How to Plant, Grow, and Care for ‘Improved Meyer’ Lemon Bushes

If you love the sweet and delicate flavor of Meyer lemons, You’ll love the ‘Improved Meyer’ lemon bush. Florida gardener Melissa Strauss has the details to help to grow this sweet citrus bush.

A close-up of a Meyer lemon tree with vibrant yellow and green lemons hanging amidst lush, green leaves on delicate branches, basking in sunlight.

Contents

Citrus trees are some of the easiest fruit trees to grow and care for. Once established, they only need attention a few times per year. If, like myself, you love all things lemon, I’ve got a great little shrub that you’ve just got to read about. I adore Meyer lemons, and it’s not just because I share my maiden name with them. It’s because they are positively delicious!

Improved Meyer Lemon Bush

‘Improved Meyer’ Lemon Bushes:

  • are suitable for zones 8-11
  • grow a maximum of 12 ft. tall, and can be pruned to retain a small bush shape
  • have a sweeter taste than most lemon varieties

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Overview

Ripe yellow lemons dangle amidst vibrant green leaves, catching the sunlight.
These bushes can be container-grown in cooler climates.
Plant Type Evergreen
Family Rutaceae
Genus Citrus
Species x meyeri
Native Area China
Exposure Full sun
Height 6’-10’
Watering Requirements Low
Pests and Diseases Leaf miners, aphids, thrips, sooty mold, root rot, citrus aphids
Maintenance Low
Soil Type Loamy, sandy, well-draining, slightly acidic
Hardiness Zones 8-11

What are ‘Improved Meyer’ Lemon Bushes?

‘Improved Meyer’ lemon is a delightfully compact, semi-dwarf variety of this hybrid citrus species. Meyer lemons are a cross between a citron and another hybrid, the offspring of a pomelo and a mandarin. These trees are bred to produce fruits that have the punchy tang of a lemon tempered with a mellow mandarin flavor. The resulting fruit is rounder, sweeter, and more fragrant than the average lemon

These medium-sized bushes grow well in zones 8-11, with some extra winter protection in the northern part of their range. However, living in a cooler climate doesn’t mean you can’t grow one of these tasty plants. ‘Improved’ Meyer lemon bushes are small enough to grow quite nicely in a container. They also bloom more than once a year and can bear fruit nearly year-round.

Native Area

A ripe yellow Meyer lemon glistens with water droplets against a backdrop of lush green leaves.
Ancient Chinese cultivation led to the Meyer lemon’s popularity.

The ‘Meyer’ lemon is a hybrid citrus variety that originated in China. Frank Nicholas Meyer, of the US Department of Agriculture was responsible for bringing it to the United States. While he is not responsible for the breeding, his name became associated with the plant. Most likely, though, it has been in cultivation in China for thousands of years.

Characteristics

A close-up of Meyer lemon flower buds against a backdrop of lush green leaves, showcasing the promise of vibrant yellow blooms soon to emerge.
The deep green, glossy foliage accentuates the plant’s appeal.

The ‘Improved Meyer’ lemon is a semi-dwarf citrus with a shrubby appearance. It grows upwards to ten feet tall if left to its own devices, but it is easy to keep it small by pruning it. It is often kept as a container plant, as it is an attractive bush and adaptable to indoor growing.

Meyer lemons are not true lemons, but they have some lemon-like qualities. The fruit is rounder than a true lemon, with thinner skin. The skin is a rich orange-yellow color and has a strong but mellow lemon scent. The pulp of the fruit is deep yellow with a hint of orange and contains seeds. These lemons have a reputation for being extra sweet and juicy compared to other lemons. 

‘Improved Meyer’ lemon bushes can grow up to 10′-12′ tall, but they take very well to pruning. You can keep this plant small and still expect to see plenty of attractive fruit. The foliage is deep green, smooth, and glossy.

