Looking to grow your own citrus fruit and not sure where to start? Learn to grow lemon trees in USDA Zones 8 through 11. Citrus limon offers an awakening scent, color, and flavor. Young leaves are reddish, and mature to a dark green on the surface and light green below. Be aware there are often sharp thorns on the twigs of the tree. Mildly fragrant flowers come from reddish buds. These blooms are either solitary or in small clusters of two or more. Four or five petals make up one flower, each of which is white on top and subtly purple beneath. Light-yellow to warm yellow fruit is oval and dotted with oil glands.
Though the lemon is native to Asia, its true origin is unclear. It likely migrated from India and into Italy, then throughout the Mediterranean region in the 2nd century. Lemon seeds finally arrived across the ocean, but the fruit didn't take off commercially until crops in Florida flourished in the 1950s.
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.
|Botanical Name||Citrus limon (Rutaceae)|
|Common Name||Lemon tree|
|Plant Type||Broadleaf evergreen|
|Mature Size||20 feet tall and 15 feet 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
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.
Tropical and semi-tropical climates are best for growing lemons. The trees prefer low to moderate rainfall while growing 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.
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.
Lemon Tree Care
Lemon trees thrive in full sun in a place that is protected from the wind. If a freeze is possible in your area, plant on the southwestern side of the house along a wall for protection.
All citrus trees thrive in soil of medium texture and moderate depth with a slight acidity.
One 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. 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.
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% 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.
Lemon Tree Varieties
There are three main types of lemon trees grown in the warmer parts of the United States.
- 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.
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. Look for new growth that has yet to produce fruit or flowers.
The cutting should be potted in a well-drained, consistently moist medium. They need warmth and humidity to guarantee success.
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. If you are concerned, misting or using a humidifier could be beneficial.