Growing Meyer lemon trees (Citrus × meyeri) in garden pots or the ground is a rewarding experience. Not only are they prolific fruit producers, but their showy white blossoms are incredibly fragrant and beautiful, with shiny, dark foliage that adds additional interest.
Learn How to Easily Grow Meyer Lemon Trees in Pots
Native to China, Meyer lemon trees are naturally shrub-like but can easily be pruned into true tree form. When planted in the ground, they can grow up to 10 feet tall, though when grown in garden pots they'll generally be smaller and grow accordingly with the size of the pot. Seedlings develop at a moderate pace, bearing fruit in about four years. These trees are best planted in the early spring after the danger of frost has passed. They need warm conditions year-round to produce a good harvest, or they will need to be overwintered indoors.
Similar to other citrus fruits, the fruit's skin and plant materials are toxic to dogs and cats.
What Are Meyer Lemons?
Unlike the more common Eureka and Lisbon lemons, the Meyer is actually a hybrid fruit, probably a cross between a lemon and a mandarin orange. It was brought to the U.S. in 1908 by agricultural explorer Frank Meyer. While the original hybrid from China proved to be highly susceptible to viral disease, today's form, released by the University of California in 1975, is a much improved plant. The Meyer lemon fruit is sweeter than the fruit of other lemon trees, and even the peels are tasty and great for cooking. They are also smaller and have a rounder shape. It is a self-pollinating tree, meaning you need only one tree in order to produce fruit.
|Common Name||Meyer lemon|
|Botanical Name||Citrus x meyeri|
|Plant Type||Tree, shrub|
|Mature Size||6–10 ft. tall, 4–8 ft. wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full, partial|
|Soil Type||Sandy, well-draining|
|Soil pH||Neutral, acidic|
|Bloom Time||Fall, spring|
|Hardiness Zones||9–11 (USDA)|
|Toxicity||Toxic to pets|
Meyer Lemon Tree Care
Meyer lemon tree care is an easy matter in warm climates like Florida or California, where they’re popular as low-maintenance container-grown plants both outdoors and inside. They are slightly more cold-tolerant than Eureka and Lisbon lemon trees but still need a sheltered and sunny position to thrive.
These trees don't do well in saturated conditions, so pick a spot that has excellent drainage. If you are concerned about standing water, build up a wide mound of soil to plant your tree on or position it on a slope.
All citrus trees love the sun, and the Meyer lemon tree is no different. It will grow and fruit best when located in full sunlight, though it can survive in a slightly shady spot. This tree prefers at least eight hours a day of direct light.
Meyer lemon trees can grow in almost any type of soil, as long as it boasts good drainage. They prefer an acidic soil pH between 5.5 and 6.5 and thrive in a loamy or sandy mixture. It's a good idea to test your soil ahead of planting to determine whether or not it needs adjusting. You can add lime to increase the soil pH or sulfur to lower it, if necessary.
Proper watering is one of the keys to growing any citrus plant, particularly those grown in pots. The aim is to keep the soil of your Meyer lemon tree moist but not soggy. To determine whether it's time to water your plant, stick your finger into the soil at least up to the second knuckle. If you feel dampness at your fingertip, wait to water. If it feels dry, water your plant until you see water run out the bottom of the pot.
If your Meyer lemon tree is indoors, particularly in the winter when the heat is on, misting the leaves with water can also help keep it healthy. It's a good idea to use pot feet, which allow water to drain out of the pot and prevent the plant from becoming waterlogged.
Temperature and Humidity
Meyer lemon trees are happiest in temperatures between 50 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. That means that, unless you live in USDA growing zones 9 to 11, you should bring your tree indoors when temperatures start regularly dipping below this range. Even in zones 9 to 11, the tree should be protected when temperatures drop below freezing. Be sure to use a covering that reaches all the way to the ground to help trap the heat from the earth.
Citrus trees do best with humidity levels of 50 percent and above. If you don't have a humid enough spot indoors, fill a tray with rocks, pour water just below the top of the rocks, and place your pot on top of the rocks so that humidity will rise up around the plant. You can also consider placing a small humidifier nearby.
During the growing season (early spring through fall), feed your Meyer lemon tree with either a high-nitrogen fertilizer or a slow-release all-purpose fertilizer. Typically three applications evenly-spaced throughout the growing season should be enough to keep your plant happy, growing, and producing. Citrus trees also respond well to additional feeding with a liquid fertilizer, such as compost tea, liquid kelp, or fish emulsion, but it is generally not necessary.
The common practice of feeding lemon trees with leftover coffee grounds does serve to acidify soils that are too alkaline, as well as provide some minimal nutrients. However, to be effective, the coffee grounds should be well-composted—not dumped fresh from your coffee maker onto the soil around the plant. Uncomposted coffee grounds contain too much caffeine, which can harm trees.
Pruning Meyer Lemon Trees
How you prune your Meyer lemon tree is up to you, as the tree's general shape has no bearing on its ability to produce fruit. Many gardeners prefer to prune the tree so that it has an exposed trunk and traditional shape, while others opt for a hedge-like style.
