Most people don’t realize that it is possible to grow a lemon tree as a houseplant and get it to actually produce fruit that you can harvest.
The most challenging decision I have all year is whether to ration my lemons and squeeze them over food or squeeze them all into a jug and make the most beautiful homegrown refreshing lemonade you will ever taste.
That’s why I’ve made this complete guide on how to grow a dwarf lemon tree indoors to show people it is achievable to grow lemons with no garden if you live in a city apartment like me.
To grow a lemon tree indoors simply place your tree somewhere that gets 7-12 hours sunlight and water it once per week. Use a citrus fertilizer during the summer months. If your tree needs additional light use an indoor grow lamp to top it up.
What sort of lemon tree is best for indoor growing?
If you are growing a lemon tree inside it is best to choose a dwarf variety.
A Ponderosa dwarf, Lisbon, or a Meyer lemon tree is an ideal option as it is easy to grow indoors.
If you grow a standard lemon tree it will simply grow into a full-size tree and most people can’t fit and don’t want a full-size tree in the living room!
Should I grow a lemon tree from seed or buy a young tree?
If you decide to save some seeds from a lemon that you have bought in a shop it will likely come from a full-size lemon tree so that is what you will grow.
It takes between 2 and 6 years for a seed planted lemon tree to mature into a fruit-bearing plant.
It is worth the wait if you have patience but for my lemon tree, i bought a dwarf variety that was approximately 2 years old.
How to germinate lemon seeds
To germinate a lemon seed don’t bother with the paper towel method.
Simply suck any remaining lemon pulp from the seed. The seed must be fresh and not dried out, place the seed about half an inch deep in the soil.
Water the soil but don’t drench it, cover the pot with clear plastic wrap and seal with an elastic band and make a few small holes in the plastic.
Place it somewhere sunny but keep the soil damp. After a couple of weeks when it has sprouted take the plastic off and take good care of your plant.
What sort of pot should I use for a lemon tree?
When you are growing a lemon tree in a pot you need to allow for good drainage, so make sure the pot has some drainage holes in it and place some stones inside the bottom of the pot.
Figure out where you are going to position your tree in the house and use the biggest pot possible for that area, the bigger the pot the bigger the tree.
Only re-pot during the summer as the tree needs to be at a growing phase so that it stays healthy in its new pot.
What sort of soil should I use for a lemon tree?
Lemon trees can grow in practically any type of soil although they will grow best in loamy or sandy loam soils, any pre-mixed sterile potting soil that is designed for container plants will do.
To make your own soil mix 4 parts ground pine or fir bark and 1 part sand.
Don’t use standard garden soil as that will become too dense once it’s in a container and may lead to drainage problems.
How much light does a Lemon Tree require?
Lemon trees require lots of light 7 to 12 hours of sunlight is ideal, but it will still grow with less than ideal light, just more slowly.
If this is a problem for your indoor growing plans you may want to purchase an LED grow lamp. LED grow lights are not expensive to run and will help your plant flourish.
I have my grow lamp on a 12-hour timer and make sure it is off during the night as plants also need to sleep!
You may want to use a grow lamp during the winter months to top up the light your tree receives.
How often should I water my lemon tree?
You should water your lemon tree when the soil is nearly dried out or only slightly damp.
Stick your finger in the soil as deep as you can go and if it feels dry and dusty it’s time to add more water.
This will typically be every 5-7 days depending on the conditions. Keep an eye on it and decide your own schedule for watering, you want to keep the soil moist but not soggy.
What sort of air is best for lemon trees?
Lemon trees prefer a humid environment, you can achieve this indoors by giving it a regular misting or placing a humidifier next to it (make sure you don’t get any grow lights wet!).
What temperature is best for indoor lemon trees?
Lemon trees do have ideal temperature requirements that are best for producing fruit.
If the temperature drops below 20 degrees Fahrenheit it may damage the fruits and plant.
If the temperature rises above 104 F the growth will almost completely stop.
The ideal temperature for a lemon tree is between 77 and 86 degrees Fahrenheit.
This temperature range with plenty of light is the optimum condition for growth, flowers and fruit production.
Some people keep their lemon tree outside during the summer and move it indoors only for the winter.
What is the best fertilizer for lemon a tree in a pot?
If you want to grow a lush lemon tree that grows healthy foliage and produces fruit then you will have to use fertilizer.
Look for a specialist citrus tree fertilizer or a fertilizer that contains manganese, zinc and iron.
Apply the fertilizer once a month during the summer growing season and don’t apply any during the winter months when the tree isn’t at the growing phase.
