You get the best of all worlds with Meyer lemon trees. They grow pretty blossoms, add a splash of sunny color, and, of course, they produce delicious fruit. A hybrid of lemon and mandarin orange, they're juicy and less tart than other varieties. They're also on the sweeter side, which makes them a favorite for desserts and cocktails. They're also not too high maintenance; however, they do require patience. To get all the benefits, here's what you need to know about growing and caring for a Meyer lemon tree, whether you plant indoors in a container or outdoors, plus information on pruning, propagating, harvesting, and more.
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What is a Meyer lemon tree?
The first Meyer lemon tree (Citrus x meyeri) was introduced in China in 1908, and the variety we know today (which is less susceptible to viruses) came from the University of California in 1975. Grocery stores don't usually sell the fruit, but you can find them at your local farmers market—or grow your own.
Meyer lemon trees belong to the flowering citrus family. They are broadleaf evergreen trees, meaning their shiny dark green leaves naturally remain on the plant year round in warmer climates. These plants can grow to reach 6-10 feet tall. The dwarf variety grows to be about 5-7 feet, ideal for a smaller garden or accent in a room with limited space. Meyer lemon trees bloom in the fall or early spring with fragrant white blossoms.
How to Grow a Meyer Lemon Tree: Indoors vs. Outdoors
Meyer lemon trees require a warmer climate to thrive outdoors, surviving winters in hardiness zones 9-11. If you live in a colder region, you can keep your lemon tree outside during the warmer months in a large container. Then, bring the tree inside once temperatures drop below 50°F. Meyer lemon trees are slightly cold tolerant, and they need a period of cooler temperatures (around 60°F) to encourage flowering.
Growing your Meyer lemon tree indoors allows you to not worry about the outdoor climate, but you do have to make sure it's getting enough sunlight. Place it near a south-facing window, or you can "chase the sun" throughout the day by moving it around. Assist with pollination if you're growing indoors by swirling a small paintbrush or cotton swab around the center of each lemon blossom to collect and spread pollen. If you're outdoors, pollinators take care of this for you.
How to Care for a Meyer Lemon Tree
Plant your Meyer lemon tree in loamy, sandy, well drained soil. Keep about the top inch of soil consistently moist but not soggy. The pH of the soil should be between 5.5 and 6.5. If you need to lower your soil pH, add sulfur; to increase soil pH, add garden lime according to package directions.
Meyer lemon trees love humidity. This is especially important indoors, where the levels need to be kept at 50% or above. Use a humidifier or mist the leaves several times a day (especially during the drier months). You can also fill a tray with stones and an inch or two of water and place your pot on top to increase humidity levels. Make sure to place the tree away from air vents or drafty windows.
The key to maximizing growth and fruit production is enough sunlight. Meyer lemon trees prefer direct sun but can survive in part shade. Whether you've planted yours indoors or outdoors, they need at least 6-8 hours per day. Consider investing in grow lights if your home doesn't get a lot of natural light.
Use a fertilizer high in nitrogen made specifically for citrus trees. Apply it two or three times throughout the growing season, from April to September. If you're seeing yellow leaves, it's often a sign that it's time to add fertilizer. Make sure your tree is getting enough water, too.
Pruning and Propagating
Pruning will help keep your Meyer lemon tree healthy and attractive. It can also stimulate the growth of larger lemons. Wait until your tree is between 3-4 feet tall before pruning and the lemons are ripe (if there are any). Begin at the base and trim off any dead or dying branches and thin stems that won't be strong enough to hold fruit. It's also important to prune any areas that may have been affected by infestations. Pests including mites, whiteflies, aphids, leafminers, mealybugs, and spider mites tend to target citrus trees, and they can cause substantial damage to young trees. Use a neem oil spray to prevent pests from spreading.
To propagate your Meyer lemon tree, cut off a healthy new stem with no fruit or flowers in the late spring or early summer. Bury it (cut side first) in a 1-gallon pot with high-quality potting mix, and set it in a bright spot. Keep the soil moist and mist the cutting until it starts growing roots (which should take about two months).
How to Harvest Your Meyer Lemon Tree
Here's where the patience comes in: Meyer lemon trees need to be a few years old before they'll flower. Trees grafted to rootstock can fruit in as little as two years, and trees grown from seeds take up to seven years. The more care you give your plant, in terms of sunlight, water, pruning, and pest control, the better. Fertilizing and letting your tree have a period of cooler temperatures in winter can speed things up.
Once fruit begins growing, you can expect an abundant harvest in the fall and winter each year. Outdoor trees can flower year round if in a warm climate. Make sure your lemons are ripe before picking; they'll be orange-yellow (like an egg yolk) and feel slightly soft. Use a knife or scissors to cut the fruit from the branch (don't pull or you may damage the branches).
How to Repot a Meyer Lemon Tree
If you're bringing your tree inside for the winter, repotting is quite simple. Fill a container with drainage holes that's at least 1 gallon or larger halfway with potting mixture. Gently spread out the roots, place it in soil, and water immediately.
Where to Buy Meyer Lemon Trees
You can find a Meyer lemon tree at retail nurseries, garden centers, and online stores like PlantingTree.com and 1800-Flowers.com. They range in price from around $60-$120, and dwarf Meyer lemon trees usually cost $20-$90.