Lemon trees (Citrus limon) grow best in tropical and semi-tropical climates so if you live in USDA zones 8 through 11, you can grow your own citrus fruit. The tree's reddish buds develop into mildly fragrant white and purple flowers in solitary or small clusters of two or more blooms. Be aware there are often sharp thorns on the twigs of the tree. Plant your lemon tree in the spring after the danger of frost has passed and you can expect it to be established within three years. Lemon trees are toxic to animals.
|Common Name||Lemon tree|
|Botanical Name||Citrus limon|
|Plant Type||Broadleaf evergreen|
|Mature Size||20 ft. tall and 15 ft. wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun|
|Soil Type||Well-drained fertile soil|
|Soil pH||Slightly acidic and low in soluble salts|
|Hardiness Zones||8-11 (USDA)|
|Toxicity||Toxic to dogs and cats|
How to Plant Lemon Trees
When to Plant
Lemon trees can be planted in the early spring after all danger of frost has passed.
Selecting a Planting Site
Choose a well-draining spot in full sun for a lemon tree. There should be no standing water on the site because lemon trees do not like soggy conditions. The site should be sheltered from wind and other natural elements. If a freeze is possible in your area, plant on the southwestern side of the house along a wall for protection.
Spacing, Depth, and Support
Lemon trees grow 10 to 20 feet tall and 10 to 15 feet wide. Space accordingly. Dig a hole twice as wide and deep as the root ball. If the root is bound, cut across the ball a few times; this will loosen the roots and encourage them to reach for nutrients in well-drained fertile soil.
Lemon Tree Care
Lemon trees thrive in full sun, which in this case is between six to eight hours of daily sun.
All citrus trees thrive in soil of medium texture and moderate depth with a slight acidity. Soil that is well-drained is an absolute must as root rot is a problem in soggy conditions. Mulching should be avoided to prevent pooling water.
Getting the watering requirements right with your lemon tree is crucial for a successful harvest. The trees prefer low to moderate rainfall. During the period of establishment, more frequent watering will be required—even as much as once or twice a week. Once mature, lemon trees develop more drought tolerance.
During the summer months, the soil should be kept moist, especially for young trees. Be careful not to cause waterlogging as boggy conditions are problematic. Overwatering results in yellowing leaves, which then drop, along with fruit drop and root rot.
Temperature and Humidity
Lemon trees are best grown in warm and humid states. They are the most sensitive to cold weather of all the citrus fruits and thrive in temperatures that range from 75 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit. They also prefer the humidity levels to be as close to 50 percent as possible.
Young trees are particularly sensitive to cold conditions and they should be brought indoors if temperatures take an unexpected drop.
Like other citrus fruit trees, lemon trees are energy-hungry. Use a complete NPK (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium) fertilizer to encourage healthy growth and fruit production. A deficiency in nitrogen, magnesium, zinc, iron, or potassium also causes varying degrees of yellowing leaves.
Types of Lemon Trees
There are three main types of lemon trees grown in the warmer parts of the United States. In zone 8, plant a cold-hardy variety such as Meyer, which produces nearly seedless fruit and a plentiful harvest on even a small plant. Try Lisbon and Eureka in zones 9 through 11.
- Eureka lemon trees (Citrus x limon 'Eureka'): Along with the Lisbon lemon, this is the most widely available lemon in supermarkets across the globe and a popular homegrown variety.
- Lisbon lemon trees (Citrus x limon 'Lisbon'): This variety produces a juicy, fleshy fruit with few to no seeds. They are slightly less sensitive to the cold than other lemon varieties and have a more upright growth habit than the spreading Eureka.
- Meyers lemon trees (Citrus x meyeri): Sweeter, or less tangy at least than the other varieties above, they are actually a hybrid cross between a mandarin orange and a lemon. They have a compact form that doesn't require heavy pruning and are a little more tolerant of cold when compared to true lemon varieties.
Harvesting Lemon Trees
It's natural for the flowers to develop into fruit and still take a year to mature to yellow and be mature for harvest. Leave the lemons on the tree to ripen. Like other citrus fruits, they will not ripen off the tree.
Each fruit packs citric acid and plenty of vitamin C. Welcome lemons into your garden and you'll have nutritious, cheerful fruits to last a lifetime. They are perfect for adding to meal recipes and even as an environmentally friendly cleaning option.
The different lemon tree varieties have different growth habits, and this can impact pruning requirements. Regardless of variety, prioritize pruning long lateral branches for fruit growth or main leaders for aesthetics. You want a wide canopy to maximize fruit growth.
Pinch foliage to control the shape and encourage bloom. Prune young trees to encourage good branch structure. The upright growth habit of the Lisbon lemon tree means it needs more regular pruning to maintain a strong canopy and good food production.
