Meyer Lemon Tree Care: It’s Sweeter Than You Think!

When life gives you lemons, plant a tree to grow more! With proper Meyer lemon tree care, lemons are a succulent delicacy that you can grow in your own home, no matter where you live.

Meyer lemons are less acidic than the traditional grocery-store ones. This gives them a sweeter flavor that chefs and lemonade drinkers go crazy for. The tree itself is lively and colorful with its plentiful yellow-orange fruit and vibrant, evergreen foliage. Twice a year, it makes a show with clusters of white flowers that will freshen up the room with their citrusy fragrance.

All these exciting characteristics, along with easy care, make the Meyer lemon tree the most popular citrus to grow in the United States. It’s rarely sold in grocery stores, so gardeners are eager to grow it themselves. Once we’re done discussing this striking tree, you’ll want to join in on the fun!

This post is sponsored by Fast Growing Trees, a quality source for Meyer lemon trees and many other species.

Good Products For Growing A Meyer Lemon Tree:

Quick Care Guide


Common NameMeyer Lemon Tree, Improved Meyer Lemon Tree, Perfect Lemon Tree, Dwarf Meyer Lemon Tree
Scientific NameCitrus x meyeri “Improved”
Month(s) of Harvest4-8 months
LightFull sun
WaterWater deeply when the top of the soil dried out.
SoilLoamy and well-draining.
FertilizerApply once a month from spring to fall.
PestsMites, scale insects, aphids, whiteflies
DiseasesGreasy spot, citrus canker, Phytophthora Gummosis, root rot

About Meyer Lemons

Meyer lemon blossoms
Slightly pink before opening, Meyer lemon flowers turn bright white once unfurled. Source: Living in Monrovia

Meyer lemon trees are suspected to be a cross between a traditional lemon and mandarin orange. They were originally imported from China but contained a threatening citrus virus. In 1975, the University of California produced the kind we grow today. These are often called “Improved” or “Perfect” lemons because they’re resistant to the citrus virus found in earlier Meyer lemon cultivars.

Meyer lemon trees grow like shrubs but can be trained to grow as full trees. When planted in containers, they’re usually kept to fit the size of the pot (around 4 feet tall or less). When planted in the ground, they can reach 8-10 feet tall and spread 12 feet wide.

Because they’re hybrids, these citrus trees produce fruit best if they’re grown on existing rootstock instead of seed. Newly grafted trees usually take around 2 years to begin bearing fruit. Meyer lemon trees sold by nurseries will usually be grafted to rootstock.

Planting Meyer Lemon Trees

Plant your lemon tree in late winter or early spring before the growing season starts. This will give it a little time to settle in before getting to work. If you live in zones 8-11, you can put it straight in the ground. In colder climates, you’ll have to use a container and keep it indoors at least during the winter.

Once you’ve acquired your baby lemon tree and have a spot picked out, gently slide it out of the original container. Take a second to massage the root ball loose and remove any dead or dying roots. Spread out the root ball so that the roots aren’t twisted together. Plant it so the upper roots are just barely visible at the soil surface. Then, pat the soil down and give it a good drink.

Meyer Lemon Tree Care

Meyer flowers starting to form fruit
Tiny fruit form from the flower ovaries as little green ovals. Source: Rockin’Rita

Care is generally simple but has little room for deviance. If you want to get the most out of your Meyer lemon tree, these care tips need to be followed.

Light & Temperature

Because they’re citrus trees, Meyer lemons need at least 8-10 hours of sunlight in order to grow fully and produce fruit. This tree can develop sunburned leaves, so keep an eye out for symptoms of that. For best growth, choose a location where it gets full sun in the morning and indirect light during the afternoon heat. Make sure it’ll receive the right amount of light year-round.

The temperature should be between 50 and 80° F for best growth. If container-grown, your tree should be brought indoors if the temperature drops below 50° F for a prolonged period of time. Protect the tree from strong and cold winds.

How Often to Water

Meyer lemon fruit trees like their soil moist but not soaked. Water it deeply until the water comes out through the drainage holes. To avoid flooding the tree, wait for the top few inches of the soil to dry out before watering again. With this fruit tree, it’s much better to underwater than overwater it.

Make sure to clean up extra water that leaks out of the pot and periodically check the drainage. Too much water can drown the roots, attract insects, and lead to bacteria and fungal growth.

For trees planted directly in the soil, gauging the soil moisture is important. They prefer their soil to be moist, but not soggy or muddy.

Young trees will require more water as they’re developing and should be watered at least once a week. During hot weather, more water’s necessary to keep young saplings alive. Older trees can be watered less frequently, but will still like between 3-6 inches of water every couple weeks. For these older trees, a deeper, slow watering using a drip irrigation system is best.

Soil

The soil is one of the most important components of keeping any plant alive. When growing Meyer lemons, you’ll need soil that’s loamy and well-draining. Make your own loamy mix by mixing equal parts soil (a sandy soil or slightly-silty soil is fine), perlite, and sphagnum peat moss. Alternately, look for a pre-mixed potting soil for citrus trees.