While a Meyer lemon can produce fruit at any time of year, the primary bloom time is in the spring. The flowers are white with purple accents on the outside of the petals. They have a strong and pleasing fragrance. I love to snip a few branches in the spring to add to early-season cut flower arrangements. The scent is simply wonderful. The bulk of their fruit matures in late fall to early winter. 

Propagation

These bushes are easy to propagate. There are three effective methods to try once your tree is mature and bearing fruit. These plants breed true from seed, and the fruits contain plenty of them. 

Seeds

Freshly cut Meyer lemons revealing their juicy interior, with prominent seeds adding texture and freshness to the citrusy display.
Optimal conditions ensure lemon seed germination.

Growing lemon bushes from seeds is not a difficult process, but your new plants will take several years to bear fruit. However, if you’re not in a hurry, you can grow a whole grove of trees from just a couple of these fruits. 

Before you plant your lemon seeds, soak them in water for 24-48 hours. This will help to soften the outer coating and make your seeds germinate faster. If you have seeds that float, toss them – they are unlikely to germinate.  Once you’ve soaked them, you will want to plant your seeds right away. Avoid allowing them to dry out again. Just before planting, nick the end of the seed with a sharp knife or scissors. 

Fill a pot or a number equal to the number of seeds you want to germinate, with moist, high-quality potting soil. The soil needs to have good drainage, so consider mixing in some perlite or sand. Plant your seeds about one half inch deep, and water them in. Cover your containers with plastic wrap to create a small greenhouse. 

Keep your seeds warm and moist. Light is not important until they have sprouted, which can take two to three weeks. Once they sprout, move them to a space where they will receive plenty of bright light. When your seedlings have three or more sets of leaves, you may need to move them into larger pots. 

Cuttings

A gardener's hands delicately snip thin lemon branches with scissors, the vibrant green leaves contrasting against the soft sunlight streaming through the windowsill.
Trim cuttings for maximum rooting space.

Propagating these lemon bushes from cuttings is very easy and will result in a fruit-bearing bush sooner than a bush grown from seed. Take your cuttings in late spring, when the bush is actively growing. You want to cut semi-hardwood rather than brand-new, soft growth. Your cuttings should come from new wood that has not flowered yet. 

Prepare as many containers as you plan to take cuttings. One-gallon nursery pots work well for this purpose. They give your cutting enough space to establish roots without transplanting them too soon. Fill your pots with moist, well-draining soil. 

Take cuttings of three to six inches long with more than two sets of leaves. Cut the stem at an angle to provide your cutting with maximum space for rooting. Take your cuttings at the same time that you intend to pot them, or keep them warm and moist in the meantime. 

Remove all but the top set of leaves from your cutting, and dip the cut end in rooting hormone to expedite the rooting process. Plant the cutting in your moist potting media. Placing a plastic bag over your cutting will help to maintain humidity and keep the cutting warm. Place your cuttings in bright light, and mist occasionally to keep them moist. 

It should take about two months for your cuttings to root. Give them a light tug to ensure that they are rooted. Seeing new growth is a sign of success. Allow your new baby bushes to grow in their pots until next year, when you can plant them outdoors. 

Layering

A lemon tree branch undergoing air layering, highlighted by the wrapped layer and surrounded by lush green leaves against a backdrop of blurred garden foliage.
This method involves rooting a cutting while attached to the parent plant.

Layering is another great way to propagate this plant. If you’re not familiar with the term, layering is a method of rooting a future cutting before you remove it from the parent plant. It might sound a bit complicated, but with a few necessary items and a dose of patience, it’s actually quite simple. 

Late spring is a good time to begin this process, as it gives your branch ample time to form roots.  You will need some peat moss, coconut coir, or other potting media. A layering propagation ball is a great tool, but in a pinch, plastic wrap and some ties will do. You’ll also need a sharp knife.

Choose a branch that is well-developed with some potential for more branching. Take your knife and cut lightly around the base of the branch in two places. These should be about an inch or two apart. Then, use your knife to lightly peel away the bark from between the two cuts, leaving a portion of the branch exposed. 

