Productive, fragrant, and beautiful, lemon trees thrive in regions that have a climate similar to the Mediterranean—warm, dry summers with cool winters and little humidity. One lemon tree can produce bushels of fruit. Do you live in a cold climate? Enjoy the beauty and occasional fruit set of a lemon tree by growing one in a pot. Place the potted lemon tree outside in late May to encourage fertilization; bring it back indoors to a bright, sunny location in winter.
Lemon Tree Care
Your lemon tree will be most productive when planted in full sun and fertile, well-drained soil. When selecting a planting site, beware of nearby buildings and other trees that can cast shade on a lemon tree and limit its production. Choose a planting spot 15 to 25 feet or more away from buildings and other trees. Lemon trees are vigorous growers, so planting them in crowded locations results in increased problems with diseases and insect. Because the lemon tree is native to warm, arid Mediterranean locations, it thrives in sandy, loam soil. Avoid planting one in clay or heavy soil—or in a site that experiences ponding—as this tree is prone to root rot.
Water the newly planted tree every other day for the first week or so, then one to two times a week for the first two months. Continue watering young trees as needed during prolonged dry periods. Deliver water directly to the root zone rather than using an overhead sprayer. Mature trees rarely need supplemental watering.
Lemon trees are heavy feeders, so they require thoughtful fertilization. After planting a lemon tree, apply about ¼ pound of fertilizer labeled for citrus trees. Repeat every three to four months for the first year. Mature trees usually require three to four pounds of fertilizer formulated for citrus trees two to three times a year.
Protect a lemon tree from injury by maintaining a grass-free area 2 to 5 feet around the trunk. Spread a 2-inch-thick layer of mulch around the tree to help retain soil moisture and reduce weed competition. A lemon tree requires minimal pruning. Snip away water sprouts (vigorously growing shoots) and dead wood, then shape the tree as desired.
It takes about three years for a lemon tree to begin to produce fruit. The amount of fruit produced increases as the tree ages. Lemons are ready to harvest when the fruit is about 1½ to 2 inches in diameter and the peel is light green or yellow in color. A single tree might display fruit at different stages of development, but only harvest mature fruit. Pale green lemons will continue to ripen and turn yellow for a few weeks when stored at room temperature. You can also cure them for long-term storage by allowing them to sit in a cool, dry place and let them slowly yellow. As the rinds (which contain oil glands) turn yellow, they will become smooth and the fruit's juice content will increase. Store in the refrigerator after curing.
Types of Lemon
Citrus limon 'Eureka' produces nearly seedless fruits on small trees that have few thorns. This popular commercial variety is not suited to Florida, but it does very well in California. Zones 8-10
This variety produces small fruits with thin, soft skin. Less acidic than other lemons, 'Meyer' fruits have a complex flavor with a hint of sweetness. Zones 8-10
Citrus limon 'Lisbon' is a seedless cultivar that produces bright yellow fruits with intense fragrance and smooth skin. The fruits are very similar to 'Eureka' lemons, but the tree is larger and more thorny. Zones 8-10
This cultivar produces large, seedy fruits on a small, thorny tree. The skin is thick and bumpy. Zones 8-10
'Variegated Pink Eureka' lemon
Citrus limon 'Variegated Pink Eureka' bears pink-flesh fruits on a lovely, ornamental tree. The small evergreen tree has green-and-white variegated leaves. The fruit skin is also variegated. Zones 8-10