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two lemons growing in a pot

How to grow a lemon tree: step-by-step

Have you ever wanted to grow a fruit tree but thought it wasn’t possible because of climate, space, or some other constraint? If so, growing a lemon tree may be your answer. This step-by-step will guide you through how to grow a lemon tree on your own, at home.

Imagine plucking a golden lemon right off of a branch, slicing it up, and squeezing the juice into a glass. Imagine being able to do this in the summer when cold drinks abound, or in the winter when brightness is in short supply. A lemon tree can be grown in a container, indoors, and will produce fruits at typical indoor temperatures. If your mouth is watering at the idea of this fruitful future, read on.

 

It does not take a Mediterranean climate, a fruit tree expert, or a yard to grow lemon trees. 

 

While lemons are often imagined growing picturesquely in the Mediterranean, they are actually native to northern areas of South Asia. They evolved from early citrus species for millions of years before being cultivated for thousands more. The lemon tree we know and love today took a long time to become its best self. 

 

Specifically, the lemon evolved in the foothills of the Himalayas. This region is not a particularly tropical climate. So, while some fruits, like the avocado, need consistently hot temperatures to produce fruit, this is not the case for lemons. They will grow in typical household temperatures, with an optimal range of 55 to 68°F (13-20°C) but can withstand some fluctuations of cold and heat. Dwarf varieties do great in pots and will grow to a manageable height of around six feet (two meters) tall. They are easy to plant, easy to care for, and easy to love. Now let’s see how to grow a lemon tree at home.

 

a lemon growing on a tree
Photo by The Green Conspiracy

How to grow a lemon tree in 5 simple steps

 

Step 1. Prepare your space

Because even the dwarf varieties grow to around two meters, if you would like to grow your tree indoors you will need space that accommodates this. Trees can be outdoors during warmer months, but should be inside if there is the threat of frost.

It may be beneficial to place your pot on a wooden dolly with wheels to be able to easily move the tree around. Lemons require six to eight hours of sun per day, so choose a spot near a window that receives this amount of light. If this is impossible in your home, simple grow lights can take the place of the sun.

A draftless spot is also preferable, so choose somewhere that is not directly in front of a heater or air conditioner. 

 

Step 2. Prepare your pot

Almost any type of pot will work for your tree.

Terracotta is often considered attractive and can be beneficial for maintaining airflow, but can also dry out roots and therefore requires more diligent watering. This also goes for wood material and unglazed ceramic.

Any pot made of non-porous material will work great. The most important characteristic of whatever pot you choose is that it has multiple drainage holes, because citrus does not like continuously wet roots.

Also avoid keeping your tree in the plastic nursery pot in which you bought it, as it will absorb and retain too much heat (your tree also deserves something prettier!). For the first pot, choose one that is just a little bigger than the nursery pot

lemon growing in a pot
Photo by The Green Conspiracy

Step 3. Prepare your soil

The easiest and most reliable way to choose soil is to look for a potting mix made especially for citrus. The most important aspect of this mix is that it is well-draining. It will also have a pH of around 6-7 and good structure (which goes along with good drainage).

Anywhere that sells citrus trees should also sell this type of mix. 

 

Step 4. Pick out your tree

Simply search around for a nursery that sells dwarf lemon trees. Depending on factors like how big the nursery is, there may be multiple varieties of trees from which to pick.

The Meyer lemon is a variety that has become very popular, and is the most commonly found dwarf variety. It is a cross between a lemon and a mandarin, and is therefore sweeter than a normal lemon. They are also smaller and rounder than your typical lemon, are reliable fruiters, and can handle a large range of temperatures.

There are other interesting and tasty varieties. If your nursery carries them, the provided information will give you the details you need to make your decision. 

two lemons growing in a pot
Photo by The Green Conspiracy

Step 5. Take care and watch your baby grow

Once you transfer your new kin into a prettier and slightly larger pot and place it in its sunny spot, it is time to relax (for the most part). You will want to water regularly, but it is important to not keep the soil soaked. Aim to let the top two to three inches (five to eight cm) dry out before watering again, and then water until it is coming out of the drainage holes. 

It is necessary to “pot up” as your tree grows, starting with a small pot when it is young and repotting as it gets bigger. Trust your instinct as it grows. When it is looking top heavy transfer it to a larger pot.

When fully grown, a dwarf tree will need a pot that is about 24 inches (61 cm) wide and 18-24 (45-61 cm) inches deep. One or two pots transfers in between the starting and finishing size will be enough. 

Adding fertilizer during the summer months when your tree will be growing more will be beneficial. Again, look for a citrus-specific fertilizer when you buy your tree and read the instructions about how much to add. 

lemon flower
Photo by The Green Conspiracy

Want to try growing something other than a lemon? 

The lime and the kaffir lime are also great options. If you haven’t heard of a kaffir lime, it looks like a regular lime but with a very bumpy rind. While they produce less juice than their smooth relatives, their leaves and rind are delicious and often used in Asian cuisine.

They are also very well suited for growing in pots. Both limes and kaffir limes have the same growing instructions as lemons, but a kaffir lime tree will grow to be a little smaller than both the lemon and the lime. 

Whatever you choose, as with all gardening, enjoy the process, take notes, and learn as you go! You may find a better spot in your home as you go or you may experiment with moving your tree between indoors and outdoors. Veggies are great and all, but we’re not sure anything beats cutting into homegrown fruit. Fresh lemonade/limeade here we come. 

 

References:

https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-42960445

https://www.pennington.com/all-products/fertilizer/resources/growing-container-citrus-fragrance-fruit-and-fun

https://www.gardeners.com/how-to/citrus-in-planters/7933.html

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