Although citrus trees seem reserved for the southern part of the U.S., where temperatures remain mild throughout the winter, even those of us who see snow in the colder months can grow a lemon tree. All it takes are a large pot and proper care. And with Plant a Lemon Tree Day coming up on May 21st now is the perfect time to, well, plant a lemon tree!
The origins and founder of Plant a Lemon Tree Day are unknown, but it is observed every year on the third Saturday of May. In 2022, it falls on May 21. Of course, there is only one way to celebrate Plant a Lemon Tree Day, so here are a few tips for doing so, even if you live in the cold North.
5 Tips for Growing Potted Lemons on Plant a Lemon Tree Day
1. Choose your tree
Since most lemon trees grow up to 20 feet tall and take years to mature, look for a dwarf variety. Indoor dwarf Meyer lemon trees will reach about four feet tall and are one of the easiest varieties to grow.
Another popular variety, Ponderosa, is a lemon and citron cross with large fruit. Whichever variety you choose, purchase a grafted dwarf tree from a reputable nursery. It will likely be two or three years old, which means it will already start bearing fruit but still has some room to grow.
2. Pick a pot
Start with a pot appropriate for the current size of the young tree, about 12 inches wide. As the tree grows, repot it in progressively larger containers until you end up with a pot about twice as deep and wide as the original one. Any type of material will do but avoid dark colors, which can get too warm, and make sure the container has plenty of drainage holes.
A wheeled plant dolly will make moving the tree indoors over winter easier; make sure to place a deep saucer between the pot and the dolly to protect your floors.
3. Plant the tree
Use a well-draining potting mix. You can purchase one designed for indoor citrus or palm trees, or make your own with equal parts sterile potting soil, perlite or vermiculite, and coconut coir or peat moss.
Add enough soil to the bottom of the pot, tamping it down lightly, so that when the tree is planted, the flared base of the trunk will sit just above the surface of the soil. Place the tree in the pot and fill it in with additional soil.
4. Care for your tree
Place the potted lemon tree in a location where it will receive at least six hours of direct sunlight each day. During the summer this might be a sunny patio, and in winter a south-facing window. Move the tree indoors or outdoors gradually, placing it under a shade tree or on a covered porch for a few days to help it transition.
Water the tree thoroughly whenever the top couple inches of soil dry out. Lemon trees like to be kept moist, but never wet. During the growing season, about April through August or September, use a 2-1-1 fertilizer formulated for citrus trees or other acid-loving plants.
5. Harvest lemons
Lemons typically take about six to nine months to ripen, but before the fruit forms, you get to enjoy jasmine-scented blossoms. When your tree is outside, insects will pollinate the flowers. In the winter, you will have to take their place, gently shaking the blossoms to distribute the pollen or spreading it with a soft paintbrush.
Enjoy the wonder of the process as flowers give way to small, green fruits, which then ripen to the sweet, tangy fruit you’ve been waiting for. And when your tree gives you lemons … it’s time to make lemonade!
Serena Manickam is a freelance editor and writer and sustainable market gardener in rural Virginia. She holds a BA in environmental science and runs Fairydiddle Farm, a small market garden in which she grows no-spray produce and herbs to sell at a local farmer’s market.