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How Do You Grow Lemons?

Updated on February 11, 2013
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How do you grow lemons? If you live in a warm climate, it’s easier than if you don’t. But, there are many varieties of lemons, and some are better adapted to be grown in cooler climates, but it takes some extra work and willingness to bring your tree inside during the cold seasons.

Selecting a Lemon Variety

There are many types of lemons available, ranging from sour to sweet. The two most popular sour varieties are the Lisbon and Eureka lemons. Most people cannot distinguish between Eureka and Lisbon lemons, as they are so similar in color, size, shape, and flavor. Lisbon lemons tend to have more seeds. Lisbon lemon trees tend to be taller with more upright growing habits than Eureka lemon trees, which have a tendency to be bushier and have more spread to their branches. Lisbon trees tend to be more tolerant of cold temperatures than Eureka trees, and they fare neglect better than Eureka trees. In terms of harvest, Lisbon trees produce in the winter and spring, with lemons growing on the inner branches. Eureka trees produce lemons year-round, bearing fruit at the tips of the branches.

Meyer lemons are one of the most popular “sweet” lemon varieties. They tend to be milder in tartness than traditional sour lemons because they are actually a hybrid of lemons and oranges. The Meyer lemon tree has a more dwarf growth habit, achieving heights of 10 feet (smaller when grown in containers), compared to the Lisbon and Eureka varieties, which can reach heights upwards of 20 feet tall. Meyer lemons are one of the best varieties to grow in colder climates, as they can be grown in containers and are more easily moved indoors. Meyer trees can produce lemons year-round.

Propagation of Lemon Trees

It is possible to grow a lemon tree from seed, but it is very difficult. Commercial nurseries typically produce new plants by grafting. It is much easier to purchase a lemon tree from a nursery or garden center than to propagate one.

Temperature

Lemon trees are best grown in warmer climates. Florida and California, with their abundant sunshine and warm temperatures, produce the majority of the lemon crop in the United States. Ideally, they should be kept in environments with air temperatures of 70 degrees Fahrenheit during the day with temperatures no cooler than 55 degrees Fahrenheit at night. Temperatures below 55 degree Fahrenheit will cause the tree to go into dormancy. For those growing lemons in cold climates, lemon trees may be moved outdoors during the warm summer months and back indoors once the weather starts to become cool again.

Eureka lemon
Eureka lemon | Source

Light

Like other fruit and vegetable-producing plants, lemon trees require a good deal of sunlight. They thrive in areas where they have access to bright light. Indoors, a south-facing window is best. And, they require at least 12 hours of sunlight everyday in order to produce fruit. If you are growing your tree indoors, you may supplement light, particularly during the short, overcast days of winter in cold climates, by using grow lights. Grow lights can be purchased from most garden centers.

Soil and Feeding

Lemon trees prefer slightly acidic soil, with a pH of 5.7-6.0. Soil should be fertile and have good drainage. If you are growing your lemon in a container, make sure it has proper drainage holes at the bottom, or you may place a 1-3 inch layer of pea gravel at the bottom of the pot to ensure that the tree is not sitting with “wet feet”. Choose a large pot, at least 12 inches in diameter and at least 12-inches deep to plant your lemon tree. Bear in mind that you may need to transplant to a larger size pot as the tree grows larger.

Spring is an ideal time of year to fertilize lemon trees, as that is when the tree is most actively growing. A general 20-20-20 fertilizer is usually fine, but it may be a good idea to check the soil pH and make a fertilizer selection based on the pH.

Pruning

Lemon trees don’t require much pruning, especially the dwarf Meyer variety. The best time to prune the trees is during winter when there is less active growth.

Meyer lemons
Meyer lemons | Source

Pollination

Pollination, essential to the production of fruit, should not be an issue for lemon trees grown outdoors. Birds and bees will be plentiful enough to ensure pollination and production of a successful lemon crop. If you are growing your lemon tree indoors, it may be necessary to assist with the pollination process. All you need is a cotton swab to spread the pollen within the flowers on the tree. Softly run the cotton swab around the inside of the flower. If you have more than one lemon tree, you may cross-pollinate the two by using the cotton swab to transfer pollen from the flower of one tree to the flower of the other tree.

These are the basics of growing lemons. If you have the space and the patience, growing lemons is a rewarding activity and a great way to ensure you have access to these delicious citrus fruits all year round.

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