How to Grow a Lemon Tree – 9 Easy Peasy Tips!  

Lemons are an iconic fruit known for their mouth-puckering sour taste, cheerful, sunny color, and signature shape. 

But with the aromatic flowers, consistent year-round blooming, and lovely glossy foliage, the lemon tree can be fabulous and easy to grow indoors or outside.

When I was a young mother, I listened to an old wive’s tale about putting lemon juice on a baby’s pacifier to break them from the habit. It backfired with my daughter, who is now obsessed with anything citrusy. 

I don’t know about you, but I can’t afford to sustain my child’s lemon addiction while raising four kids and four dogs. My genius solution? Plant a lemon tree that keeps us in an endless supply!

If intentionally growing a fruit tree sounds frightening, take my hand as I guide you on the easiest gardening journey. So, let’s learn how to grow a lemon tree!

how to grow a lemon tree

Table of Contents

What Is the Best Lemon Tree to Grow?

A lemon tree is a citrus plant that produces edible fruits that are popular for culinary and cleaning uses. 

If you’ve never shopped for or grown lemons, you may not realize that there are various types. So, that means there are many different kinds of lemon trees. The various types of lemon plants not only produce differently flavored and colored fruits, but they also range in size. 

If you’re growing a lemon tree indoors, you don’t want an outdoor variety that grows taller. There are several types of hybrid indoor lemon trees. Some are a cross with other fruits.

When you buy lemon tree plants from a nursery to grow indoors, the specimens are at the age to bear fruits – 2 to 3 years. But they are still immature, and will continue to grow until they reach their full mature height.

The container size will help limit the growth of these plants. But most species won’t get over 3′ to 4′, with a few growing up to 6′ tall. 

Outdoor lemon trees can grow over 20 feet tall in warm regions. And it can take these trees over six years to start producing fruit. 

It is more problematic to grow a lemon tree from a pip or a cutting. So, picking a grafted tree from a nursery is better to ensure your plant is disease resistant and dwarfed. Dwarf sizes are better for indoor growing.

How to Plant a Lemon Tree?

When growing lemon trees indoors, creating the right growing environment is crucial. In addition, lemon trees require massive amounts of oxygen to thrive.

Keep the base of the trunk above the soil line in a pot with lots of drainage holes. Pack down the soil at the bottom of the pot to create a sturdy foundation. Then keep repeating the process until the dirt is deep enough to sustain the tree’s root ball. The packed dirt keeps the roots shallow.  

one lemon hanging on branch above pot

Once the tree is planted into the pot with dirt covering all but the top few inches of the root ball, water your plant deeply. Continue to pour water over the dirt until it drains out of the bottom of the pot. The amount of water can vary by watering.

Growing a Lemon Tree Outdoors

If you’re going to grow a lemon tree outdoors – best done in zones 9 through 11 – pick a site that gives your tree plenty of sun exposure.

You can skip this part if you’re not planting your lemon tree outdoors.

You’ll need to dig a hole twice the width and the same depth as the tree’s root ball. Once you put the tree into the hole, gently loosen the roots. 

Backfill the hole with two inches of compost and the removed soil. Then give the tree a healthy watering. You can also add a 2″ to 3″ layer of mulch over the area to keep the roots moist. But don’t get the mulch on the bark – this can cause root rot, encourage pests, and instigate certain citrus tree diseases.

growing a lemon tree outdoors

What Is the Best Care for a Lemon Tree? 

Lemon trees do not require much special care, other than the normal needs of water, light, and the proper growing medium. 

The More Light the Better You Tree Will Be

Indoor lemon trees require up to eight hours of daily direct sunlight. The more sunlight your tree gets, the happier it will be when producing flowers to fruit. 

lemons growing in a lemon tree with bright light

You’ll see the best indoor growth with open windows facing south to southwest. You can also use artificial grow lights if your trees can’t get the desired amount of natural sunlight. 

When planting lemon trees outdoors, choose a location that faces south. 

Have Well-Draining, Evenly Moist Soil

Lemon trees grown indoors require evenly moist soil. The best growing medium is a mix made for citrus or palm trees. You can also make a blend with compost, garden soil, and cocopeat in equal portions. 

The soil should be well-draining and contain a mix of aged manure and other organic matter. The pH should be between a slightly acidic 5.5 to a neutral 7. 

Outdoors prepare clay or poorly draining soil with compost or organic matter like manure. These components can improve the soil’s fertility and drainage.

Test the Soil to Know When to Water

Lemon trees love staying moist. The best way to decide when to water your trees is by the soil’s wetness. Wait until the dirt becomes dry 3″ down before watering your tree. 

The soil should stay moist but never be drenched or dried out completely. Establishing a regular schedule can help keep your trees healthy. 

watered lemons on tree

You can test the moistness by inserting your index finger into the dirt. Or use a moisture meter, which you can buy at garden centers or online. When watering, soak the soil until water drains out of the bottom of the pot. 

The frequency that your plants will need water varies by growing season. For example, in summer, your trees can require daily watering when grown in containers outdoors. In winter, only water to keep the dirt moist.

Lemon trees grown outdoors require watering once to bi-weekly, depending on your area’s rainfall averages.

