Soft Lemon Fruit – Why Container Grown Lemons Have Gone Soft

Lemon Tree Growing In A Large Container
(Image credit: ChiccoDodiFC)

Lemon trees produce marvelous fruit that is equally at home in sweet and savory recipes. The perfect juicy lemon can be the one simple ingredient that puts the “wow” factor into a dish, but what happens if your lemons have gone soft? Lemons may get soft before they are ripe – be it soft lemons on a tree or soft lemon fruit that occurs during storage. Of course, the question you may be asking is “Why are my lemons soft?”

Why are My Lemons Soft?

Understanding why you may have soft lemons means understanding how lemons ripen. Here’s the thing, lemons may be bright yellow before they are ready to eat, or they may still be green but perfectly juicy and citrusy inside. This, of course, means that the ripeness of lemons isn’t easy to decipher based on color alone.

While size is somewhat of an indicator, the best way to tell if a lemon is ready to eat is to taste it. Additionally, lemons can live on a tree for several months without suffering any adverse effects, but wait too long to pick them and you may notice the lemons have gone soft.

So, there is a line not to cross with regards to picking ripe lemons. Lemons do not ripen further once picked and, yet, left too long on the tree you get soft lemon fruit.

Additional Reasons for Soft Lemons on a Tree

Another reason for finding soft lemons on a tree may have to do with neglect, specifically with container grown lemon trees. Container grown lemons will dry out faster than those planted directly into the ground, especially if planted in terra cotta pots. A glazed pot will help the tree retain water up to a point, but when summer is at its peak and temperatures soar, the tree will need extra irrigation. If you forget to water this citrus tree, you will end up with dehydrated, soft lemon fruit.

Soft lemons may also be attributed to disease. There are a number of diseases that may result in soft lemon fruit, especially if the lemons get soft before they are ripe. This softness is usually accompanied by other symptoms such as brown spots, mold, or mildew of some type.

Can You Use Soft Lemons?

If you have soft lemon fruit, you’re probably wondering if it is still edible. The short answer is no, but there is a caveat. If there is no mold on the lemon and it still smells fresh and citrusy, it is probably safe to use it. It should probably only be used in cooking; however, and not as fresh lemon fruit or juice.

That said, it is always better to err on the side of caution. If your lemons have gone soft, use them instead for household cleaning projects or slice and place them into the garbage disposal to freshen it up.

Amy Grant

Amy Grant has been gardening for 30 years and writing for 15. A professional chef and caterer, Amy's area of expertise is culinary gardening.