Check out my article of the best fertilizer for fruit trees in containers for more details.
How to prune an indoor lemon tree in a pot
To encourage healthy growth and fruit production then it will be necessary to occasionally prune your lemon tree.
You should remove any weak branches or new sprouts as you want all the energy going to the branches that produce fruit.
The best time to prune a lemon tree is between February and April this is usually the time the tree is producing flowers.
How to pollinate a lemon tree?
When a lemon tree is outside insects like bees and even the wind will help to naturally pollinate a lemon tree, however when you have an indoor lemon tree then you will have to pollinate it by hand.
Look inside a flower and the long stem in the center is the female part, when it is ready to receive pollen the top of this stem will be sticky. The other stems in the flower are the male parts that produce yellow pollen that you will be able to see.
To pollinate by hand simply use a soft paintbrush or feather and brush the pollen from the male part onto the sticky female part. You will have to do this in turn with every flower.
Should I thin out any heavy clusters of lemons?
You may want to thin out any clusters that have more than 2 lemons on them.
This allows the remaining fruits to grow into a larger more healthy specimen instead of having lots of small unhealthy fruits.
Some lemon trees follow a pattern of alternative years of a big crop and a then a small crop, this is normal so don’t panic.
When to pick lemons from a potted tree
It will take several months from your lemons first appearing on your tree as small green lemons to turn into beautiful yellow lemons that are ripe for picking.
When they are ready for picking they will be 2 – 3 inches in size and will be yellow or yellow/ green.
When lemons are ready to be picked they will have a glossy appearance and that is the main signal they are ready.
It is better to pick your lemons too soon rather than too late as they will ripen when they are off the tree.
How to store freshly picked lemons from the tree
The best place to store lemons is on the tree as they will be good for several months on the tree.
When you pick lemons off the tree they will only be good for about a week if you leave them at room temperature.
To extend the freshness of your lemons place them in a bowl of water and place the bowl in the fridge or place them in a sealed plastic bag in the fridge, this will extend the life of your lemons.
These methods will extend the freshness of your lemons for months.
What to do if your lemon tree stops producing fruit
Lemon trees take between three to five years to start producing fruit.
Some trees have a cycle of producing lots of fruit one year then producing less fruit the next and alternate on that cycle.
If your tree stops producing fruit check the soil is ideal for lemon trees this would be a pH between 5.5 and 6.5.
Check you are using the correct nitrogen-rich fertilizer and are applying the correct dosage if your not using fertilizer then start to!
Inspect the tree in case there are any pests infestations and check the soil is not too wet, overwatering a lemon tree is not good.
To grow a lemon tree outdoors
It is not difficult to grow a lemon tree outdoors.
Plant your lemon tree in a spot with good drainage as they don’t like excessive water.
Ideally, you want to spread compost or mulch around the tree on the surface, this will help keep competing weeds away and will give the ground good nutrients as it decomposes.
Water your lemon tree regularly during the summer months but only if required during the winter months.
To winterize your tree wrap the trunk in several layers of cardboard to insulate it. Cover your tree completely at night to keep frost off and uncover it during the day so it gets light.
Frost or Freezing conditions can kill a lemon tree!
Common lemon tree problems and how to solve them
There are many things that can go wrong with a lemon tree, here are some of them and ways to solve them:
Yellowing leaves – If yellow leaves start to appear on your tree this probably suggests they are not getting enough food. Make sure you are watering them regularly and using a fertilizer that is good for citrus trees and at the right dosage. It may also suggest your tree isn’t getting enough light. You may want to purchase a grow lamp to solve this.
Lemon Scab – This is tiny lumps or bumps that appear on the fruit or actual tree. This does not affect the taste of your fruit and some people just leave it alone, other people spray the tree with copper as that heals the tree.
Fruit Drop – This is normal on young trees that are producing more fruit than it can handle so some drop-off.
In mature trees, if this happens it may be because of a change in environment or if it is in the cold wind or a sudden change of temperature. Make sure your tree is getting enough water and if you are moving a tree don’t put it in the cold wind or frosty wet conditions.
Leaf Drop – Leafs will naturally drop of a lemon tree after 3 or 4 years. If lots suddenly drop off at once then this is not normal. Your lemon tree may be getting too cold if this happens and check the amount of water you are feeding it as too much or not enough may cause leaves to suddenly drop off.
Sooty Mold – This is a black fungus that grows on citrus trees. It attracts insects so it is not good. Simply wash it off then you may want to use pesticide to deal with any insects that it may have attracted.
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