Meyer lemon trees prefer a soil pH of 5.5-6.5 (mildly acidic to neutral). This is very typical of citrus trees and easy to accommodate. If you don’t know the pH of your soil, have it tested and then adjust as needed.

Fertilizing

Meyer lemons are heavy feeders, so you’ll need to fertilize frequently. Depending on the fertilizer you choose, fertilize your tree once a month during the growing season. Use a specialty citrus fertilizer that’s high in nitrogen.

If slow-release is more your style, apply a balanced dose at the beginning of the growing season. Reapply throughout the season as often as the package instructs. Regardless of your fertilizer choice, you can give the tree an extra boost by supplementing with a diluted liquid fertilizer such as compost tea or fish emulsion.

Pollinating

Immature Meyer lemons on tree
The dark green, unripe fruit of a Meyer lemon in development. Source: laurenipsum

Meyer lemon trees are self-pollinating, so you don’t have to worry about finding yours a companion. In nature, they’re often pollinated by the wind or insects.

If your tree lives indoors during the spring and summer, you’ll have to fill in for the bees. Using a cotton swab or paintbrush, gently gather pollen from one flower and dust it onto another. Pollination is absolutely crucial if you want to get lemon fruit from your tree.

Growing in Containers

It’s very common for Meyer lemon trees to be grown in containers – especially in cold climates. You’ll need at least a 5-gallon container that has drainage holes. If it’s too heavy to lift with the tree in it, use a moving dolly or ask a friend to help you move it. Repot the tree every other year as needed so it doesn’t get rootbound.

If it’s indoors, place your lemon tree by a window that gets consistent sunlight throughout the day. Remember that these trees need lots of light, so supplement with a grow light if needed. Rotate the tree every so often to give it even light exposure.

Move the tree inside or outside only when the temperatures are relatively the same. Otherwise, the sudden temperature difference may shock the plant. If you’ve just moved it outside, keep it in the shade for a few weeks so it can adjust to the abundance of light.

Along with temperature differences, zones 8-11 often have higher humidity than cooler areas. You can add extra ambient humidity to the room with a humidifier. A pebble tray under the tree can also provide additional humidity.

Note that if your tree is exclusively indoors, the fruit may take a whole year to ripen.

Pruning / Training

Pruning your Meyer lemon tree to keep the size contained and the branches strong enough to hold the weight of fruit. Here are some quick pruning tips:

  • Remove non-fruiting branches that grow straight up. 
  • Get rid of branches that are crossing or growing inwards. 
  • Keep the center of the tree thinned enough to encourage air circulation.
  • For tree-like growth, remove ground-level shoots so it keeps one, solitary trunk.
  • Meyer lemons can be trained as an espalier tree!

You can help your tree produce better fruit by redirecting its energy through pruning, too. Grow larger lemons by thinning each fruit cluster to one or two lemons. The energy the tree would have put into each of the removed lemons will instead go into the few you’ve selected to keep. It may seem like a shame, but this will focus the tree’s energy toward producing high-quality fruit and vegetative growth.

Propagating Meyer Lemon Trees

Meyer lemons grown from seeds rarely mature and produce fruit. Instead, most gardeners prefer to propagate by stem cuttings or grafting. Here’s everything you need to know.

Propagate during the growing season when the tree is actively using its energy. You’ll need the following materials:

Using your clippers, take your cutting from the end of a healthy branch. It should be mature but unencumbered by flowers and fruit. The cutting needs to be long enough to have 2-3 leaf nodes. Immediately wrap the cut side in a damp paper towel so it doesn’t dry out.

Strip off all but the top 3-4 leaves on the cutting. Remove any buds as well. With a sharp knife, recut the end at a 45° angle.

Dip the end of the cutting into rooting hormone and then stick it upright in moist, well-draining soil. The soil and pot need to be sterile to prevent citrus-related diseases.

Keep the soil moist and the sunlight indirect. In about 8 weeks, the cutting will root and begin to grow new leaves.

Harvesting & Storing Meyer Lemons

Comparison of meyer lemon and eureka lemon
A Meyer lemon on the left, a standard lemon on the right. Notice the smaller size and slightly different shape. Source: Maggie Hoffman

This has to be the most exciting and rewarding part of growing a fruit tree. Harvest is simple and the fruit is delightful!

Harvesting

This citrus tree flowers and fruits twice a year, usually in early spring and fall. It can take 6 months or more for the lemons to mature, so you’ll have to be patient. The lemons only ripen on the tree, so don’t pick them prematurely. When ripe, they’ll be the color of an egg yolk and the peel will be slightly soft to the touch. They should have a similar weight to other lemons. 

Cut or clip the fruit off the tree so you don’t cause damage by plucking it. Meyer lemons are best eaten fresh and are fantastic in almost any dish. Plus, they’re perfect for lemonade!

Storing

Meyer lemons left out on the kitchen counter usually don’t last more than a week. However, storing them in a sealed bag in the refrigerator will lengthen their lifespan by a month! Cut lemons should be sealed in the fridge as well and will last for a few days.

