When and How to Pick Lemons

With proper care, a lemon tree (Citrus limon, USDA hardiness zones 9-11) in its prime is capable of producing 1,500 lemons every year. To do this, it has to flower nearly continuously and have fruit in all stages of development all year long. So how do you know which fruit to pick, and how to pick it? For answers to those questions and more, keep reading!


Do All Lemon Trees Have A Peak Picking Season?

All five of the most commercialized lemon trees have a peak picking season, but not all their peak seasons are the same:

  • Pick ‘Meyer’ and ‘Ponderosa’ lemons from fall to winter.
  • Pick ‘Eureka’ and ‘Eureka Variegated Pink’ lemons from spring to summer.
  • Pick ‘Lisbon’ lemons from summer to fall.

How Long Does It Take Lemons to Ripen?

A pollinated lemon flower takes between four and nine months to become a ripe lemon. The baby lemons remain green until dropping nighttime temperatures trigger their change to yellow in fall or winter.

How Do I know a Lemon is Ready to Pick?

Lemon trees have fruits at various stages of ripeness throughout the year. Pick the pale-green ones measuring 1 ½ to 2 inches in diameter. Pick completely yellow lemons before they become soft.

Expert gardener’s tip: Always harvest pale-green or yellow lemons before a hard frost. Temperatures between 28°F and 31°F (-2.2°C and 1.8°C) damage them.

Know Before You Begin

Rough handling may rupture a lemon’s oil glands, causing burned areas known as oil spots. Oil spotting won’t affect the quality of its juice, but may shorten its shelf life. To prevent spotting:

  • Wear cotton gloves so you don’t scratch or pierce the rinds.
  • Don’t pick in early morning, when the lemons’ high moisture content stretches the rinds even thinner.
  • Don’t pick lemons wet from dew, rain or irrigation.
  • Collect the harvest in metal-shielded deciduous fruit picking bags. They’re smaller and sturdier than canvas collection bags.

What’s the Right Way to Pick Lemons?

To pick a ripe yellow lemon, simply grasp it in your hand and give it a light twist while tilting and pulling it away from the branch. Use clean, sharp hand pruners to clip off any remaining stem so it won’t damage the other fruit you collect.

Also use your pruners to pick green lemons. Make smooth, 1/2- to 1-inch cuts above the stem ends and clip off the stubs before packing.

Expert gardener’s tip: Never shake a lemon tree to harvest your fruit. It’s guaranteed to result in sever bruising. If the uppermost branches are out of reach, place a ladder on stable ground (preferably with someone holding it) and climb up to access them.

How Do I Handle My Lemons after Picking Them?

Place each lemon carefully in your collection bag. Don’t stuff the bag, or the weight of the top ones may bruise the ones beneath. Once a bag is full, keep it in a shaded area until you’ve finished with your picking.

Separate yellow and green lemons. Use or juice the yellow ones first, before they get squishy. Or clean them with a fruit and vegetable wash and freeze them in sealable freezer bags with most of the air removed. After thawing in cold water for 15 minutes, they’ll be ready to slice and juice.

Keep the green ones at room temperature until they turn yellow and juicy. After that, refrigerate them in sealed plastic bags and use within a week.

Text: Garden.eco