Garden life
Citrus delight

Calamondin oranges, a house plant, can easily be grown in a pot, says Kiran Narain

Citris mitis makes for excellent pickles & squashes
Citris mitis makes for excellent pickles & squashes

There are over 15 species of Citrus, including orange, lemon, malta and kinnow, among others. Calamondin Orange or Citrus Mitis too belongs to the citrus family. Mostly, citrus trees are grown in gardens or for commercial purposes in orchards but one of the varieties particularly suitable for cultivation as a house plant with moderate ease is Citris Mitis. This has considerable advantage over Citrus sinesis, the more common species as it bears fruit on comparatively small plants and has almost no spikes.

An ever-green shrub with simple leaves and fragrant white flowers and round juicy fruits, the citrus originated in Asia and China but is now commercially grown in warmer parts of the world. Citris Mitis is a compact plant almost free of thorns, grows up to a height of 5-6 feet in ground but is much shorter if grown in pots. It bears profusion of glossy deep green leaves about two to four inches long and has short branches which may produce fruit even when quite small and flowers almost throughout the year (but mainly in February-March and again in July-August) while the fruit may still be on in various stages of green, half green and orange and deep orange.

Towards early spring and late summer, the bushes are laden with fragrant white flowers turning into fruit over a period of about one and a half months. The green globous fruits start turning bright orange as they ripen and are one and a half inches diameter. The ripe fruit remains for as long as two to three months on the plant, giving it a fairytale look.

In America, the plant is extremely popular and almost no cocktail bar is complete without its real live orange tree from which oranges can be plucked and used for garnishing. What could be a more inviting sight than a tall glass of Screwdriver with a calamondin orange sitting pretty on the rim.

Citris mitis does well in soil-based mixture but the ideal compost may be three parts rich fibrous loam, one part leaf mould, one part well-rotted cow manure and a liberal supply of sand, charcoal and bonemeal. It may be a good idea to put the young plant in a 5-6 inch pot and move it to a bigger sized pot every year (when the plant is not in the phase of active growth which may be only a week or so in mid-January and mid-June), till it is in about a 12 or 18 inches pot. Thereafter, only top dressing would be adequate. The bush may be given a high potash fertiliser every month while the fruit is developing. Remember to water it thoroughly after adding the fertiliser every time. Only moderate watering is required by the calamondin orange and the top layer can be kept dry in between in good weather as over watering can kill the weak root system. Care should also be taken of the roots at the time of hoeing.

The plant needs bright light but can be brought indoors to verandahs, balconies or sunny staircases, gradually, where at least two to three hours of sunshine is available, so that the plant maintains its colour and gloss on the leaves and fruit.

Citris mitis can be propagated by seeds, cuttings and layering and is a feast of colour to the eye at the same time giving you plenty of fruit which, though sour is edible and makes excellent marmalades, pickles and squashes.