Warm Days and Cool Nights With 50% Humidity

Temperature is also important for the ideal growth of lemon trees and for citrus trees in general. They thrive with cooler nightly temperatures around 65 degrees Fahrenheit. The ideal temperature range is between 50 and 82 degrees Fahrenheit or 10 to 28 Celsius. But be sure you keep your trees out of the way of drafts – hot or cold – from windows or vents.

lemon growing inside by window

Your indoor lemon trees can even enjoy some daily outdoor yard time during the summer months. However, you will need to gradually acclimate your plant once the frost threat is over. And bring it indoors before the frost comes in fall. Sudden changes in temperature or lighting can reduce fruit production or cause early dropping. 

Lemon trees grown indoors require a minimal humidity level of 50%. Use a plant humidifier or add a pebble tray under the pot to collect the excess water drainage. 

Best to Fertilize During Growing Season

Like most citrus trees, Lemon trees can benefit from a nitrogen-heavy fertilizer every three to four months during the growing season. 

Your tree’s age and the pot size will change the fertilizer needs. It’s better to follow the label’s directions on dosage and frequency. 

handful of fertilizer

Use the height of your tree to determine how to fertilize it. For a dwarf 3’ tall tree, apply the fertilizer around the tree’s base in a 3’ circle. Or, for a 9’ tree, do a 9’ circle and so on.

Lemon trees also need other essential nutrients like iron, copper, manganese, magnesium, and zinc.

There are several commercial fertilizers designed for the specific needs of citrus plants. First, choose a feed mix of 10-5-5 – 10 parts nitrogen to 5 parts potassium and five parts phosphorus. 

An NPK 20-20-20 or 12-6-6 slow-release fertilizer can be an alternative to citrus fertilizer. Or use a water-soluble fertilizer once monthly. 

How Can I Pick the Proper Pot Size?

Since you know your lemon tree will end up substantially large once mature, it might be tempting to choose a large pot and eliminate repotting. But it’s better to choose a pot that’s an appropriate ratio to the size of the tree. Too much soil can make it hard to tell when your tree needs watering. 

Start your immature nursery-purchased lemon tree in a pot at least 12″ in diameter. Then move up to double the width and depth as you report through the years. Always keep the pot 25% larger than the size of the plant’s root ball. Porous pots like clay or terracotta work great for letting the water evaporate from the dirt.

dwarf lemon tree growing in colorful pot

An ideal pot will have large drainage holes that remain unobstructed and allow water to empty fast. It should also keep the roots cool, avoiding dark colors – especially black. 

Repotting a Lemon tree

Lemon trees should get transferred to a new pot every few years at the beginning of spring. Or, do it in winter for warm climates. This period is when the tree is dormant and slow in growth.

What Is the Ideal Way to Harvest Lemons?

The best part of growing a lemon tree is the fragrant flowers that form into the bitter yellow fruit used for many drinks and dishes. 

When to harvest your fruit will vary by lemon species and the environment. You don’t want to pick your fruit too early, as they stop ripening once you take them off the tree.

You can tell when a lemon is ripe and ready for harvest by feel. A ripe lemon will be yellow, heavy, and soft. To harvest a lemon fruit, pull it from the tree

harvested lemons in a basket

If you use fertilizer on your trees, wash your fruits before using them. 

Can I Prune Lemon Trees?

Lemon trees grown indoors rarely need pruning. However, if you do need to perform trimming of the tree, you might need to wear long sleeves and a pair of gloves. 

Some lemon tree species have thorns, although most indoor species are thornless. If there are thorns, you might need to prune these prickly pieces from the roots around the soil level. 

Trim away any branches that grow inwards toward the tree trunk. Clearing these will allow better airflow and sunlight towards the tree’s middle. However, do not cut or prune the tree’s outer branches until after fruit season. These outside branches are where the fruit grows. You can also remove smaller branches that are less than the width of a pencil. 

Some trees may grow suckers from the roots, reducing your tree’s fruiting and damaging the tree’s health. Suckers are small growths from the parent plant that made the hybrid grow from the plant’s base and suck nutrients from the lemon tree.

pruned branches on a lemon tree

It’s necessary to remove any stray shoots coming up. Newly formed, green suckers are easy to break off at the base. But if the suckers have developed woody stems, you’ll need to use a pair of sharp, sterile shears to snip the branches flush with the trunk base. If you want to expand or propagate more lemon trees you can simply sever these and cut them out, before planting them in their own location.

You might also want to trim your lemon trees to create a certain shape. You can complete an open, hedge, or compact form. The traditional look is a bigger bottom and a smaller top for equal sunlight distribution. It should also have a clean, trimmed base. 

Lemon Tree Pinching

Lemon trees can have a bushier, thicker growth when you pinch the tips. Pinching the tips is an easy process. 

Use your fingers to pinch off new, tender growth that emerges once the tips on the branch reach 5″ to 6″ in length. Squeeze the tips between your fingers and pull. You may have to give the buds a twist to remove them. Use pruning shears for difficult tips. 