Surround the exposed area of the branch with moist peat moss or coco coir and then cover it with the rooting ball or plastic, and secure it. Potting soil will also work, but the non-soil types mentioned above are preferable. It will take several months for your branch to produce a substantial amount of roots. Be patient and allow Mother Nature to work her magic. 

You can check on your branch for rooting from time to time. You should see white roots begin to form. When there is a substantial amount of rooting, remove the encasement and cut through the branch just below the rooted section. Then, simply plant your new cutting in a pot and allow it to continue growing. You should be able to put your propagated plant in the ground by the following year. 

Planting

A close-up of a young boy, joyfully assisting his father as they plant a tree together, their hands gently placing the sapling into the rich, brown soil, surrounded by the vibrant greenery of their garden.
Enhance root growth with a wide and deep hole.

The ideal time to plant this bush in the ground is in late summer. Choose a site with full sun. Partial sun is ok in hot climates, where some afternoon shade will prevent scorched leaves. Make sure the space has excellent drainage to avoid issues with fungal root rot. 

Dig a hole that is three times the depth and width of your plant’s root ball. This loosens the soil, allowing for proper root development. Your plant will establish a stronger root system, faster. Backfill the hole partially with native soil, it is not necessary to use soil amendments when planting this bush. Top dressing with compost won’t hurt, though. 

Position your root ball so that the top of the root ball is even with, or just slightly higher than the surrounding earth. Once positioned in the direction you want your plant to grow, fill in around the root ball with native soil, tamping it down lightly. Water in deeply, right away. 

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How to Grow

Citrus trees are low maintenance, especially once they are established. Your ‘Improved’ Meyer lemon will need some extra care in the first year, but in the long term, this is an easy plant to grow

Light

A close-up of vibrant yellow Meyer lemons, nestled among lush branches adorned with glossy green leaves.
Bushes thrive best in partial sun in warm climates.

Depending on the climate, these bushes perform best in partial to full sun exposure. In hot climates, like zones 9 through 11, your bush will grow best in partial sun. Four to six hours of morning sun is best. More sun in the morning won’t hurt, but the afternoon sun can be very intense in warm climate areas. In zone 8, this plant should get full sun exposure.  

Water

A close-up of a Meyer lemon featuring a vibrant yellowish green lemon adorned with glistening water droplets, encircled by delicate, small leaves.
Mature lemon trees require minimal watering.

Climate and time of year are factors in how much supplemental watering your lemon bush will need. Your newly planted bush will need you to water it twice a week for the first two months and then once a week for the next three months. Once the roots establish themselves, your bush will be more drought-tolerant. Your lemon bush will need less water during the cooler months. 

I find my Meyer lemon to be very drought-tolerant now that it is a mature tree. At ten years old, I rarely have to water my lemon. Once your tree is mature, keep an eye on the leaves to determine whether it needs water. Curling leaves are a sign of dehydration. This plant needs an inch of water weekly once established. If your garden gets this much rainwater, don’t worry about watering this plant.

A potted Meyer lemon plant displays vibrant green unripe lemons, while other lush green plants fill the garden background.
Potted lemon trees need well-drained soil to avoid root rot.

Container plants are another story. Because this plant needs good drainage, its soil will dry out quickly in a container. You may need to water your potted lemon as often as every two to three days if it is outdoors. Indoors, wait until the top two inches of soil are dry before watering. Too much water can cause root rot in this plant. 

Soil

A close-up of a hand carrying a handful of brown soil, revealing its rich texture with tiny pebbles and organic matter.
The plant absorbs nutrients best in slightly acidic soil.

Your ‘Improved Meyer’ lemon bush will flourish in soil that is loamy, sandy, and well-draining. The soil should stay moist most of the time, but not soggy. Soil that is slightly acidic is a must for this plant. The nutrients in the soil break down in a way that the bush can absorb them, only when the soil is slightly acidic. 

