Lemons are an ingredient that we don’t use all that often, but would use more of if, say, we lived in California.
Sadly, for those of us in northern climes, citrus isn’t exactly local. But happily, there is a wide variety of dwarf citrus trees on the market that have us in mind. Because they grow in pots, they can move inside or out depending on the season, protecting them from the sub-freezing temperatures that would otherwise kill normal citrus. This means that even here in northeastern Ohio, we can have fresh lemons from our lemon tree (or lime, mandarin, and a variety of other options), even when it’s snowing out!
Now some of you are thinking “Oh, I have such a brown thumb” or “I’ve killed every houseplant that I’ve ever tried to grow,” and I don’t want to falsely boost your expectations. If you’re that hopeless, you may, in fact, still kill a lemon tree. But they’re pretty low maintenance and don’t require a whole lot of special attention, so just about anyone should be able to grow them with some success.
How To Grow a Lemon Tree
- Start with a decent-sized pot: at least 3 gallon, maybe 5 or more (make sure it drains).
- Add a good, loose, well-draining potting soil (some brands sell a potting soil specifically for citrus – I can’t say whether it’s better or not because I just used an everyday mix).
- Keep the soil moist but not wet. In the summer, if we don’t get a whole lot of rain, I’ll give it a good, deep watering once a week or so. In the winter, every couple weeks. Also, since the winter air is so dry, it can be helpful to mist the leaves periodically.
- Lemon trees like sun. Easier to accomplish since it’s in a pot and you can move it to a sunny spot. I just keep mine in the main garden during the summer. In the winter, put it in a south-facing window, or whichever window gets the most light.
- Feed it. I use a slow-release citrus-specific fertilizer that I put in when I first move it outside in the spring (it’ll be semi-hibernating during the winter, so no need to feed it then).
- Don’t let it freeze, obviously. Depending on what variety of tree you have, it may be able to survive a touch of frost. But generally, when the nights start dipping within 10 degrees of freezing, it’s time to move it inside. Likewise, when the spring nights are past the risk of frost, you can move it outside. Just keep an eye on the temps to make sure you don’t get an unexpected late spring freeze.
- I find that mine blooms in a flush every month or two, less often in the winter. They’re supposedly self-pollinating, but when I have nothing better to do during those cold months, sometimes I’ll help them out and transfer some pollen with a small paintbrush 🙂 And oh, those blooms, they smell amazing, especially when all you’ve been smelling for months is snow!
You can find lemon trees (and a wide variety of other citrus) from many mail-order nurseries, but you should also be able to track a few kinds down in a well-stocked local nursery. I’d lean towards going local if you can find something, especially because it’s usually cheaper (no shipping) and you can get a much larger tree, often with small lemons already on it.
Note: we have a Meyer lemon tree (the most common, since they tend toward semi-dwarfism anyway) – Meyer is a natural cross between a standard lemon and a Mandarin orange. They still have a great lemon flavor, but they’re not as tart.