Lemons can be frozen but may get mushy when thawed. They’re usually frozen and their juice used in beverages. Only keep them in the freezer for 3-4 months if whole. If juiced, the juice can be frozen for up to 6 months.

You can store Meyer lemons long-term by canning them as jams, jellies, or marmalades. In addition, there are many techniques for preserving candied or salted Meyer lemons, many of which are used in Mediterranean cuisine.

The lemon’s zest is often one of the most prized parts of a Meyer lemon. This outer layer of the peel contains many of the oils which produce a vibrant lemony flavor. Some opt to dehydrate or freeze lemon zest for later use, but it will never be as potent and bright as fresh zest is.

For a lovely hint of lemon to use in future baking, try zesting a lemon directly into a bowl of sugar. Massage the sugar and lemon together with your fingertips, then place it into a warm location until the zest dries. A dehydrator set for preserving herbs (just below 100 degrees) is perfect to dry lemon sugar. Once dried, break up any lumps that have formed and store it in a mason jar. This technique works well for salts to use in savory cooking too!

Troubleshooting

Meyer lemon tree
Meyer lemons have a bushy shape, but can be pruned to a single-trunked tree habit. Source: Kirsty S

Improved Meyer lemons may be free from the citrus virus, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have problems. Here are some common issues to look out for.

Growing Problems

If your fruit tree has yellowing leaves, it probably needs more fertilizer or water. If underwatering is the problem here, the leaves will be dry as well. You may be in a hurry to fix this, but don’t overwater it as a solution! Give your tree more water gradually. The same goes for adding more fertilizer. If your plant is already on a regular fertilizer schedule, add some liquid fertilizer for an extra boost.

A common complaint about Meyer lemons growing indoors is that they aren’t flowering or producing fruit. This is most likely because the tree isn’t getting enough sunlight. It needs to soak up as much as it can for fruit production. Find a sunnier spot to place the tree and consider supplementing with a grow light.

Wilting leaves are a symptom of too much water. Overwatering can cause internal damage to plants, so be extra cautious. Make sure the top few inches of the soil are dry before watering. If the soil is constantly soaked, try switching it out for one that drains better.

Pests

There are many pests that may attack citrus trees, but the ones you’ll most likely see are citrus mites, citrus scale insects, whiteflies, and aphids. All four feed on the leaves of the tree by sucking out the juices. They may cause the following symptoms:

  • Yellow spots
  • Dropping leaves
  • White cottony or waxy material (scale insects)
  • Brown, curling leaves

Prevention is the easiest option for keeping your lemon happy. Keep your tree clean by removing dead leaves or branches, overripe fruit, and other debris. Prune the branches so there’s enough air circulation between them.

If there are pests already on your tree, the application of horticultural oil or neem oil can eliminate most eggs and larvae. An organic pesticide such as pyrethrin can also be used to kill off pests.

Diseases

Keeping away pests will also help prevent diseases in your plant. If your tree still shows symptoms, check our chart for how to treat them:

DiseaseSymptomsPreventCure
Greasy SpotFatal greasy, brown blisters on the leaves.Spray copper fungicide on the leaves before and after summer.Spray copper fungicide on all leaf surfaces.
Citrus CankerDying twigs, leaf loss, and brown, cork-textured blisters.Spray the tree and fruit with copper fungicide for the first few months after the flowers fade.Remove the infected sections.
Phytophthora GummosisFungal-infected sap oozing from the bark can create lesions or cause the bark to slough off.Keep the trunk dry and the temperature warm. Use well-draining soil and examine the tree periodically for disease.Dilute granular fungicide fosetyl-al according to the package’s instructions and spray or paint it on the trunk. Copper fungicide is an organic option.
Root rotRoots become brown and mushy. The rot may spread to the branches and leaves.Use well-draining soil and don’t overwater. Remove debris from the soil, keep the trunk dry, and prune for air circulation.Remove the infected sections of the root (in container-grown plants) and change out the soil.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Are coffee grounds good for Meyer lemon trees?

A: Coffee grounds are a great amendment for most trees. They won’t acidify the soil, so don’t rely on them to help with that! But they will provide small quantities of nitrogen as they decompose.

Q: How long does it take for a Meyer lemon tree to bear fruit?

A: If you bought your tree already grafted and growing, it will take about 2 years to grow fruit. If you’re growing Meyer lemons from cuttings, you’ll have to wait 3-5 years for fruit.

Q: Why are the leaves on my Meyer lemon tree turning yellow?

A: Your tree may be underwatered or may need more nutrients. Determine which it is by checking the soil moisture. In some cases, yellowing leaves can be a sign of a pest or disease, so inspect for further symptoms.


Are you ready to try out your newfound citrus knowledge? It may take some time to get used to the Meyer lemon’s needs, but this should be a relatively easy tree to care for. Do it right, and you’ll be rewarded with vivid leaves, sweet-smelling blooms, and the best lemon you’ve ever tasted!


The Green Thumbs Behind This Article:

Rachel Garcia
Succulent Fanatic

Kevin Espiritu
Founder

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