Temperature and Humidity

A close-up of a potted Meyer lemon tree covered in snow, showcasing small, vibrant yellow fruits peeking through the frost, contrasting against the sturdy brown branches adorned with fresh green leaves glistening with icy crystals.
These lemon bushes thrive in humid conditions.

If you are keeping your bush indoors, maintaining a consistent temperature is the best way to keep your plant producing fruit. 70-80°F (21-27°C) is a good range for helping your plant put on new growth. If you want it to bear fruit, a slightly lower temperature will help that along. Temperatures in the range of 55-65°F (13-18°C) at night and about 10° higher during the day will induce flowering. 

These bushes flower in the spring when you grow them outdoors. These shrubs are hardy down to about 20°F (-7°C). They endure winters in zone 8 as long as they get a nice layer of mulch for the winter. My lemon bush had a difficult time bouncing back in the spring a few years ago. A cold snap that put us in the lower 20s and upper teens for four nights made all of my citrus lose their leaves. 

If you have an especially cold winter and your tree loses its leaves, give it a few months to come back. Don’t do any major pruning until the end of spring. By that point, you should have an idea of which branches are cold-damaged and which will grow new foliage. 

‘Improved Meyer’ lemon bushes love humidity. If you are growing your plant indoors, mist the leaves regularly. This will be important in the winter when forced heat can dry out the air. A pebble tray can be helpful in providing your lemon with some extra moisture in the surrounding air. 

Fertilizing

A close-up of a blue-gloved hand evenly spreading white granules of fertilizer over rich brown soil, ensuring nutrients are properly distributed for healthy plant growth.
Opt for citrus-specific fertilizers for best results.

Citrus trees like fertilizer. They need a lot of nutrients to produce all that delicious fruit! Citrus spikes make fertilizing easy, and they are long-lasting. Using a fertilizer formulated for citrus trees simplifies things. Extended-release formulas will keep the nutrients coming at a rate that is best for your bush. 

If you decide to go with liquid or granular fertilizer, stick with those made for citrus or fruiting trees. Apply fertilizer three times a year, in the spring, summer, and fall. This will help your lemon to develop lots of tasty fruit. 

Maintenance

A close-up of a Meyer lemon tree laden with lush yellow fruits, its vibrant green leaves sprawling across the branches, set against the backdrop of a spacious backyard belonging to a large white house.
Maintain tree shape by removing bottom branches.

For container lemon plants, you can prune the bush to stay small, making it easier to care for and more portable. Prune after harvesting the fruit. For bushes planted in the ground, pruning is a necessary part of growing this shrub. In the spring, after harvesting your lemons, inspect the plant to see what state it is in after the winter. 

If you want to maintain a bushy shape, leave the bottom branches intact. If you want more of a tree shape as the plant ages, remove those bottom branches and leave only two or three main trunks. Remove any dead or damaged branches for the general health of the plant. Remove any waterspouts. Waterspouts are new branches that grow straight upwards from another branch. 

Pruning the interior of the bush is important as well. Remove any crossing branches, which are branches that grow the wrong way through the center of the bush. Also, remove any branches that rub against others. If you want to keep your bush low to the ground for easy harvesting, you can ‘top’ a citrus tree. This means cutting the tallest branches down where they are more reachable. 

Harvesting

A hand, holding pruning shears, carefully snips a yellow ripe Meyer lemon from its branch, surrounded by brown branches and lush green leaves.
Meyer lemons are dark yellow with a hint of orange.

Picking lemons is not difficult. If your bush is an indoor plant and is fruiting year-round, just wait until the fruits are ripe before picking. A ripe Meyer lemon will be dark yellow with a hint of orange. They should be just slightly softened when you squeeze lightly. For outdoor plants, the majority of the fruit ripens in winter to very early spring depending on your climate. 

You can use your hands or a pair of hand shears to harvest your lemons. By hand, grasp the lemon in your whole hand and lightly twist as you pull. The riper they are, the more easily they will come away from the stem. You can also use those hand shears to snip a small bit of the stem. If you’re gifting lemons or using them decoratively, it looks nice to leave a bit of stem and a leaf attached. 

