Sunday, November 8, 2009

Grow Your Own Citrus - Meyer Lemons

"Grow Your Own Citrus - Meyer Lemons" - as posted on Simple Green Frugal Co-op, November 9, 2009.

Posted by Thomas, from A Growing Tradition

meyer lemon blossom
Since Meyer lemon trees can bloom throughout the year, it is possible to have fruits ripening alongside clusters of new blossoms.

I've always had a fascination with citrus trees. Maybe it's because one of my earliest childhood memories revolve around wandering the streets of Chinatown during Chinese New Year and seeing miniature mandarin orange trees for sale. They were like the Christmas trees of the Orient - deep evergreen foliage with small fruit that resembled orange-colored ornaments. Years later, while visiting my sister in southern California, I was struck by all of the citrus trees lining the front lawns and backyards of many of the homes we drove by on our way to Little Saigon, one of the largest Vietnamese-American enclaves in the United States. In addition to oranges, we saw trees filled with grapefruits, kumquats, mandarins, lemons and mandarinquats. I was instantly smitten. It was early March and I decided right then that I would grow a citrus tree, regardless of the fact that our winters here in New England often feel Siberian.

lemon tree
My Charlie Brown lemon tree

When I got home, I did a bit of research and quickly placed an order for a Meyer lemon tree. The online catalog assured me that the Meyer lemon would make for an excellent houseplant and I will admit, I could not stop looking at the airbrushed photo of the tree - a perfectly shaped and compact specimen filled with bright golden-yellow orbs. What I received in the mail was a little less perfect. In fact, it was hard to imagine at the time that anything edible would develop from this twig. Nonetheless, I read as much as I could about citrus cultivation and gave my Charlie Brown lemon tree the care and devotion it deserved.

Meyer Lemon Blossom
The blossoms can be hand-pollinated using a fine and delicate brush. Some flowers contain a pistil while others do not. The scent of citrus blossoms, which can fill a room, is reminiscent of jasmine.

Meyer lemon trees (as with most citrus) undergo several flushes of growth throughout the year. Sometimes this growth is primarily leaf, while other times it is accompanied by large clusters of blossoms. Since the tree often blooms in January, it is critical to hand pollinate. (In fact, my tree had its first major flush of blossoms in the dead of winter.) I use a small fine art brush to transfer pollen from one flower to the tip of the pistil of another. If all goes well, the ovary at the base of the pistil will swell into a tiny green lemon a few days after the petals have fallen off. Now all that's left to do is to wait patiently. It can take as long as 9 to 10 months for the lemons to mature.

Young Meyer Lemon Fruits
Flowers containing a pistil, if properly pollinated, will develop into tiny lemons. It is normal for a tree to shed most lemons within a cluster in order to focus its energy on the largest few.

For anyone interested in growing citrus, the key to success is in the fertilizer and soil. I made sure to plant my lemon tree in a well-draining potting soil mix and feed it three times a year with a slow-release organic citrus fertilizer (the brand I use is Growmore). A daily misting does wonders as well, especially during the winter months indoors. I keep my Meyer lemon tree in front of a window that gets about 5 hours of direct sunlight a day. Sometime during late spring, when nighttime temperatures get above 45 degrees F, I leave my tree in a sunny spot outside for most of the summer.

lemon tree
Charlie, 19 months later. Meyer Lemons are ripe when their skins develop a golden-yellow hue. These lemons are not quite there yet.

Fast forward 19 months later, Charlie has developed into a rather attractive houseplant and is rewarding me with my first harvest of lemons - 9 total. The fruits are from flowers that bloomed last January and are destined to become marmalade. (Locavores rejoice!) Most of our house guests stare at the tree in wonder and fondle the lemons to make sure they are real. In addition to my Meyer lemon, I also have a Kaffir lime tree, the leaves of which are very fragrant and commonly used in Thai and Indian cooking. Soon, I'd like to add Seville oranges and mandarinquats to my collection.

For more information on how to grow citrus as houseplants, click here. If you have any experience or additional advice on how to grow citrus successfully, please share!

16 comments:

  1. I would so love a lemon tree. I don't have a good spot for it right now, but maybe in my next house.

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  2. It seems to have done really well in the last 19 months. I love these trees and really want one!

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  3. How beautiful! The blossoms are pure white, whereas my blossoms are striped pink... very interesting...

    I keep my tree outdoors (bringing into the garage at night now that it's getting down to 40*), and since it is soo dry with a daily afternoon breeze, should I mist my tree too? Thanks, Thomas.

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  4. Hi Momma_S, i mist my tree because it gets pretty dry in my house during the winter time. It also keeps the dust at bay. The flowers that i get during the summer time are generally tinted pink or purple, but the ones I see during the rest of the year are always plain white.

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  5. I've never even thought about doing this. Don't think I have enough sun. I had a red orange (called a blood orange I think)tree in my backyard in Florida and that's the closest I've come to growing citrus. Lemon marmalade? That's new to me too!

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  6. That's astounding! Charlie was tiny 19 months ago. I am greatly inspired, as I adore citrus. All I have to do is get my husband to move out so that I can ft a tree into the apartment:-)

    Thank you!

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  7. Wow, I am amazed by your Meyer lemon house tree! I had no idea that they would do that well inside. They grow like weeds outdoors here and most people just don't know what to do with all the fruit they bear. I usually can't use all the fruit that my tree bears either, but I try!

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  8. way to go Charlie...and way to go Charlie's Dad! What a specimen you raised....

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  9. I purchased two Meyers Lemon trees (about 8 inches tall) two years ago. Each winter the leaves turn black on the bottom and fall off. By spring it puts more leaves on. It isn't growing much at all. I will try the fertilizer suggested but am perplexed about the leaves dropping.

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  10. I purchased a Meyer Dwarf lemon tree and recieved in Sept. I planted it and watered when it needed it .I had it almost 2 months and the leaves were green and supple and they just fell off.I have no idea what happened or i did wrong.Iordered another and it will be here in 3 weeks , any suggestions?I could use some advice.Thanks

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  11. I have a Meyer Lemon tree that looks just like your Charlie Brown one. I got it last spring, and it hasn't grown much, I put it in a big pot and water it occasionally (when I remember) and I'm surprised it's still alive. Perhaps I need to fertilize it... I'm so bad with house plants!

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  12. Nice job. I just moved to CA and planting things like crazy now that I can. I picked up a meyer lemon tree a few weeks ago and can't wait to see it do something. You answered several questions I had about how it fruits (what the initial fruit should look like, etc). Thanks!

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  13. Kelly just left me a comment directing me to your blog to check out your Meyer lemon plant. Love all the information. This gives me hope! I will buy the fertilizer and hope for the best!

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  14. I have a lemon tree and when it blooms the small lemons fall of, what am I doing wrong?

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