Either way, wait until the tree is between 3 and 4 feet tall before pruning. The majority of the fruit ripens in the winter, so you should wait until that process is complete before pruning. Beginning at the base, prune off any dead or dying branches, as well as any long, thin stems (which generally aren't strong enough to hold fruit). From there, you can go ahead and prune any branches that are impeding the growth of others or blocking the plant from having ample airflow.
Propagating Meyer Lemon Trees
Lemon trees are easier to propagate than some other citrus varieties. This can be done using semi-hardwood cuttings at any time of the year, but the process is most likely to succeed if the cutting is taken when the tree is in active growth. This means late spring or early summer cuttings are recommended. The cutting should be from healthy, new growth, and it shouldn't have any flowers or fruit on it. Here's how to root a new Meyer lemon tree from a cutting:
- Take a cutting from a mature and disease-free mother plant, ensuring the segment is at least 3 to 6 inches long.
- Remove all leaves, flowers, or fruit from the cutting, except for the top four leaves on the wood.
- Dip the cut end of the branch in a rooting hormone powder to protect against rot or disease.
- In a medium-sized pot (about 1 gallon), place a high-quality potting mix that has been thoroughly watered.
- Place the cutting into the soil mixture, making sure the cut end of the brand is buried into the soil.
- Cover the entire pot and cutting with a plastic bag to preserve moisture and set out in a brightly lit location. Keep the soil moist (but not soggy) and mist the cutting occasionally until it develops new roots (which typically happens in two months' time).
- Once roots are established, remove the plastic covering and care for your plant normally, keeping it indoors or in a sheltered location until the following spring.
Potting and Repotting Meyer Lemon Trees
When potting a Meyer lemon tree (or repotting a tree that has become too large for its container), choose a five-gallon or larger container that is at least 12 to 15 inches in height. Make sure the container has ample drainage holes.
Fill the pot partway with a potting mixture (ideally one made for citrus trees), remove the tree from its original container, and fluff the roots if they are matted. Place the tree in the center of the pot, and fill in the gaps with the potting mixture just to where the crown of the roots is still visible. Press down the soil, and water the tree immediately. Pot-grown trees will require more frequent watering than their in-ground counterparts.
Harvesting Meyer Lemons
Lemon trees grown indoors usually fruit only in the spring, while outdoor trees in warm climates will typically fruit year-round. Because citrus fruit will only continue to ripen while still on the tree, make sure to wait for your Meyer lemons to be ripe before picking.
When ripe, Meyer lemons will be an egg yolk yellow color and slightly soft to the touch. Use a knife or scissors to cut the fruit from the branch so you don't risk damaging the plant by pulling off pieces that are larger than intended.
Common Pests and Plant Diseases
Meyer lemon trees—and citrus trees in general—are typical targets for a variety of pests, including whiteflies, rust mites, mealybugs, aphids, and scale. While established adult trees usually can withstand an infestation or two, smaller, more vulnerable trees can be decimated by any one of these issues. Signs of pest issues will typically appear on the undersides of leaves or on the fruit.
To control and eliminate pests issues, begin by pruning away any dead, unhealthy, or infected areas of the tree. Treat the plant by spraying it with horticultural oil, like neem oil, diluted significantly, reapplying frequently until all signs of infection have ceased.
How to Get Meyer Lemon Trees to Bloom
Though not prized for its flowers, getting your Meyer lemon tree to bloom is still incredibly important, as that's how the tree produces fruit. Meyer lemon trees do not flower for the first few years of their life, so you can start keeping an eye out for blooms around the third or fourth year. The most essential component in a blooming Meyer lemon tree is abundant light—all citrus trees need a lot of light to bloom and simply will not do so without getting at least eight hours a day. If you don't have one location in your lawn that gets that much light, consider potting your lemon tree (versus planting it in the ground) so you can move it around and "chase" the light throughout the day.
If your Meyer lemon tree is getting plenty of light but still not blooming, it's time to look to your fertilizing schedule. Fertilize your tree once a month, but no more—trees that are fertilized too much have just as hard of a time blooming as ones that are not getting fed frequently enough. Choose a fertilizer that is specifically formulated for citrus trees.
Additionally, the temperature is fairly important when it comes to getting your Meyer lemon tree to bloom. Your plant will need a brief period of cooler temperatures (around 60 degrees Fahrenheit) during the winter and early spring in order to be encouraged to bloom.
Are Meyer lemon trees easy to care for?
Meyer lemon trees are moderately easy to care for, although it will take a bit of effort (and patience) to ensure your plant blooms and produces fruit.
What's the difference between a Meyer lemon tree and a regular lemon tree?
Meyer lemons are actually a hybrid fruit, thought to be a cross between a lemon (Citrus limon) and a mandarin orange (Citrus reticulata). Meyer lemon shares qualities of both parent species.
Where should I place a Meyer lemon tree indoors?
If growing a Meyer lemon tree indoors, opt for your sunniest window or use grow lights to supplement the natural sunlight. Your tree should also be located somewhere very warm, away from any drafts or cold blasts of air. Extra humidity is a bonus if you have it as well.