Growing citrus indoors on the prairies has always been a challenge because the low-light conditions we face are not ideal for these sun-loving plants. Some gardeners have found success by placing their trees outdoors in the summer or supplementing with additional light, but there has never been a tree developed with the indoor gardener in mind.
All that is set to change, thanks to the hard work of Saskatchewan’s M.P.M Nair. A retired engineer and a master gardener, Mr. Nair began his work in 1981, when an acquaintance told him he would not be able to grow lemons indoors. Taking that as a challenge, he decided that to have a plant that would thrive on a Saskatchewan windowsill throughout the year, he would need to develop a variety with low light needs, a dwarf growing habit and several annual fruiting cycles to maximize production.
By importing a cutting of an unusually shade-tolerant lemon from his childhood home in India and crossing the plant with commercial lemon varieties, Mr. Nair created 79 types of lemons, most of which he considered to be of unacceptable quality. After twenty years of growth, some plants have not even bloomed! However, about twenty plants have shown promise and he is currently continuing his breeding work.
The first successful variety is now being registered for plant breeder’s rights in Canada, after which Mr. Nair plans to release it for propagation. This exciting new variety is called “Centurion.” It has juicy, seedless, commercial-sized fruit that does not fall from the tree when it is ripe. The plant is quite dwarf and it can grow in a pot as small as 6”. It will produce up to three or four times per year, providing somewhere between twelve and thirty fruit. “Centurion” tolerates low-light conditions so well that if it is grown on a sunny windowsill, it may even benefit from the extra shade provided by sheer curtains.
Other varieties which are still in development will focus on attributes such as edible leaves, varying sizes and levels of tartness, the presence or absence of seeds, and varying thicknesses of skin that can be used for zest or preserving. Mr. Nair has spent decades working on the development of these trees which will be suitable for indoor growing.
You can see photos of his work with lemon trees and other plants that he is working on developing for indoor culture on his website at www.lemonbreederofthenorth.com. (See if you can spot the bananas!) Hopefully, this site will contain information about where to purchase his plants as soon as they are commercially available. This work is very exciting for northern gardeners and promises to change the way we approach citrus growing.