When you live in a cold climate like I do, certain plants are just far off dreams. Not all common fruit trees work here and you need to be careful that you get a hardy variety. For a long time I thought growing a lemon tree, or any type of citrus tree, would be impossible–until now.
Let’s get one thing out of the way first–a lemon tree is not going to survive our -40 winters. There’s simply no way to get an outdoor orchard going. However, you can successfully grow Meyer Lemons in pots, putting them outdoors in the summer and bringing them indoors in the winter.
How to Grow a Citrus Tree in a Cold Climate
Ideally you’ll have a south facing window for as much light as possible over the winter, but the direct morning light of an east facing window will also work.
When it’s time to bring the tree out in summer, harden the tree off by setting it out in the shade for a week, before transferring it to a sunny location. After enjoying the summer sun, do the same process for a week before you bring the tree back indoors for the fall and winter.
In zone 3, that means you would harden off the tree the third week of May, leave it outside for the summer, then harden it off the last week of August and bring it indoors the first week of September, just to be safe. Citrus trees can not handle frost, so watch the weather and don’t take any chances.
Watering a Lemon Tree
Lemon trees like to be watered regularly, but not overwatered. Never saturate the roots of a lemon tree, and always let the soil dry out slightly between waterings. Terracotta pots can help wick away moisture if you tend to over-water your plants.
Here’s how to grow more hardy fruit trees, and a 6 fruits you can grow from seed.
How to Keep Your Lemon Tree From Dying
A Meyer Lemon tree is generally easy to grow, but there are three things that will kill it: Too much water, not enough light, and too much cold. If the leaves of the plant start to yellow and fall off, one of these these is happening.
If your citrus tree is mildly droopy looking, it just needs some more water and will perk up shortly.
The only exception to this rule is when you bring your lemon tree indoors for the winter. It will droop and possibly lose a few leaves as it is adjusting to the sudden lack of light.
Fertilization, Pruning, and Repotting
For best results fertilize your lemon tree once every 2 weeks from April to September.
Meyer Lemon trees don’t need to be pruned unless you don’t like the shape your tree is going in or some of the top branches are scraggly. Try not to prune the bottom branches, as they usually produce the most fruit.
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Once the lemons set, you may need to remove the smaller lemon buds to make the stronger ones larger. Yes, it will feel terrible, but you’ll thank me when the remaining lemons get larger.
Meyer Lemons are overbearing and self-pollinating, so keep picking the lemons to get more fruit!
Your citrus tree will start to bulge at the top of the pot when it’s time to repot. Add a mix of potting soil and sand, keeping the soil line the same. You can add a thin layer of mulch to the top to help keep in moisture if you like.
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Kristen is a former farm kid turned urban gardener who owns the popular gardening website, Shifting Roots. She is obsessed with growing flowers and pushing the limits of what can be grown in her zone 3b garden. She also loves to grow tomatoes, but oddly enough, dislikes eating them raw.