5 edible houseplants to brighten your home – and satisfy your tastebuds
Citrus plants – including oranges, lemons and limes – can add structure, fragrance and interest to your home, along with other tropical fruits that might not survive outdoors in this country.
“Citrus work very well. They are usually the first pick because they are very productive in terms of fruit production, and adapt very well to containers,” says Byron Martin, co-owner of Logee’s, a US specialist in fruiting, rare and tropical plants, who has co-written a new book, Edible Houseplants, with his business partner Laurelynn Martin.
Here, he offers five fruiting houseplants you could be growing at home…
“They do well under the stress of indoor growing, as long as they have enough sunlight,” Martin explains. “You need a sunny window, preferably south-facing, with some direct sunlight.
“Lemons and limes tend to grow faster and more freely year-round, and of course they stop in the winter. Although they have a seasonal flowering cycle, they can get outside of that quite freely. So there are longer times for flowering, and they can come into fruit sooner as young plants than others.”
Martin recommends the ‘Meyer’ lemon, which is a hybrid between a lemon and a sour orange.
Growing tips: Lemons need warmth and sunlight, so minimum indoor temperatures of 10C, in well-drained potting mix (citrus mixes are widely available). Feed with plant food every other week during the growing season, but reduce or stop in winter. They are self-pollinating and can be moved outdoors in summer, to a sunny, sheltered spot.
The RHS notes that citrus plants prefer a cool spell in winter, and more humidity than centrally heated homes usually provide, so citrus may not fare well long term as houseplants. A cooler conservatory or glazed porch may be more suitable for them.
Also known as the Mexican lime, this beauty produces fruits which make a zesty ingredient for key lime pie and classic mojitos.
“The key lime is a really good plant in terms of the amount of fruit you get from it. They can cover themselves with fruit during their fruiting cycle,” Martin says.
This one is also ideal for people who don’t have much space, as a key lime can be kept less than 2ft tall and still produce an abundance of fruit.
Growing tips: They thrive in warm environments, so best above 15C. Grow in full sun, in well-drained potting mix.
Also known as the tamarillo, this is a fast grower, which produces tangy, egg-shaped fruit that you can scoop the flesh out of. Even if it doesn’t produce much fruit, its oval leaves make it a decorative plant indoors.
Growing tips: Grow it in full sun in well-drained potting mix and put it outside in summer when all danger of frost has passed. It’s a greedy feeder, so apply a balanced fertiliser weekly when temperatures are above 60F (15C). After harvesting your fruits, prune the tree to control its size and it should quickly re-sprout. Bring it back indoors at the end of summer.
This pretty plant, with glossy green leaves, clusters of fragrant white flowers in early summer followed by green berries ripening to red (the seeds inside are the coffee beans), can be grown under cover – but you’ll need to be patient as it can take three to four years before it produces enough fruit for a crop of coffee beans, says Martin.
“They will tolerate low light levels – not the interior of a room, but near a window. They have shiny leaves and enough resistance to low humidity that they will do fine (indoors). They will produce flowers and fruit indoors but benefit from hand pollination. If you take a brush and go over the flowers you’ll get a good fruit set – and the flowers are really fragrant. They can grow from seed.”
Growing tips: They prefer indirect sunlight in a warm spot to grow well, but will tolerate a minimum indoor temperature of 4C. If the leaves start to grow brown in winter, move them to a brighter spot, he advises. Coffee plants can be pruned when they reach 3ft-4ft in height.
“There are two types of guava – the large fruiting one you find in the supermarket, the size of a small apple (Psidium guajava) – and another one called ‘cattleianum’, or strawberry guava and lemon guava, which is a great indoor plant with very shiny leaves that adapts well to low humidity and drought stress.
“They grow from seed and take three or four years to get them tall enough to fruit at about 4ft in height. They tend to flower in spring but can flower off-season, and the fruit ripens throughout the summer and they take really well to pruning.”
Growing tips: Grow them in well-drained potting mix, preferably in a sunny spot. The dwarf guava ‘Nana’ will fit well on a large windowsill, will grow up to 3ft and is easy to prune to maintain size. Minimum indoor temperature is around 4C, but if it’s warmer they will grow faster. Apply a balanced fertiliser monthly during the active growing season.
Edible Houseplants by Laurelynn G Martin and Byron E Martin is published by Storey Publishing, priced £16.99. Available now.
[STANDFIRST] Add flavour to your indoor plant collection, with citrus, tropical fruit and coffee.