I have always loved citrus fruit, so for me there is a lot of appeal in trying to grow citrus myself. In northern Oregon, where I live, it isn’t quite warm enough in the winter to allow me to grow citrus crops outside year-round, but by growing citrus in a pot, I can bring it inside when it gets too cold. It’s a great way to have citrus without having to move to California! One of the hardiest and easiest citrus to grow is a Meyer Lemon. It is thought to be a cross between a true lemon and either a mandarin or common orange. Most Meyer lemon trees sold these days are a newer “improved” Meyer lemon variety. The original Meyer lemon trees carried the tristeza virus, which harmed commercial citrus crops. For many years Meyer lemons were banned in citrus-producing states. Then about 1975 the University of California released a new virus-free variety – The Improved Meyer lemon.
How to Grow
The Meyer lemon (Citrus x Meyeri) grows well in a container. I have been growing them in pots for 12 years or so and really enjoy the tasty fruit and wonderfully fragrant blossoms. I keep them outside for most of the year, and only bring them in when the weather gets below freezing. They are supposed to be able to handle the temperature down into the 20s but I usually cave in and bring them in when it gets in the low 30s.
A Meyer lemon tree will begin blooming and producing fruit at an earlier age than most other citrus. My lemon tree is blooming prolifically this winter! The beautiful white blossoms are very fragrant, and are making my house smell wonderful! Lemon blooms turn into fruit, so make your tree comfortable. Under the proper care and conditions your tree will have a ton of blossoms!
So, a Meyer lemon will be the happiest inside if it’s in a cooler room, by a sunny window, with some supplemental lighting. Try to keep it away from heating vents. If it doesn’t have enough light it will drop a lot of its leaves, but will usually recover when the days get longer, or if you can get some more light to it. I use a floor lamp next to my lemon tree with a compact fluorescent plant light. I look for lamps that allow me to position the light bulb towards the tree. (Thrift stores are a great place to pick up lamps!) I plug the lamp into a timer, and set it to be on for 12 hours.
Next, make sure that your trees get the right amount water. Over watering or under watering your tree can harm fruit production. The soil should slightly dry out in between watering, but it should never completely dry. I had trouble this summer with yellow leaves on my lemon tree. I finally learned by the end of the summer that I was giving it too much water – it was getting abundant water from my timed drip irrigation system and not liking it. Luckily the leaves have greened up nicely since I have had it inside for the winter and it’s not getting over-watered!
Also, to give your tree an extra boost give it some citrus fertilizer! Use the amount the directions recommend three to four times a year; once in the early spring, early summer, late summer and in the fall. It will really increase the health of your tree and bring on abundant blooms.
Meyer Lemon trees can bloom all year, but have two main blooming times – in the fall and early spring. Since they are self-pollinating, but you can pollinate your indoor trees by hand. Simply take a small dry paint brush and run it over each bloom as if you’re painting them. Do this once daily, and don’t wash the paintbrush until after the blooms have been pollinated.
Once you have some fruit set, give them time to mature. They can take around 6 months to mature. Don’t harvest them until their skin changes from green to dark yellow. When your sweet Meyer Lemons are ready their skin will be a shade of yellow similar to the color of an egg yolk. They hold well on the tree, too, so you don’t need to pick them all right away.
When repotting a lemon tree, just go up a size in a pot. Don’t put it in a pot that is much larger. They seem to prefer not having too much extra room in the pot.
So Grow Them
Because of their thin skin, Meyer lemons don’t ship well and you won’t often see them in the store. Grab them if you see them. They are sweeter than a regular lemon, and are a delicious replacement for regular lemons in any dish or dessert. You will enjoy their sweet-tart taste however you decide to use them. Most of all, don’t be afraid to try to grow citrus yourself! It is a love affair waiting to happen!
If life doesn’t give you lemons, grow them yourself!