How to Grow a Lemon Tree in a Pot

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Growing lemon tree in pots

Growing lemon trees in a pot is easy if you pick a dwarf variety and provide the right soil, water, fertilizer and temperature.

 

Lemon trees prefer a 10 to 14 inch pot with a well-draining sandy/loam soil, minimum 6 hours of direct sun, water only when 1-2 inch of topsoil is dry and grow in a temperature range of 70°F to 100°F (21°C to 38°C). More or less than this temperature can make the plant go dormant and drop its leaves, flowers and/or fruit. Fertilizer with an organic compost once every month, and once every 15 days when the plant is flowering.

 

Overwatering will cause root rot, and underwatering will lead to slow growth and flower/fruit drop.

 

Lemon General Information

Family

Rutaceae (Citrus family)

🌵Type

Citrus tree

🌵Climate

tropical and subtropical humid regions

🌡️Temperature

70°F to 100°F (21°C to 38°C)

🌼Growing season

Spring and Summer

💧Watering

Only when 1-2 inch of topsoil is dry

☀️Light

Full Sun, minimum 6 hours of direct sun.

Soil

Well-draining sandy/loam soil

(50% Sand, 30% organic compost and 20% Cocopeat)

Fertilizer

2 handfuls of organic compost, once every month.

When the flowering starts, once every 15 days.

No Fertilization if temperature is outside the ideal range of 70°F to 100°F (21°C to 38°C)

Pot Size

10 to 12 inches for dwarf varieties

12 to 14 inches for semi-dwarf varieties

Propagation🌱

From seed (not recommended), stem cuttings, leaf cutting, air layering, grafting

Height📏

up to 12 ft (grown in ground)

up to 6 ft (dwarf varieties in containers)

Time it takes to get fruit

Few months to a year (Grafted tree from nursery)

4 to 6 years (growing from seed)

Pick the Right Pot Size

Lemon roots do not grow too deep, but they tend to grow horizontally. That is why pick a pot that is wide and cover the top with a layer of mulch to protect the roots. Try to get a clay pot like a terracotta as it is porous and will not hold excess moisture around the soil and will prevent root rot.

 

The average container size requirements for a lemon plant is 10 to 12 inches for dwarf varieties, and 12 to 14 inches for semi-dwarf varieties. At any time, pick a pot that is about 25% bigger than the root ball of the lemon tree and keep up-potting every 6 months as your lemon tree grows in size.

 

Do not plant a young lemon plant directly in a big pot, as it will waste your soil, and you will need to add more water to the container than the plant actually requires. If you have too large of a pot, it would have too much wetness that will not dry out enough which may lead to root rot and death of the plant. 

Repotting

Lemon plants do not need much repotting. There are examples of fruiting lemon trees that have been in the same pot for about 2 decades. Once your plant has had enough root ball to reach a 12 to 14 inch pot, you may repot your lemon plant into a slightly bigger container within 3 to 5 years to adjust the height and to rejuvenate any root bound roots. The best time to re pot lemon plants is late winter or early spring, before the citrus plant goes into bloom.

Pick the Right Variety

Lemon trees are usually grown in the ground, but you can successfully grow lemons in a 24inch deep pot as well. Semi-dwarf varieties of lemon like Eureka or Mexican Lime (Kagzi Nimbu) are the best varieties of lemon to grow in pots as it is a dwarf variety that gives lots of lemons in a container.

 

Here is a list of the most popular lemon varieties that you can grow in containers.

 

Lemon Variety

Features

Mexican Lime (Kagzi Nimbu, Pati lime, Spur lime or Acid lime)

Best hybrid variety to grow in pots as it is a dwarf variety. Fruit is 1-2 inch in diameter, with thin skin and sour taste.

Meyer Lemon

Another dwarf variety which is a hybrid between citron and mandarin/pomelo hybrid. Bigger and sweeter than the traditional lemons with a pH of 2-3, thin skin and good for making lemonade.

Lisbon

Popular variety

Eureka

Popular semi-dwarf and dwarf varieties that have a vigorous root system. So opt for a big 24 inch deep container.

Yuzu (Japanese Lemon)

Frost tolerant variety, that can survive upt -9 degrees C.

Growing Lemon from Cuttings

You can expect lemon fruits in 1 to 2 years when propagating from a mature lemon tree cutting. You can also get a genetically identical lemon tree from air layering.

 

Here are the steps to grow from lemon cuttings:

 

  1. Cut a 5-6 inch long stem of the lemon plant of a branch that is not woody
  2. Remove any leaves at the bottom of the cutting, and snip the rest of the leaves in half.
  3. Make a 45 degree angle cut at the bottom to increase the surface area and promote easier rooting.
  4. Scratch the green skin to expose the white inner skin to promote easier rooting.
  5. Dip the cuttings in water and then into a rooting hormone powder.
  6. Fill 4 inch pots with just cocopeat, and plant the cuttings.
  7. Water thoroughly and keep it moist. Keep all your cuttings in shade.
  8. After 3 weeks, you will see some new growth which also means that the roots have formed. Once the roots have developed, transfer the plant into a new pot with soil.

