How To Grow Lemon Trees In Pots

It’s great to grow your own citrus fruit, but what if you live in a cool climate or an apartment where you only have a balcony? Can you grow lemons and other citrus?

You’ll be happy to know that the answer to that question is a resounding “yes!” As long as you choose small varieties, you can grow citrus, especially lemon trees, in pots.

Growing Lemon Trees in PotsPin

In this article, we will share information and tips to help you successfully grow lemon trees in pots. Read on to learn more. 

What Are The Best Lemon Trees For Container Planting? 

Any lemon tree you plant in a container will naturally stay somewhat small, but you are best off choosing a dwarf variety, to begin with.

Many container citrus gardeners report great success with these varieties:

  • Meyer Improved Dwarf has a shrub-like growth habit, but it can be pruned to resemble a tree. This variety has beautiful, fragrant blooms, and its fruit is relatively sweet. 
  • Ponderosa Semi-Dwarf is a small citron-lemon hybrid that produces large fruit. 
  • Dwarf Lisbon is a small tree with a round growth habit and produces interesting oblong fruit. It is tolerant of temperature changes, wind, and other negative climate experiences. 

These are good choices; like all lemon trees, they are self-pollinating.

This means they can be kept individually and indoors and still produce fruit if given the right care and conditions. 

What Kind Of Container Is Best For Growing A Lemon Tree?

As with most container plants, the most important qualities of a suitable container are plenty of growing space and drainage holes.

When you start with a young lemon tree, you should choose a pot about a foot in diameter.

Be sure the height of the pot is adequate to provide several inches of fresh soil below the root ball of the plant and about an inch of space between the top of the root ball/soil and the top of the pot. 

You can use a large terra cotta or plastic pot. The advantage of terra cotta is that it is a breathable material that helps keep the roots aerated.

Its disadvantage is that it may be heavy. 

Plastic pots are lighter, but they don’t provide good air circulation. 

You can remedy this by choosing a pot with multiple drainage holes in the bottom and/or drilling extra holes if needed.

A few holes low on the sides of the container will also help with air circulation. 

Other choices in lemon tree containers include half barrels, typically made of wood and providing excellent drainage and air circulation.

Another option might be a large grow bag. These sturdy fabric bags also allow excellent aeration and superb drainage. 

How Do You Repot A Lemon Tree?

When you buy your young lemon tree, it will be in a black nursery pot or a plastic casing.

You’ll want to get it out of that temporary accommodation and into its semi-permanent container as soon as possible.

For this reason, you should have the planter picked out and prepared and soil at the ready when you bring your new tree home. 

Fill the container loosely with good quality, well-draining potting mix or container mix that includes slow-release fertilizer. This fertilizer should keep your tree fed for the first 3months. 

Here are the steps you need to follow:

  • Create a well in the center of the mix large enough to accommodate your new plants’ root ball.
  • Press the soil against the sides of the container as you create the well. This will pack the soil a bit and help the plant establish roots. 
  • Gently remove your lemon tree from its casing or nursery pot. Be careful not to harm the roots. 
  • Lower the plant into the well you’ve made in the soil. Add more soil as needed to get good root contact. 
  • Remember to leave about an inch of space between the top of the soil and the top of the pot. This will help facilitate effective (and tidy) watering. 

How Do You Take Care Of A Potted Lemon Tree?

Here are things to consider when growing and caring for lemons. 

Establish a regular watering schedule that prevents your plant from going entirely dry. The soil should remain very slightly moist. If it dries out completely, your lemon tree will lose leaves. 

Be vigilant about checking the soil’s moisture level, and remember that your tree will probably need more water during the spring and summer and less during the autumn and winter.

Generally speaking, you can expect to water a lemon tree every other day during the growing season and a couple of times weekly in the autumn and winter.

Variables may affect this include rainfall for trees kept outdoors in summer and hot, dry heating systems for trees kept indoors in winter. 

When the top inch of the soil feels nearly dry, cover the surface of the soil with fresh water.

Take care not to saturate the soil excessively, and never allow your lemon tree to stand in water because this will cause root rot. 

TIPS: Use a hygrometer to keep track of the soil moisture levels below the surface. Mulch around your tree with decorative pebbles to help keep moisture in the soil. 

Keep the humidity levels surrounding your tree reasonably high.

You can accomplish this by putting your planter on a pebble tray with a bit of water in the bottom (not touching the planter’s base) and misting your tree daily. It’s best to mist in the morning. 

Use a good quality, slow-release fertilizer regularly. Follow packaging instructions carefully for best results.

Typically, you should fertilize regularly during the spring and summer months and not during autumn and winter. 

TIP: Use of a specially formulated citrus food enriched with iron chelates will help keep your plant vigorous and healthy. 

Lemon trees like lots of sunlight, so place your tree in a bright setting indoors.

A window facing south or southwest is best; you may also need to supplement it with artificial light.

If you place your tree outdoors in summer, gradually transition it to a setting where it will receive full sun. 

Prune your lemon tree to control its size and shape, and always trim off new stems that appear near soil level.

These are “suckers” that tend to rob the plant of energy and look unsightly. 

If your tree produces lemons, wait until they are just a little bit soft before picking them. 

Will A Potted Lemon Tree Produce Fruit? 

