is going to be a difficult challenge, so stick to smaller strains like Tiny Tim or any other kinds of cherry tomatoes. They’ll grow just fine in a large pot in the house. Six to 8 hours of bright light and regular watering should keep them happy.
Without the wind to constantly buffet the plant, an indoor tomato can have weak stems. You might need to provide more support than you would expect to keep them upright once the fruit starts to develop. A good plant should give you a few pounds of tomatoes, but that will depend on what variety you go with.
We already talked about pollination but tomatoes are a little trickier than most. Some varieties are self-pollinating to the extent that the flowers don’t even open up. The pollen just stays within the blossom and moves around when the plant shifts in the wind. You’ll have to mimic this with your indoor plants if you want any fruit. Give the closed flowers a light flick, or hold a running electric toothbrush against the stem to give the plant a gentle vibrating.
4 – Mulberries
You may not be as familiar with mulberries as the other fruits so far. Though standard trees are very tall, you can find dwarf cultivars that should stay around 6 feet high (or even shorter), making it a reasonable choice for indoors if you have the space. The berries look like dark red raspberries with an elongated shape instead of round, and they’re not common in stores. So grow your own!
Compared to other fruit trees, mulberries grow and mature very slowly. You may not get fruit on your tree until it reaches around 10 years of age. Try to get older “seedlings” to minimize your wait time.
As usual, you’ll need a full day of good sun (or additional artificial light) to keep a mulberry healthy, and they should be potted in well-draining soil. You can’t let their roots get water-logged. You also can’t let them dry out. A layer of mulch in their pots will keep moisture in so you don’t have to water quite so often.
Mulberries can benefit from a little pruning during the less-active winter months, though indoor plants may not go as dormant as outdoor ones due to the year-round warm temperatures in the house. Clip away dead branches and any that are crowding the central part of the tree. Nothing too severe, just keep it from getting overgrown.
If you’re on the fence about growing mulberries, consider their many health benefits, which include improved digestion and better blood sugar control.
5 – Ground Cherry
Like the strawberries, ground cherry plants are small enough to be grown like a standard houseplant rather than a tree. They are interesting to grow because the fruit develops inside a papery husk that looks like a lantern. The fruit inside is bright yellow and has an unusual sweet flavor a little like a tomato.
Related to the tomato, they grow in the same way and can use the same conditions for water and light. The plants won’t be overly high but can be wide and bushy. Each one should produce dozens of cherries in a season. The husk should be dry and brown for it to be ripe, but if green ones fall off the plant, you can leave them on the kitchen counter to dry and ripen on their own.
Tips and Tricks
There are a few extra tips you can use if you are trying to grow fruit indoors, regardless of the specific plants you have. For one thing, you can help boost your plant’s fruit production by adjusting the lighting. Lots of natural sunlight is great, but if you have artificial lights going as well, look for ones with a red tone, or ones labeled “warm.” Add a timer to your lamps and you can give your fruit a long bright day, no matter the season or your own schedule.
Even if you don’t usually have an issue with bugs in the house, fruit can sometimes draw a few more flies or mites than usual. A regular spritz of natural insecticidal soap, either commercial or homemade, should be enough.