Got Lemons? It’s Easy to Grow Your Own Tree

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After a week of record breaking low temperatures outside, I enjoyed some much needed sunshine inside in the form of a handful of fresh  lemons and limes, courtesy of the potted trees in my dining room and study. I’ve been growing citrus trees for about ten years in a climate better suited for ferns than Florida’s finest, and I’m here to tell you it’s not really that difficult. Here are my tips for growing citrus in a crummy climate (crummy in the tree’s eye, not mine).

Tips for Growing a Citrus Tree in a Pots

  1. Lemon and lime trees are easier to grow (for me at least)
  2. Preferred varieties: Meyer lemon and Bearss lime
  3. Oranges (Mandarin, Satsuma, Navel) require greater growing care
  4. Oranges seem more susceptible to pests like spider mites and white fly
  5. Oranges have the most heady fragrance
  6. Oranges rarely produce fruit for me
  7. Pick a large enough pot, at least 14″  diameter, and depth
  8. Use high quality potting soil, and time release fertilizer (osmocote)
  9. Bring indoors before first frost
  10. Place in front of sunniest windows
  11. Rotate pot weekly, so back becomes front
  12. Water when soil dries out
  13. Keep deep saucer under pot
  14. Prune out dead branches (encourages new growth)
  15. Place outdoors after last frost
  16. Needs at least 5-6 hours of good sunlight
  17. Keep it watered well outdoors
  18. If leaves turn yellow, add liquid fertilizer

blog_got_lemonsMy Meyer Lemons usually ripened around Christmas, a time when Shaker Lemon Pie is on the menu.

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When the fear of frost has left the garden, I lug the potted citrus trees outside to their sunny vacation spots. (I recommend a dolly as the trees get bigger and the gardener gets older.)

Some other things to consider.

  • By the end of some winters, the trees can look bad, about a leaf drop away from the compost pile.  At that point I’m ready to take them outside where they recover nicely.
  • I’ve had some trees turn yellow and drop their leaves completely. They may look dead, but they’re not. Surprisingly, the trees rebound and bring on new foilage in due time, especially when at the end of winter taken back outside.
  • Start out with just one tree and give it a try. I really have too many now (1 Mandarin orange, 1 Navel orange, 2 Meyer lemons and 1 Bearss lime). I’m tripping over trees in my house in the winter months.
  • It’s okay to buy a small tree, as they grow quickly and you can prune them to desired height. I keep mine from 3-5 feet.
  • Where to buy? During the summer months I’ve found Home Depot stocks them in small growing tubes in their garden centers. I’ve also purchased a favorite online source: Peaceful Valley Organics. In addition, your local full-service nursery will likely stock them as a novelty plant (for northern gardeners).

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Boz shares the fleeting rays of a late autumn day with my little Mandarin orange tree.blog_shaker_lemon_pie

This is a gussied-up holiday version of Shaker Lemon Pie (one of my favorites). You use the entire lemon, rind and all, making for a unique marriage of flavors. It’s a pie I can relate to:  sweet, sour, buttery and flaky.

What I was blogging about one year ago A Winter Guest Is Obliged to Stay.

17 COMMENTS

  1. Wow! This pie looks fabulous! My mouth is watering…
    You have certainly found your calling and I envy you for it. Merry Christmas.

  2. Tom, You amaze! Your lemon tree looks gorgeous. Hard to think that was grown indoors on Vashon. You have a special touch 🙂 And words do not describe that tart.

  3. The big guy and I were just talking about how much we’ll miss our meyer lemon tree when we’re back in Oregon. Now we don’t have to miss it afterall. Thanks for the tips Tom. Now about that tart. Wow!

  4. How about avocados? Can you grow those? I am very impressed with the lemons and am already thinking I should add a little window just for a lemon tree. A.D. might be wearing your shoes, but I think you have MY green thumb. Please give it back.

    • Renae, everything I’ve read about growing avocados as a houseplant, states that while the small tree is handsome in its foilage, don’t expect it to produce fruit indoors. Apparently, it takes at least 10 years for an avocado tree to mature into fruiting. So I think I’ll stick to citrus and as for your Green Thumb; finders, keepers.

  5. Gotcha – just came from Smitten Kitchen cause I finally gave up on hunting through my hundreds of cookbooks looking for a recipe for Shaker Lemon Pie and noticed your comment. Unless I’m blind or stupid (though it could be both), I can’t find a recipe on your site…..should I use Meyers in this tart and/or would it be better with regular lemons? Any other suggestions?

  6. I have always wanted a lemon tree, but just haven’t gotten around to buying one. I do have an avocado that I started from pit 3 years ago. It’s doing beautifully, altho’ you would think that at 3 years of age it would be bigger than it is. It summers outdoors, but I don’t think I will ever see an avocado on it here in Minnesota. I hope that you, Boz and Gracie have a wonderful Christmas. We are expecting a major snowstorm and are very excited.

  7. We added a sunroom to our house 1 1/2 years ago and I’ve been dreaming of adding a Meyer lemon tree. I am so happily surprised by how many lemons yours produces! I’m going to start dropping hints for my bday.

    BTW – is Boz an English bulldog? I’ve been trying to coax my husband into getting us a dog and I told him I was leaning toward an Eng. bulldog cause they kind of look like him. : )

  8. I just found your blog and I can’t even begin to tell you how relieved I was to read about winters indoors with citrus trees. I bought a lemon and lime tree last year and brought them inside. Both of them are hanging on for dear life (poor lime tree now has 4 leaves on it!) I’ll keep fighting the good fight with them and hopefully they will recover!

    You are now writing my “most favoritest” blog. Our life- goal is to leave Seattle and find a little place on Vashon with a lot of room to grow food and cook. Until I get there, I’m so glad I can live vicariously through you.

    • Thanks Jo for the nice comments, and as for your citrus, keep the faith. I’ve some with complete leaf drop that I put outside after danger of frost and they totally rebounded.

  9. Tom,

    I’m so excited to see all the fruit on those trees! I have a little meyer lemon tree in the living room in Seattle and got a grow bulb for my floor lamp for it. I *think* I have three little lemons on it but really need to get some fertilizer. So I can move it out in May, eh? Maybe I’ll get a lime tree too! This is so exciting. I have noticed green aphids on it lately which I am carefully picking off. Osmocote. Got it. I just love your blog. I don’t know how I never noticed the RSS feed before – now you just need a “subscribe to comments” option.

    And Jo – I live in Seattle and am growing all our veg & hopefully fruit year round on a small part of my 1/4 lot. Maybe you don’t need to wait for Vashon?

  10. Hi Annette, yep if you can put the lemon tree in front of a south facing window, that would really help too. I set mine out after the last projected frost date which is March 22 for Seattle and April 15 if you really want to be safe. I find they like filtered sunlight at first, not too direct as it may burn their anemic little light-deprived leaves. I move them into more sunlight as the weather improves and they are more acclimated. Definitely fertilize during the growing season. Good luck!

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