In any event, your tree is unlikely to produce fruit in the first couple of years. Immature trees rarely bloom or grow lemons.

To encourage fruiting, continue providing good care.

Adjust your fertilizer to give less nitrogen and a bit of potassium and phosphorus during the growing season. 

Trees that are kept outdoors during the growing season are more likely to produce fruit than those that stay indoors year-round.

Even if your plant does not produce fruit, it will probably produce pretty, sweet-smelling blooms.

An indoor lemon tree makes a pretty house plant even without fruit.

To increase your chances of having your tree produce lemons, be sure its blooms are pollinated.

Even though these trees are self-pollinating, pollination will not occur if no pollen makes it from flower to flower. 

Be sure your lemon tree is in a setting that receives gentle air circulation to help the pollen blow about.

You may also wish to use a little paintbrush to gather pollen from one flower and distribute it to another. 

TIP: Don’t be alarmed if your lemon tree drops a few blooms. They always make more blooms than they can grow to fruition. 

What Kind Of Problems Does Potted Lemon Trees Have? 

1. Suckers Drain The Plant

The sucker mentioned above branches can be problematic for potted lemon trees. This is especially true of trees started from the rootstock.

When the tree undergoes stress (as it will when moved from one location to another or repotted) the rootstock will send out suckers at the base of the plant.

As soon as you see one, trim it off clean and close to the trunk. 

2. Sudden Changes Cause Stress

Potted lemon trees are also more sensitive to changes in temperature than those planted in the landscape.

If your potted tree is outside during the spring and summer, keep an eye on the predicted weather.

If very hot, dry days are predicted, move your plant to an area with a bit of shelter from the blazing sun.

If a cold snap is predicted, you may wish to toss a blanket or tarp over your tree or move it to a sheltered setting. 

Sudden temperature changes, excess heat, and dryness can cause your lemon tree to drop its fruit.

Be sure to protect a tree in fruit against the harsh sun. Provide extra watering in advance of a predicted hot, dry spell. 

3. Too Much Water Causes A Multitude Of Problems

Lemon trees in containers are also sensitive to extremes in moisture.

If your tree is outside during the growing season, be sure that it has ample drainage in its container to shed excess moisture from rain.

Check it very frequently, especially during periods of drought, to be sure the soil doesn’t become too hot and dry. 

4. Fungal Infections Can Affect Roots And Foliage

Excess rain and humidity can also cause problems with fungus in the form of sooty mold on your plants’ leaves or root rot below the soil’s surface.

Sooty mold looks like grayish-white dust over the leaves of the plant. It can interfere with photosynthesis and weakens your lemon tree. 

Root rot occurs when soil is allowed to stay too soggy for too long. Just as it sounds, root rot causes roots to disintegrate and stop working to carry nutrients to the plant. 

To avoid fungal problems, shelter your lemon tree when lots of rain is expected. Don’t crowd the tree among other plants.

Leave plenty of space for good air circulation. Don’t overwater, and avoid overhead watering.

Instead, water near the soil surface early in the morning gives excess moisture plenty of time to evaporate before the sun goes down. 

5. Underwatering Water Causes Leaf Loss, Wilting, And Plant Death

Too little water can cause yellow and brown leaves, so carefully monitor the soil moisture.

If you find your plant is suffering from thirst, give it a thorough watering allowing the water to run through the soil and out the drainage holes.

Provide a feeding of seaweed solution to feed the roots and assist the plant in recovery. 

6. Lack Of Nutrients Causes Leaf Drop And Slow Growth

It is common for potted lemon trees to experience yellow leaves if they are not provided enough nutrients or enough sunlight. 

Fertilize well early in the spring to give your plant a strong start for the growing season. Pelleted chicken manure provides an excellent boost of nitrogen for citrus trees. 

Place your plant in a position where it can receive at least 6-8 hours of sunlight daily, but protect your lemon tree from harsh, hot sunlight. This can burn the leaves and cause them to turn brown. 

7. Dry Air Causes Lemon Trees To Suffer

Remember that lemon trees are naturally tropical plants. Indoor air is not usually humid enough for them.

In nature, a citrus tree likes 50% humidity levels. If your tree has dry, brittle leaves, it is a sure sign you need to up the humidity with misting, a pebble tray, or a humidifier.

8. Problematic Insect Pests

Insect pests, such as Bronze Orange Bugs, Aphids, and Scale, can be problematic for lemon trees – especially those kept in less-than-ideal conditions.

Examine your plants frequently, and deal with pests promptly. 

Always use the most natural means possible, for example: 

  • Bronze Orange Bugs (aka Stink Bugs) can be knocked off your plant with a blast of water. Follow that up by misting with neem oil or insecticidal oil spray. 
  • Scale can be wiped off plant stems with a cloth saturated in soapy water if you catch them before they attach themselves to your plant. Follow up this treatment with a neem oil spray. Reapply the spray once a week for a month or so to be sure of killing offspring. 
  • Aphids can also be hosed off plants. Follow up with neem oil spray. 

Can A Lemon Tree Be Happy Indoors? 

By and large, trees prefer to be outdoors. Even so, if you can provide your lemon tree with the right balance of light, warmth, humidity, air circulation, and nourishment, it can do well indoors.

Whenever possible, it will also appreciate having time outdoors during warm weather.

So, follow the advice presented here to keep your lemon tree happy indoors. 


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