Lemon, Citrus x. limon: “Bright and Cheerful”
The main problem a lemon tree faces is being an outdoor plant that people want to bring indoors to tame. We understand the urge; few trees look better in a pot.
But the real secret to a happy, healthy lemon tree is to grow it outside in the right conditions of humidity and sunlight. If it’s in a pot, you can bring it inside for occasional display. (See our post The Truth About Indoor Citrus Trees for five reasons your potted citrus tree is happier on the patio.)
Above: A small Meyer lemon tree, in bloom, adds a focal point to a garden party. Photograph by Nicole Franzen.
Lemon trees are perennial members of the Citrus genus and Rutaceae family, originally native to southeast Asia but introduced to Europe and the Mediterranean during Roman times. They have glossy green leaves, white and sometimes pink-tinged flowers, and produce (mostly) yellow-colored fruits. If they’re happy.
Above: A Lemon Tree in Terra-Cotta Pot is $69.95 from Williams Sonoma.
There are many varieties of lemon trees—from Meyer to Ponderosa, from Genoa to variegated pink, from Sorrento to the odd-looking citron—but all are happiest in a Mediterranean climate.
Lemon species vary greatly, so consider what type of tree you will get. Meyer lemon trees produce sweet, juicy fruit perfect for cocktails and cooking (and which are, technically, related to oranges), while Eureka lemon trees produce the larger, sour fruit most commonly seen in the supermarket. (They’re also one of the few lemon tree varieties without spines.) Concerned about space constrictions? Look for dwarf varieties.
Above: Meyer lemons, ready to be harvested. Photograph by Michelle Slatalla.
- Put your lemon tree in a place where you can enjoy its aroma, like the kitchen or a sunny breakfast room.
- Be patient. Lemon tree saplings won’t produce fruit right away; it can take from three to five years for a lemon tree to bear fruit, and the fruit on indoor trees may take several months to ripen.
- When planting a lemon tree, don’t completely bury the roots. Dig a hole slightly shallower than the root system for the best growth.
Keep It Alive
- Keep a lemon tree in full sunlight and be sure to give it plenty of water (water it about once a week).
- Take care to keep your lemon tree away from drafty windows and doors and shelter it from frost; it’s sensitive to cold and does best at temperatures at from 55 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Lemon trees are perennial in USDA growing zones 9-11.
- For produce fruit, test soil to make sure its pH level is between 5.5 and 6.5.
Above: In addition to its life on a sunny California deck, this lemon tree has a surprising secret to its success. Read more at Ask the Expert: 10 Tips for a Zero Waste Garden. Photograph by Michelle Slatalla.
Above: A vintage Lemon Botanical Illustration is $18 from Etsy seller Lettered and Lined.
Feeling extra patient (and looking to repurpose food waste)? You can (very slowly) grow a lemon tree from the discarded seeds of household lemons. Simply leave seeds out to dry for a couple of weeks, then plant in a small soil-filled planter and cover with plastic wrap or an overturned plastic bag to encourage growth.
Above: Preserve lemons with salt and herbs for adding to Morrocan tagines and other dishes. Photograph by Alexa Hotz.
In addition to adding refreshing flavor, lemon is also a healthful ingredient in botanicals and essential oils. We love it for winter colds and respiratory ailments, digestion, relaxation, and skin and nail care. For more, read about this all-natural cure for the common cold.
Above: A potted lemon tree grows on a west-facing windowsill. Photograph by Michelle Slatalla.
For a complete guide to help your indoor lemon tree to thrive, see Winter is Coming: How to Keep an Indoor Citrus Tree Happy.
Are you thinking of adding a fruit tree to your garden? Our Garden Design 101 guides can provide help: