How to Grow & Care for Indoor Trees

Last update: April 21, 2020

You can grow trees indoors, just don’t expect them to grow as large as outdoor trees. Indoor trees are also a bit more challenging to grow than many types of houseplant. Depending on the type of tree you grow, they have specific light, water and soil needs. Most will survive in indirect light, with regular feedings and an adequate amount of, but not too much, water.

Caring for Indoor Trees

Just as different types of houseplants have different care requirements, different types of indoor trees have different care requirements. One thing worth knowing if you’re considering growing a tree in your home is that trees usually require a lot more care and attention than your basic houseplant.

Here’s a quick video from MiracleGro on some of the most popular indoor trees:​

Like houseplants, they can be particular about water and light. Some are also pretty fussy about temperature and drafts. For example, according to Better Homes and Gardens, the weeping fig is a popular indoor tree that will drop its leaves when exposed to dry, warm air or cold drafts.

But for the most part, once you figure out what your tree needs to be happy and to thrive, taking of it shouldn’t be too difficult.

Water Needs

Many indoor trees have low water needs. Some, such as the ponytail palm, are able to hold water in their trunks, and don’t need frequent waterings. Usually, over-watering indoor trees is more of an issue than under-watering.

Most trees will let you know if they’re getting too much water. The umbrella tree’s leaves will turn yellow if you over-water it, according to the Joy of Plants. Ficus trees will drop their leaves when they don’t get enough water or when they get too much.

Humidity in the air can also affect the health of your plant. Most indoor trees prefer somewhat humid conditions and many homes are much drier than trees would like. Growing your plants in a humid room, like a bathroom, or grouping them together can help improve humidity. You can also try putting a humidifier near your trees or regularly spritzing them with water to keep them from drying out.

Light Needs

For the most part, indoor trees thrive under indirect light or in medium light conditions. A well-lit room is ideal, but you don’t want the sun’s rays to fall directly on your tree. Direct sunlight will burn or scalp the plant and it won’t be happy.

Some trees need more or brighter sun than others. Citrus trees prefer full sunlight, for example. A room with a south-facing window can be ideal for lemon and other types of citrus trees. If you don’t have that, you can put the trees under a grow light. According to Gardenista, citrus trees need a minimum of eight hours of sunlight daily, and 12 daily hours of light is preferable.

Food Needs

Trees, even trees grown indoors, can be quite large. It takes a lot of nutrition for a plant to grow to four or five feet, let alone for a plant to grow to seven feet or even taller.

Generally speaking, you’ll want to fertilize your trees at least once month when they are actively growing, during the spring and summer. You can hold off on fertilizing in the winter for many trees, such as ficus trees. But some types of tree, such as citrus, can benefit from the occasional feeding even in the fall and winter.

Pruning and Repotting

Indoor trees grow at a slower rate than trees outdoors. But that doesn’t mean they don’t grow at all. If all goes well, your tree might get to a point where it needs to be pruned or moved to a larger pot, or in some cases, both.

Some trees, like certain types of ficus tree and the umbrella tree, benefit from a good pruning every now and then. Pruning helps improve the plant’s shape and overall appearance. It can also help you control the growth of the plant and keep it from overtaking your space.

As the plant’s roots get larger, they will eventually outgrow the container they’re in. Left in the pot, the tree will become root bound, which can cause it to wilt or even die. Repotting the plant into a slightly larger container will give it more room to grow.

Another option is to trim the plant’s root ball, cutting away excess roots. Pruning a tree’s roots won’t harm it, but will help control its growth. Pruning roots also allows you to keep using the same container instead of upgrading to a larger one.

The video above from eHow Garden shows you how easy it is to prune an umbrella tree. Just make sure you cut the plant right above a growing stem, so that it is able to continue growing after you prune it.

Indoor Tree Types

indoor trees

Some trees are better suited for life indoors than others. You wouldn’t want to try and grow a tree that usually reaches up to 50 feet in a pot. Typically, trees grown inside are considerably smaller in stature than their outdoor cousins. Often, indoor trees are specifically bred to be dwarf varieties.

Citrus Trees

Citrus trees, such as lemon, lime and even some types of orange trees, are ideal for growing indoors. There are a number of dwarf citrus trees, specifically designed for indoor growing. These varieties usually grow to a height of about five feet, maximum.

The video above shows you pretty much everything you need to know about growing citrus trees in a container indoors.

Citrus trees love acidic soil, so it’s important to either start with an acidic soil (with a pH of 5 or lower), or add fertilizer designed for acid loving trees to improve the soil. Since the trees need a fair amount of sunlight to set fruit, it’s often recommended that you give them at least some time outdoors, if possible. If you don’t have any outdoor space, you can still grow citrus, you just might have a lower yield of fruit.

Ficus Trees

Ficus trees include the weeping fig, the fiddle leaf fig and the ficus ginseng. The plants are all related and all have similar growing needs. They are also all known for being somewhat finicky and fussy if their growing conditions aren’t ideal.

If you have a relatively draft-free home that gets a good amount of indirect light, you can try growing a ficus tree. If your home is darker or drafty, it can be difficult to grow a happy and healthy ficus.

Dracaena or Dragon Tree

Dracaeana or dragon trees are ideal starter indoor trees. They’re much less fussy than ficus trees and a lot easier to care for than citrus. They can tolerate a bit of neglect and don’t need a lot of light.

The trees are pretty interesting looking, with long, spiky leaves and narrow stems. They can reach up to six feet in height, but it make take many years before they get that tall.

Learn More About Indoor Trees

If you’re ready to try your hand at growing a tree or two indoors, we’re here to help. We have lots of articles on the subject, from choosing a tree to specific tips on caring for certain types of tree. You’ll find all the articles you need over on the sidebar to the right.

Photo by Hans licensed under CC0

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