Lemon Tree Care: How To Grow A Lemon Tree

Once you know how to grow a lemon tree you’ll never want to be without one. In the home garden or in a pot, lemon trees are one of life’s delights.

A Lemon Tree Full Of Yellow Lemons
(Image credit: Ulrika)

Meet the Lemon Tree

Lemon tree, very pretty - who doesn’t know the old folk song? If you’re wondering how to grow a lemon tree, you’ve arrived at the right place. Lemon trees are truly lovely additions to the home garden or orchard given their lacy spring blossoms and bright yellow, tart fruit. This small evergreen tree can be grown in the soil in warm-winter climates or in a container that is overwintered indoors. 

How to Plant a Lemon Tree

When planting lemon trees, remember that the trees are best adapted to semi-arid to arid subtropical or Mediterranean climates. They are among the citrus that are the most cold-sensitive, only tolerating winters in USDA zone 9 and above. So select the warmest spot available for outdoor planting, a site that gets full sun and is protected from cold winds. 

Basic Lemon Tree Care

Growing lemon trees is fairly low-maintenance compared with other fruit trees. As with most fruit trees, lemon trees require ample water during the growing season and regular applications of nitrogen fertilizer. Pruning of this evergreen tree is rarely required, simplifying lemon tree care.

Water & Light Requirements

When selecting a site for planting a lemon tree, consider its light requirements. Lemon trees fruit and flower best when located in a location with lots of direct sunlight. The trees require regular irrigation during the growing season.

Soil & Fertilizer Needs

Lemon trees grow best in fertile, well-draining soil. They do best growing in soil with a pH of 5.5 to 6.5. As far as fertilizer goes, the tree should be fertilized during the growing season with nitrogen fertilizer. 

Pruning Lemon Trees

While the lemon tree is young, the only pruning required is to snip out any suckers that grow below the graft. Any water sprouts that are close to other branches should also be pruned out. 

When a tree starts fruiting at about five years, remove any dead, damaged, diseased, crossing, or too closely spaced branches. You can also remove any lemon tree branches that touch the ground. 

Propagating Lemon Trees

Lemon trees are usually propagated by grafting or budding onto hardy rootstocks.  They can also be propagated by planting seeds although the resulting trees will not be mirror images of the parents.

Common Pests & Diseases

Lemon trees are vulnerable to mealybugs, citrus leafminer, red spiders and scale. They can also suffer from some disease issues, including citrus canker, sooty mold, aphids, anthracnose, fuzzy gray mold and brown spots, and lemon scab.

Harvesting Lemons

You should allow lemons to ripen on the tree. They are ready to harvest as soon as they are yellow and about 2 to 3 inches (5 to 7.6 cm) in size. 

Growing a Lemon Tree Indoors

Lemons can make happy houseplants - within a normal temperature range of 70 degrees F during the day and 55 F at night. This is fortunate for those living in hardiness zones under USDA zone 9. In these zones, the tree will not survive the winter weather outside but can be grown in containers and overwintered indoors. A lemon tree container should contain well-draining, slightly acidic soil and have adequate drain holes. Use grow lights if there is not ample sunlight in the home.

Lemon Tree Varieties

If you want to start growing a lemon tree, there are a few varieties to choose from. The Eureka variety produces vigorous trees with a late winter and spring harvest. For a different look, select the pink variegated Eureka with variegated leaves. 

The Improved Meyer is in a category of its own as it is a hybrid between a lemon and mandarin or orange. This variety is frost hardy into the low 20s and bears sweet, juicy fruit almost year round.  

Teo Spengler

Teo Spengler has been gardening for 30 years. She is a docent at the San Francisco Botanical Garden. Her passion is trees, 250 of which she has planted on her land in France.