Growing Your Own Fruit Tree Without a Backyard

I would love to have a sunny yard lined with berry bushes and apple trees and dotted with raised beds full of spinach, kale, cucumbers, tomatoes, eggplants, corn, pumpkins, herbs, and strawberries. Such a life is not to be. I live in an apartment in a city, and the nearest community garden doesn’t get enough light for us to be able to grow fruits and vegetables. But gardeners must garden, whether it be in a sprawling yard or a galley kitchen, as I do.

mini orange tree
Cute citrus tree or cutest citrus tree?

I’ve spent the last couple months returning to where I’ve added and removed and added a beautiful little Meyer lemon plant to my shopping cart. I should mention that I still really want that lemon tree in my life, but instead I went over to the New York City floral district to see if they had any fruiting trees available. Because of the Chinese New Year, it was easy to get a hold of a miniature orange tree. And this tree is just about the most beautiful creature that’s ever graced my home.

I wanted a citrus tree because I’ve been making a concerted effort to transition to buying all of my produce locally. Can’t get local citrus in the Northeast, I’m afraid. I knew that an indoor tree wouldn’t produce enough fruit to keep me in oranges all-year round, but I figured it could maybe provide me with a tablespoon of juice or zest for recipes during the winter and spring, and give the neighborhood kids a fun fruit-picking activity when they visit. Growing this tree isn’t about catering to an insatiable appetite for citrus; it’s about encouraging myself to make do with less (and staying excited about plant care). A necessary part of the effort to eat locally, as I see it, is interrogating one’s eating habits. Is it necessary to have strawberries in December, for instance? Does one require a daily serving of grapefruit? Each person will draw his own conclusion. For myself, I’m testing my resolve to do without certain items, without guilt or asceticism, while providing myself with fun alternatives.

We’ll see how the orange tree fares. It stands near a window that gets good morning light, and I purchased a grow light with a timer (this one) to supply it with some extra nourishment. It’s currently buzzing away and due to automatically shut off in an hour or so. I suspect there will be some trial and error involved in keeping this tree healthy, as with any new plant acquisition, and I’m excited to see what happens. A planner by nature, I’m trying not to get too ahead of myself by shopping for dwarf banana trees quite yet. A perfectly adorable answer to the local fruit dilemma—but let’s do one thing at a time.

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