Uses

A person wearing a glove cleans a sink faucet with a cut Meyer lemon, the acidic juice removing grime.
This fruit excels not only in cooking but also in cleaning.

Lemons are great fruits that have many wonderful qualities. Lemons are a fantastic cleaning agent. You can use them to polish metal, clean a cutting board, or make the garbage disposal smell better. In the laundry, lemons will remove many tough stains, like rust and sweat stains. And these are just their non-food uses. 

Drinking lemon water in the morning has many known health benefits. It’s great for avoiding indigestion and provides a hefty dose of vitamin C, which boosts the immune system. Meyer lemons, in particular, make great baked goods and lemonade because they are already so sweet and mild compared to other lemons. I love the flavor of lemon combined with lavender for an elevated tea cookie or a delicious cocktail.

Common Problems

Lemon plants, and all citrus in general, are tough plants that hold their own against many diseases and pests. It’s always a good idea though, to keep an eye out for threats to your plant’s health

Nitrogen Deficiency

A close-up of Meyer lemon leaves exhibiting nitrogen deficiency, showing yellowing and browning along the edges, with veins appearing green, indicating chlorosis and necrosis due to insufficient nitrogen levels in the soil.
Test your soil and use sulfur to lower its pH.

Nitrogen deficiency is a common issue in Meyer lemon plants in neutral or alkaline soil. It appears in the oldest leaves first, turning them yellow. New growth will be thin and fragile. While this could appear to be an issue of not enough fertilizer, it’s usually a case of alkaline soil. Test your soil and amend it if needed. Sulfur is a good way to lower the pH of your soil. 

Diseases

A close-up of Meyer lemon roots affected by root rot, revealing brown, mushy roots surrounded by damp, dark soil, indicative of fungal infection.
Well-draining soil and avoiding overwatering are crucial.

The most common diseases to affect citrus trees are fungal diseases. Root rot is a serious issue that can compromise the life of your plant. Prevention is the key when it comes to root rot. Make sure that the soil where you plant your bush drains well and won’t stay soggy and wet. Try to avoid overwatering, as this can cause fungal issues, too. 

Sooty mold can be an issue for citrus. This grows as a result of insect excrement, which you can usually wipe away by hand. In severe cases, it can interfere with photosynthesis, damaging the overall health of the plant. This is why it’s important to stay on top of pest control, as the honeydew that aphids and mealybugs secrete is often the root of the cause. Careful pruning is an important part of caring for citrus trees, too.

Pests

A close-up reveals citrus leaf miner damage, showcasing pale, squiggly trails on vibrant green lemon leaves, indicating a pest infestation compromising foliage health.
Neem oil effectively combats citrus sap feeders.

Speaking of insects and the damage they cause, there are a few pests to look out for on your lemon bush. Leaf miners can be a pain for citrus plants. These pests make your plant’s leaves look unsightly and shriveled. They won’t harm the fruit, but they can really make the plant look bad. Removing any affected foliage can help to control these insects. Neem oil is also effective. Avoid spraying any insecticides on your citrus while there are flowers blooming. It is harmful to pollinators. 

Aphids and thrips are also known to feed on citrus sap. They pierce the skin of leaves and stems, draining the plant of valuable nutrients and moisture. They can also spread honeydew, leading to sooty mold. A strong stream of water from a hose will remove these pests from your lemon bush. Neem oil is a good treatment for these as well. In more severe cases, horticultural oils will help knock out pest populations. 

Final Thoughts

‘Improved Meyer’ lemon bushes are a great alternative to less cold hardy types of citrus. This well-adapted dwarf citrus is easy to grow in the garden, and it makes an excellent container plant. Be careful about giving your plant too much, or too little water to avoid fungal issues. Aside from that, you should have beautiful, sweet Meyer lemons in no time!

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