The Fragrant, Fruiting Meyer Lemon (Updated)

October 15, 2009

I MAY NOT WANT THE LEMONS THAT LIFE DELIVERS, but I always cherish those I pick myself, from the citrus tree that grows on a shelf in my sunny library window. This is the Meyer Lemon, officially Citrus meyerii, which grows no taller than 8 inches for several years, yet produces good-sized fruit while still a young plant. The lemons are prized by gourmets for their sweet, not tart flavor. Both flowers and fruit are intensely fragrant.

Meyer is the friendliest of fruiting plants. It enjoys warm days (not exceeding 65 degrees), cool nights (55 degrees), full sunlight and moderate humidity. Any light, porous potting soil will do, but a clay pot is essential, in order to provide air to the plant’s substantial root system and to facilitate dryness between waterings. A five-inch pot is suitable for the first two or three years of growth.

To produce the strong limbs and bushy form that will support a crop of heavy crop, prune the plant while it is young. I like to accomplish this in late spring after flowering, and while the plant is in an active cycle of growth.

Avoid overwatering. Only when the top soil appears dry should you water thoroughly, until the entire root mass is saturated, and excess drips through the drainage hole. Be sure to empty the saucer immediately afterward. I feed my plant with every watering, using a 1/4 teaspoon of Miracid dissolved in a gallon of room-temperature water.

Such is the easy culture that guarantees a cloud of fragrant, white blossoms in December and April, and off and on again throughout the year. The flowers, which are self-pollinating, are white with a pink cast.

It is the lemons, however, that steal the show. These typically appear in clusters of six. I used to pinch off all but two or three lemons per cluster to achieve full-sized fruit of the highest quality, but experience has taught me the plant will drop such excess on its own. When the lemons turn from green to bright yellow in the fall, they are ready for harvesting.

In late May, when all danger of frost has past, bring the plant to a shady area outdoors. Over a ten day period, gradually introduce it to longer periods of sun until, without scorching, it can handle a position in full sunlight. By summer’s end reverse the procedure, slowly moving the plant to shadier conditions, and then to your sunniest window garden.

Flowers, fruit and fragrance — these are the bountiful offerings of this must-have houseplant. You will not find an easier fruiting plant for your sunny window garden.

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Comments

  1. Erika says:

    Kevin, I have a meyer lemon plant, but it constantly gets aphids! Has your plant ever had this problem? Do you think I should use a systemic insectide to kill these horrid insects, or would that render the fruit inedible?

  2. Erika – good to hear from you again! My Meyer Lemon was attacked by aphids one summer, while it vacationed on the patio. I handled the matter with a FIRM blast from the garden hose. To this day the plant receives a weekly shower, administered during winter at the kitchen sink. In any event, never use a systemic on an edible plant. Its fruit will contain the insecticide, too!

  3. Donna says:

    Just have to ask, is that ivy growing in the window above your lemon plant?

  4. Gregory says:

    I can't answer for Kevin, but I think that is grape ivy.

    And Kevin, sounds like Meyer Lemon is a plant that I “must-have” too!

  5. Donna – as Gregory said, the vine is grape-ivy, Cissus Rhombifolia. It's another “must-have” houseplant!

  6. Eric says:

    If I order a Meyer Lemon, will it produce flowers and fruit the first year?

  7. Eric – I ordered my plant from Logees in September, 2006. Although it was only a small, rooted cutting, it bloomed — to my surprise –three months later, in December. Fruit appeared shortly after. So yes, if you order from a reliable source, you can certainly expect flowers and fruit the first year!

  8. Andrew Thompson says:

    And what plans do you have for the two ripe lemons that are clearly visible on your lemon plant?

  9. Gregory says:

    I imagine they are very good squeezed into a gin and tonic!

  10. Donna says:

    Besides the juice, there is also the zest to consider…

  11. Andrew – concerning my two ripe lemons, I haven't made a decision yet. Gregory suggests squeezing the juice into a gin and tonic; that how I employed my harvest (one lemon) last year!

    Donna – The zest is even more fragrant than the plant's blossoms! Any zesty zest suggestions out there?

  12. Samantha says:

    Well, the zest would be wonderful in just about any cake or sugar cookie batter.

  13. Laura says:

    Why not make Lemon Meringue Pie? Then you can just the juice AND the zest from your Meyer lemons!

  14. Samantha – yes! sugar cookies!

    Laura – Did you know that Lemon Meringue is my all-time favorite pie? Love the meringue piled mountain-high!

  15. Nancy Samp says:

    Kevin,
    We grow Meyer lemons successfully in the ground in the Mohave desert with temperatures ranging from 120 degrees to brief periods of freezing in December. We paint the tree trunks or wrap them with newspaper to prevent sunburn, plant them in a wind protected area (such as near a wall) and try to furnish some shade from the summer sun by putting up shade cloth to the south and west or planting near a shady tree.

  16. Nancy – nice to meet you! I'm always amazed at the measures that we who love Meyer lemons will take in order to have them. Since your trees are planted in the ground, and provided with much love and care, your harvest must be a substantial one! I'm jealous!

  17. kimberly ann says:

    Lemon zest over a baked brie with almonds atop …. mmmmm

    Smoosh the almonds into the brie rind. Bake. Spritz with lemon juice and top with zest! PERFECT.

  18. Jeri says:

    Kevin I have had a Meyers Lemon tree for about 5 years. The first years I got a few lemons. The second year I had so many lemons I had to give some away. The third year plenty of blooms but never developed into fruit. Now the past two years not even a single bloom.

    It’s an outdoor plant, about 4 feet high, in a large pot on my deck. It gets probably 6-8 hours of sun. I water good once a week (more when we get into triple digits). Freezes back some in the winter (Austin, TX – usually nothing too severe.

    I thought maybe it’s root bound. Finding a bigger pot and getting said pot home… kinda scares me.

    I fertilize with spikes for fruit trees.

    Any suggestions?

    BTW – the year I had an abundance of lemons I made Limoncello with the zest. Best batch ever. If you solve my problem I’ll send you a bottle of my Limoncello! How’s that for bribery?

  19. kimberly ann – Yum!

    Jeri – Your Meyer Lemon is probably pot bound. Instead of shifting the tree to a larger pot (an odious prospect, I’ll admit), proceed this way: First, remove the tree from its pot. Then, using a big serrated knife, slice off 1/3 of the roots. Then remove 1/3 of the tree’s top growth, in order make up for the now-missing roots. Finally, sprinkle fresh soil in the bottom of the old pot, reset the tree, and sprinkle fresh soil over the old. When you are finished, you should have a three-to-five-inch gap between the soil surface and the rim of pot to allow for water. Soak the soil. Then shower the foliage daily for a week or two, until you notice signs of new growth (which should be soon).

    I’ve used the above procedure on my houseplants when they’ve grown too big to manage. It permits me to keep the plants “house size.” I’ve also used this technique on mature roses, when I’ve had to move them to different quarters.

    And by the way, what a great idea to turn Meyer lemons into Limoncello. I first tasted that liqueur during a trip to Rome. So refreshing!

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