How to Grow a Lemon Tree Wherever You Live
For any citrus loving gardener with room for only one tree, the choice is simple. Whether it grows in the ground outdoors or in a sunny window indoors, a semi-dwarf lemon tree (Citrus limon) will keep you in fresh lemonade regardless of the season. It's also one of the least fussy members of the Citrus family. We answer the most FAQs about growing this agreeable, attractive tree.
–What Do I Need to Grow an In-Ground Lemon Tree?
Grow your lemon tree in the ground outdoors if:
- You live in USDA plant hardiness zones 9 through 11.
- Have well-draining soil.
- Have a sunny outdoor space large enough to accommodate a tree up to 15 feet tall and 12 feet wide.
Can I Grow a Potted Lemon Tree?
Grow a potted lemon tree if:
- You live in USDA plant hardiness zones 9 through 11, but don’t have room to plant it in the ground. It can stay outdoors all year.
- You can keep it indoors in a sunroom or large, south-facing window. Moving it outdoors to a patio or deck during your frost-free months is fine.
Where Do I Plant an Outdoor Lemon?
A lemon tree produces the most flowers and fruit if planted where it gets eight or more hours of daily sun. It also needs well-draining soil; loam or sandy loam is best. Consistently wet roots invite root rot.
Compensate for heavy, water-retaining soil by planting your tree in a 3- to 4-foot high raised bed to keep its roots above the saturated water table.
Plant to the same depth the tree was in its nursery container, with its graft scar is 8 to 12 inches above the soil.
Expert gardener’s tip: Keeping the entire trunk out of the soil also protects against potentially fatal Phytophthora gummosis infection and damage from bark-chewing rodents.
How Do I Care for an Outdoor Lemon Tree?
To keep an outdoor lemon at its peak:
- Water it slowly and deeply two or three times a week until its roots establish and you see 6 inches of new vertical growth.
- Water the established tree every two weeks (weekly during dry weather).
- Spread a 3- to 4-inch layer of organic mulch from the edge of the canopy to within several inches of the trunk to retain soil moisture and discourage weeds.
- Fertilize with a slow-release, organic citrus fertilizer enhanced with the trace minerals calcium, zinc, iron and manganese. Follow the label’s directions regarding the amount and frequency of your applications.
- When frost is expected, soak the soil and cover the tree with a frost cloth or sheet until the threat has passed.
- Prune suckers sprouting from the base of the tree as soon as they appear.
How Do I Plant an Indoor Lemon Tree?
Plant your indoor lemon tree in a 5-gallon container with several drainage holes in its base. Use a potting soil formulated for citrus trees. To prevent it from getting rootbound, move it to a pot one size larger every four to five years.
How About Caring for an Indoor Lemon Tree?
To give your tree the best chance of flowering and fruiting indoors:
- Keep it in a sunroom or large, south-facing window and away for hot or cold drafts.
- Maintain it at a temperature between 55° and 85°F (12.7°and 29.4°C); for the best results, keep it as close to at 65°F (18.7°C) as possible.
- Water only when the top of the potting mix feels and looks very dry. Stop when the container feels heavy and you see water coming from the drainage holes. slowly until the pot feels heavy and water runs from the drainage holes.
- Give it the same fertilizer you’d use for an outdoor tree, applied at the label’s recommended.
- Keep the air around it humid enough by placing its pot on bricks set in a plastic plant saucer filled with wet pebbles. The bricks let air circulate over the drainage holes so the roots remain dry.
- Move it outdoors as soon as nighttime temperatures are regularly above 55°F (12.7°C) and bring it back in before they drop to 50°F (10°C).
Expert gardener’s tip: If your tree has to stay indoors all year, open the nearby windows regularly during temperate weather so it gets fresh air.