Growing Lemon from Seeds

If you are growing a lemon plant from seed, it will grow very slowly and takes 4 to 6 years to start fruiting. That is why growing lemon plants from seed is not recommended. To grow a lemon plant at home, you should always buy grafted plants from a nursery. Your plant will flower and fruit in the same year if all plant care tips are followed.


 

  1. Take all the seeds from a ripened organic Lemon and clean them with water.
  2. Sow the seeds in the soil (90% Coco peat + 10% compost) in a 4 inch pot or seed tray.
  3. Add a ¼ inch fine layer of potting mix. Do not sow the seeds too deep.
  4. Press it down lightly, firm the potting mix with the palm of your hand to create a smooth, even surface.
  5. Water the potting mix until it feels wet at a depth of 1 inch.
  6. Place the container in a partial shade for 10 days and keep the potting mix moist all the time while the Lemon seeds germinate.
  7. Seeds will germinate in 7 to 10 days.
  8. When the seedling has 3-4 true leaves, move the pot to a location that gets direct sunlight.

How fast does Lemon grow

Here is a table that explains the rate of growth for Lemon that you can expect:

 

Event

No. of Days

Seed germination

10 days

Seedling with seed leaves

30 days

Seedlings with True leaves 

60 days

Seedlings get 5-6 inch tall

160+ days

Flowering (Grown from seed)

4 to 6 years

Flowering (Grown from cutting)

12 to 24 months

Flowering (grafted plant)

4 months to 12 months

Fruit ripening

4 to 5 months

Water💧

Water your Lemon plant when the top 1-2 inches of the soil is dry, but do not let the soil go completely dry between waterings as lemon plants like to retain some moisture at all times, but will cause root rot if it becomes soggy.  Just insert your finger 2 inches into the soil, if it is dry and doesn’t stick your fingers, water your Lemon plant.

 

Depending on your climate, you may need to water once (and misting leaves) everyday during the summer, and water alternate days, or even once a week during the winter season.

 

During the cooler days, the plant will very likely be dormant so you will need to reduce the frequency of watering as it does not need much water (or fertilizer) when dormant.

 

Overwatering or Underwatering, both will lead to no flowers/fruit or dropping flowers/fruit. Overwatering will also cause root rot and death of the plant.

Sunlight☀️

All citrus plants, including lemon, need at least 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight, so keep your lemon tree in a location that gets full sun.

 

If you live in a hot, dry, desert, arid or tropical climate, place the Lemon in a location that receives morning sun and filtered light the afternoon sun else the leaves will burn.

 

If you live in a cool climate where winter temperature goes below 32°F (0°C), keep it near a south facing window so that it gets as much sun as possible.

Ideal Growing Temperature🌡️

Lemon trees like warm weather. Ideal growing temperature for Lemon trees is between 70°F to 100°F (21°C to 38°C) with a relative humidity of 50% or more. Keep it in a location that is not windy and save it from strong winds.

 

If you live in a tropical climate where summer temperatures go beyond 103 degrees F, the tree can stop growing, potentially go dormant and start to drop fruit. Keep the soil temperature cool by covering it with mulch and bringing the plant under shade from afternoon sun.

 

If your winter temperature goes below 32°F (0°C), the lemon tree leaves will defoliate, and fruits may start to drop. Keep it in a greenhouse or indoors before the first frost date of the year. Keep it near a south facing window so that it gets as much sun as possible. In rainy weather, you may keep the plant in the open provided the water does not sit in the container.

 

If you live in a climate where temperatures go below 0 degrees C, you can opt for the yuzu (japanese lemon) variety of lemon which is frost tolerant upto -9 degrees C.

Soil

Lemon plants need the following properties in its soil:

  1. rich soil (organic matter, compost)
  2. well draining porous soil (Sand, perlite)
  3. moisture retaining (peat moss, perlite or vermiculite)
  4. slightly acidic pH of about 6 to 6.5

 

So opt for a sandy soil that is rich in compost or manure, and some cocopeat to retain some moisture. One recommended potting mix is 50% Sand with 30% organic compost and 20% Cocopeat. You can also add a handful of neem cake powder which is a natural fungicide.

 

If you live in a hot, dry, desert, arid or tropical climate, cover the soil with mulch (dead leaves, coco peat, or wood chips) to keep the soil temperature cool and avoid heating of exposed soil by the sun. Mulching is specifically recommended for Lemon plants as their fibrous roots tend to grow horizontally and need protection from the harsh sun.

 

Fertilizer

Lemon plants are heavy feeders, especially during the flowering season. They grow well when provided with a nitrogen-rich fertilizer throughout the year.

