By Christa Watters, Certified Master Gardener
Last fall I harvested five beautiful Meyer lemons from a potted dwarf lemon tree I had received as a Christmas present in 2015. Along with the plant came a handsome, generously large pot and a bag of potting soil for transplanting it from the smallish plastic nursery pot it came in. The new pot was made of light-weight resin that looked like blue ceramic and had good drainage holes. We moved the plant, spread the roots a bit, tamped down the extra soil, watered it, and set it in front of the big windows leading to the patio. It had one tiny, hard green fruit and a few clusters of fragrant blooms.
Over the winter, I kept it watered, and it kept blooming but never set any more fruit. In May, after all danger of frost or cold nights, I moved it to the other side of the patio window, where it got full afternoon sun. I gave it a dose of liquid plant food and hoped for the best. It suffered a little shock from the move, and on very hot days I initially rolled it to a shadier site during the warmest hours until it hardened off. Soon it stopped losing leaves. Flowering increased and some of the flowers set fruit. The hard little green nibs sometimes dropped off, but over time the little original lemon grew a bit and turned yellow. I sliced it to flavor tea.
Eventually, five substantial new fruits developed near the base of the plant, and by early autumn I harvested them. Advice I found online said better to pick a little early than to let them get soft and mushy on the plant. They ripened that last bit to juicy perfection on a pretty plate, and I was able to use them. Meyer lemons are slightly less acidic in taste than regular lemons.
The experience of growing my own lemons was a delight. A Meyer lemon grew in my parents’ yard in Florida for 30 years, a large shrubby specimen usually covered in fruit come late fall. Their climate was perfect for it. Growing citrus indoors is not ideal.
Some subsequent research has suggested that if you want to grow them indoors, you should buy dwarf specimens meant to be pot plants, as this one is, although it would grow to 8 to 10 feet if planted outdoors in a warmer climate than ours. To succeed, it should be put outdoors during summer and brought back in before frost danger. Give it as much sunlight as you can, and if possible add some humidity to its surroundings, as heated houses tend to be dry. Keep the soil moist so dissolved salts don’t damage the roots, but don’t overwater. Fertilize to replace nutrients used by the plant and washed out via pot drainage.
Some air movement, as is natural outdoors, helps indoors as well. I accidentally met this need by placing it under a heating system vent and near a door to the outside, but not directly in the blast of either air source. The tag that came with the plant advises that it is self-fertile and recommends judicious pruning to maintain shape and desired compact size.
The plant has made it through another winter. I enjoyed the fragrant blooms all season, even though it did not set much fruit. In mid-April, I put it back outdoors and gave it a dose of plant food. It is in renewed bloom and setting fruit – more than 2 dozen little lemons as of the first week in May.