A smiling woman smells a lemon growing on a tree
(Image credit: Johner Images)

Lemon trees offer deep-green foliage, fragrant blossoms, and canary yellow fruit, making them a popular backyard plant. But if you’re without a backyard or if you live in a cold climate, you may wonder if you can grow a lemon tree indoors. You can, and although growing citrus indoors is not always easy, there are several dwarf lemons that have become popular houseplants. Read on for information about growing an indoor lemon tree.

Why Grow Indoor Lemon Trees?

Lemon trees are often included in a backyard orchard. The fragrance of their showy white flowers is beautiful, and the bright lemon fruits are lovely. But lemon trees cannot survive weather below 22 degrees F (5.5 C). This means that those who live in cold-weather climates must grow container trees that are overwintered outdoors.

Container grown lemons can make excellent houseplants if they have the proper environmental conditions. However, you’ll need to pick the right cultivar.

Buying Container Lemon Trees

If you are ready to grow a lemon tree indoors, the first step is to select one of the dwarf cultivars that works well as a houseplant. Perhaps the most popular selection is the Meyer lemon. The Ponderosa cultivar can also be used. Other types of lemon trees can work if they are grafted on dwarf cultivars.

Purchasing a potted lemon tree plant at the garden store has its advantages. The young tree is already established and it will fruit earlier, often the same year you bring it home.

Potting Up Your Lemon Tree

If you are putting the new lemon tree in a new pot, you’ll want to select one that is larger than its prior container. Use a well-draining potting mix, ideally a slightly acidic one. Alternatively, you can add some peat to the mix to help reduce the pH. If you want to mix your own soil, use one-third sterile potting soil, one-third perlite or vermiculite and one-third peat.

Positioning Your Lemon Tree

You can opt to move the lemon tree outdoors during the summer months if you have a backyard, then move it back into the house in the winter. It is also possible to simply keep it indoors as a houseplant, although it is more likely to fruit if you put it outside in summer.

The lemon tree is not likely to fruit unless you place it in a sunny spot. Place the tree in bright, direct light - like a west or south-facing window - while indoors during the fall and winter. To fruit, the tree must receive 6 to 8 hours of direct light. If you are putting it outside in summer, place the tree in the shade of a tree for a few days to acclimate to lower light before moving it inside.

Caring for Your Lemon Tree

Citrus plants need moist, but well-drained soils. With too little water, the lemon’s leaves will start dropping. Water them regularly but not too much. The soil should be moist but not wet. With too much water the roots will rot. Fertilize the indoor lemon tree during the growing season. You will find high-nitrogen fertilizers in the garden store that are made specially for citrus trees.

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.