 

If you are growing lemon trees in a pot, fertilize them once every month with 2 handful per sqft of matured cow dung compost, vermicompost, or kitchen waste compost. When to stop fertilizing depends on your climate. If the temperature goes below 70°F or above 100°F, your lemon tree is likely going dormant and not growing. So don’t fertilize at these times.

 

As a general rule, if you live in cold climates, do not fertilize during the winter as the plant will be dormant (December to January). If you live in a tropical climate, do not fertilize during the peak summer (June/July) as the lemon plant does not grow much above or below the ideal growing temperature (70°F to 100°F).

 

To produce fruit from flowers requires a considerable amount of energy. So as soon as the flowering phase starts, apply 2 handfuls of matured cow dung manure every 15 days

 

Compost may not have all the trace elements like zinc, iron, mg etc. so you will need to add some supplemental trace elements to the lemon plant. To make the root system stronger and induce flowering, add one handful of steamed bone meal powder. If you’re a vegan, you can use 2 tsp of organic Rock Phosphate powder as an alternative. These 2 organic fertilizers contain slowly released phosphorus. 

Pollination and Lemon Fruit

Encourage pollinators into your garden like butterflies and bees that will pollinate your lemon plant by avoiding the usage of any chemical pesticides, and insecticides.

 

If you have bought a plant from a nursery which bears fruit, but is still very young, remove the fruits so the plant can focus its energy in growing foliage. More stems and foliage would mean more flowers and fruits in the coming months.

 

Lemons are produced throughout the season. At any time, you can expect to have some flowers as well as some unripened and some ripened lemons turning yellow. Fully ripe lemons fall down on their own. Harvest once they turn completely yellow. Harvest lemons using pruners, and do not pluck the lemons from the tree.

 

Once harvested, you can store these fresh lemons in an airtight container.

Pruning

If you are growing lemon plants in pots, it is not recommended to prune the lemon plant. Absolutely avoid pruning during the fruiting season. The leaves are really important in lemon trees for the quality of fruit. The energy stored in the leaves is also used in fruit production, and if you remove a lot of leaves from your lemon plant, the size of the lemon fruit might be small.

 

Pinching a young lemon plant is fine as it encourages more new growth. Prune only the branches that are too long, dead, weak, or diseased. Also prune the suckers of grafted lemon plants coming out at the very bottom of the trunk from the mother plant.

 

You will very likely have a grafted lemon plant from a nursery and you can see the grafted branch at the bottom. If you see a branch coming out of the mother stem below, these need to be removed as they won’t fruit and they will suck the energy from the grafted plant.

Pests and Diseases🐛🦠

Most pests hate lemon plants. However, in the growing season, pests like scales, mealy bugs, carmine spider mite, aphids and caterpillars can attack new leaves. You can easily get rid of these pests and diseases.

Lemon Problems and Solutions

Problem: Lemon plants growing very slowly

Solution: The reason could be lack of sunlight or your lemon plant is rootbound and needs to be potted in a bigger container. Another reason your lemon plant may not be growing is because it is dormant. Lemon plant can go dormant if the temperature goes above 103 degrees F (39C) or below 70°F to 100°F (21°C

 

Problem: Lemon plants not bearing fruit

Solution: The reason why your lemon plant is not bearing fruit is probably because of lack of enough sunlight. Lemon plants need at least 6 to 8 hours of direct sun. The second biggest reason why the lemon plant doesn’t fruit is because your lemon plant might have been grown from seed, and such plants can take 4 to 6 years to actually mature in order to start bearing fruit.

Problem: Lemon flowers/fruit are dropping

Solution: If your lemon flowers or tiny lemon fruits are dropping, it could be because of the following reasons:

  1. Under Watering/Overwatering the lemon plant
  2. Too hot (>103 degrees F or >40 degrees C)
  3. the soil is poor with no nutrition
  4. Repotting

 

Overwatering develops unnecessary moisture around the roots, which makes it difficult for them to intake oxygen and nutrients from the soil. So as soon as your lemon tree starts to flower, water only when the soil is slightly dry. On the other hand, if the lemon tree is droughted during the day, it can dry up the fruit and drop the fruit.

 

If you live in a tropical climate where summer temperatures go beyond 103 degrees F, the tree can stop growing, potentially go dormant and start to drop fruit. Add mulch to the soil to keep the soil cool and keep the plant in shade to drop some temperature.

 

If the lemon plant has flowers and/or fruit, they tend to drop along with some leaves drop if you are up-potting your lemon plant. If you have any fruit on the lemon plant, remove them before repotting as they can drop due to the stress of transplanting.

Problem: Lemon leaves turning yellow

Solution: If the old and lower leaves of your lemon plant are turning yellow and falling, it is not of any concern as it is natural.

 

However, if new leaves or upper leaves are turning yellow, this can be a symptom of an iron and/or magnesium deficiency. Add 1 tsp of epsom salt evenly on the corners and cover it with the soil once every month. Leaves could also turn yellow in peak summer afternoon sun. In that case, you can move your lemon plant container and give it shade from the afternoon sun.

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