Propagating Lemon Trees
Of all the citrus fruit trees, lemon trees are one of the easiest to propagate from cuttings. Semi-hardwood cuttings can be taken from late spring to early summer when a tree is in active growth. Then take these general steps to propagate your lemon tree.
- Cut a cutting that is 3 to 6 inches long. Make sure the cutting comes from healthy, new growth that has not yet produced fruit or flowers.
- Remove all but the top two sets of leaves from the cutting and dip the bottom end of the stem into rooting hormone powder.
- Pot the cutting in a 1-gallon container that is filled with well-draining, moist medium.
- Keep the cutting warm and ensure the humidity level by putting a clear plastic bag over the pot.
- Place the container in a bright location and keep it moist by misting it every so often.
- In about two months, check for roots by gently tugging at the cutting to see if it resists your pull.
- Remove the plastic bag and keep it sheltered in a bright spot until the spring when the plant is ready for its permanent home.
Growing Lemon Trees From Seed
Though it is typically discouraged from propagating a lemon tree from seed because of very spotty and disappointing results, it can be done. You will need to be patient and have lower expectations about the quality of the tree or fruit it will produce. Here are the steps:
- Extract a few seeds from a mature lemon and clean them off with water.
- Soak the seeds in a bowl of water for 24 hours to soften the outer coat.
- Toss floating seeds (they are not viable) and remove the seed coatings from viable seeds.
- Plant surviving lemon seeds in a small container filled with potting soil. Put them about 1/2 inch to 1 inch deep in the soil.
- Water the pot and place it in a bright and warm space that hovers around 70 degrees Fahrenheit, and keep the pot moist but not soggy.
- Look for germination in a few weeks and keep warm until you can plant the seedling in a more permanent spot.
Potting and Repotting Lemon Trees
When potting any type of lemon tree, choose a large 5-gallon or larger container. Make sure it is at least 15 inches tall. There should be numerous drainage holes in the container. Take these steps:
- Fill the container halfway with a potting mixture made for citrus trees.
- Take the tree out of its original pot and begin to manually fluff any matted roots.
- Place the tree in the new container and begin to fill in the sides of the tree with potting mixture. Do not go above the crown of the roots. Gently press the soil as you fill in the container.
- Water the tree immediately. Pot-grown trees will require more frequent watering than their in-ground counterparts.
If you're bringing the lemon tree indoors, place your plant in a well-lit location that is not too warm. In winter, low indoor temperatures similar to early spring will actually encourage flowering. Bring it outdoors in late May to encourage natural pollination and let the fruit grow in the warmer spring and summer temperatures. Return the plant indoors in September.
Lemons are not fans of dry air, indoors or outdoors. If you are concerned, misting or using a humidifier could be beneficial.
Common Pests and Plant Diseases
The downside of a lemon tree is that it does attract a host of pests and plant diseases.
Pests, such as the citrus leaf miner, aphids, and various types of scale insects and mites, are all frequent visitors of lemon trees.
Many diseases that can affect a lemon tree and leave yellowing leaves or disfiguring marks on leaves, flowers, and fruits. Here are five common ones to watch for:
- Citrus canker: One of the most common plant diseases is citrus canker, which presents as pinpoint spots on leaves that enlarge and develop a yellow halo. A tree in full sun, along with fungicide treatments, can help the lemon tree survive.
- Melanose: Sunken lesions that then become raised, rough to the touch, then crack, is a symptom of melanose, another fungal problem that occurs during rainy conditions.
- Citrus scabs: Corky growths on leaves, stems, and fruit may be citrus scabs, which are controlled by a copper-based fungicide.
- Greasy spot disease: Yellow spots that turn into brown blisters on leaves indicate greasy spot disease, which is a fungus. This disease occurs during humid, very wet weather.
- Citrus greening: Citrus greening, a bacterial disease, results in yellow blotchy leaves and disfigured fruit.
How long does it take for a lemon tree to bear fruit?
Expect a lemon tree to bear fruit between three and six years of age.
Are lemon trees easy to grow?
Given the right conditions, plus enough water, a lemon tree may be easier to grow than you think, both indoors and out. It also helps that lemon trees are self-pollinating, which means they do not need another tree to produce fruit.
Where do lemon trees grow best?
Lemon trees prefer to grow in mild winters and warm to hot dry summer heat, which is why they are successfully grown in the sub-tropical "citrus belt" of the United States, which ranges from California along the Gulf Coast to Florida.
Lemon Growing in the Florida Home Landscape. University of Florida Extension Office.
Growing Citrus Seeds. University of California Agricultural and Natural Resources.
Field Identification and Management of Greasy Spot Disease. University of Florida Extension Office.