You should not prune or pinch your lemon trees until they go dormant. Evergreen lemon trees will not lose their foliage. But they will have slower growth once the fruits fall. Wait until early spring before new growth emerges for the best results. 

Can Lemon Tree’s Be Propagated?

Propagation of a lemon tree is best left to nurseries, as it can be a challenging and long-term process. For example, it can take a lemon tree grown from seed four to five years before it starts fruiting.

It’s better to visit a nursery and choose a dwarf plant two to three years old. Trees at this age are still growing, but most are ready to start producing fruit. They have likely already been grafted to another tree, ensuring they’re healthier and more likely to fruit.

Do I Need to Overwinter a Lemon Tree?

Potted lemon trees grown in USDA zones 9 to 11 don’t need much care in the winter. But because they cannot handle cold weather, you’ll need to overwinter your plants in lower zones.

Lemon trees cannot survive below 30 degrees Fahrenheit or -1 degree Celsius. Overwintering potted lemon trees is simple. 

young lemons growing after overwintering

Bring them inside or place them in a greenhouse once the temperature drops below 35 degrees Fahrenheit or 1.5 Celcius. 

What Are Some Potential Pests and Diseases?

Lemon trees can fall victim to several types of pests. Examine your plants regularly for signs of aphids, spider mites, scales, and mealybugs. 

Treat your trees with pesticides, neem oil, or insecticidal soap to rid infestations. Sterilize your gardening tools after each use with rubbing alcohol to prevent the transfer of diseases.

Common disease problems a lemon tree can experience include root rot and citrus canker. This disease can cause premature fruit and leaf dropping and deformities on the fruit. As the lesions ooze, rain and wind can make the infection – Xanthomonas citri subsp. Citri – spread to nearby citrus plants.

An approved fungicide can remove any diseased areas. But with citrus canker, you must remove infected fruits, tree clippings, and leaves. And be sure to clean the gardening tools after touching contamination.

Or you could remove the diseased and dead pieces. After removing the damaged parts from your plants, throw these pieces away or burn them in your yard if you can. Do not put them in your compost. As you might allow the disease to infect your compost pile. Then once you use your compost on your plants the contamination will spread to your healthy crops.

FAQ About Indoor Lemon Tree Care

Want to know more about lemon tree care? Check out many people’s frequently asked questions about growing a lemon tree. 

Do lemon trees grow well in pots?

Lemon trees can do well when grown in pots below USDA zone 9. When grown in pots, you can bring them indoors during the winter. 

How long do indoor lemon trees live?

A lemon tree can live over 50 years with the right growing conditions, fertilizer, and nutrition. But if you can keep your tree disease and pest free and healthy, there is the potential for your tree to live over 100 years. 

In containers, a lemon tree can have as long a life as plants grown outdoors in the yard. But you will need to keep repotting the plant as it grows until it reaches its full size. 

Where should you place a lemon tree when grown indoors?

Lemon trees do best in front of a window where they get bright direct sunlight exposure for a minimum of eight hours a day. They do best in a southern-facing window or with artificial light. 

Put your plants on a trolley or cart so you can move them indoors and outside without struggling with the heavyweight.

Are lemon trees hard to grow?

Lemon trees can be quite easy to grow as potted trees indoors as long as you give them the right care. Outdoor plants don’t need much maintenance once you pick the right growing area.

How can you tell if a lemon tree is overwatered?

An overwatered lemon tree is obvious by sight. It’s easier to overwater a lemon tree growing in a container because you can’t see when you’re drowning the plant. Your tree will look sickly once it gets too wet. 

Signs of overwatering include premature leaf shedding, leaves that turn yellow, or mold presence on the base of the plant. 

You may also notice burnt brown leaf tips, distorted leaf margins, or wilting, drooping, and curling leathery leaves. Your lemon tree might also have stunted growth and root rot.

Why are my lemon tree leaves turning yellow?

Lemon tree leaves that turn yellow typically show that your plant is experiencing issues with overwatering. 

Other causes of yellowing lemon tree leaves include soil nutrient deficiency, temperatures below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, spider mites or other pests infestations, and not giving your plant enough water.

Why Not Try Growing Your Own Indoor Lemon Tree?

Lemon trees can be a popular citrus tree choice for indoor or outdoor growth. Not only are the flowers aromatic and showy, but the glossy foliage can give you year-round color. And the bright, yellow fruit has numerous culinary and household uses. And best of all, using our helpful guide, lemon trees are easy to grow with minimal care and maintenance. 

When Life Gives You Lemons – Get a Houseplant!

Looking for plants to grow at home? Check out one of the articles below or dive into our growing guides of houseplant tips. Want to start growing lemon trees right away? Have a look at some of the necessary basics you need to get started.

Comment below or let us know your thoughts and feedback here. We love lemonade AND houseplants! 

Photo of author
Sara Trimble
Sara Trimble was the lady who could kill a cactus. Today, she’s the fun and fabulous expert plant mom who rocks at growing the coolest, trickiest plants. Her favorites to grow are orchids, roses, succulents, and luscious vines. Sara has grown – and killed – hundreds of plants and she shares her green-thumb successes and failures to help other plant murderers discover correct plant care. In her spare time, she raises four kids, two dogs, and a husband.

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