How to Properly Plant a Lemon Tree
Perfumed petals, vibrant foliage, and the sweet, zesty fruit it bears—the lemon tree is a tangy (and trendy) addition to any home or yard.
If you’re ready to embrace this bright, beautiful citrus plant in your very backyard, you’re in luck. Not only are lemon trees easy to plant and cultivate, but they also make a gorgeous, fast-growing addition to any outdoor space, with glossy green leaves and pillowy spring blossoms. Not to mention—you get to reap its versatile culinary benefits.
Step 1: Decide on the Right Lemon Tree for You
Although all lemons can offer that squeeze of brightness you’re looking for, there are many types of lemons to choose from, and one particular pair that’s especially compatible with home-growing conditions—Meyer and Eureka lemon trees.
Each citrus tree requires specific growing conditions and lemon tree care to produce entirely unique lemon types.
Meyer Lemon Tree
You’ve probably tasted Meyer lemons before—perhaps in a delectable baked treat or candied lemon drop.
A farmer’s market favorite, Meyer lemons are basically meant to be homegrown. Their thin skins aren’t suitable for the transport and rougher handling of commercial production, so Meyer lemon trees thrive when their ripe fruits can be harvested locally.
Their trees can grow up to 10 feet with an equal 10 feet of outward spread (how “far” the branches reach out from the central trunk), so plan accordingly. Make sure there’s enough room in your garden for it to grow comfortably and for enough sunlight to fall upon its leaves.
Meyer lemon trees stick true to their tropical roots. They adore humidity in the surrounding air, as well as overall warmth.
Be wary, however, if your outdoor temperatures drop too low—anything below 27°F can spell trouble for your growing citrus tree. If you’re not in the sunniest of locales, it might be best to plant your Meyer lemon tree in a pot, to be moved indoors when the cold weather comes in.
Eureka Lemon Tree
Eureka lemons are named for their native California—whose gold-striking motto is indeed “Eureka”—and they’ll make your yard (and food!) just as bright.
Eureka lemons are smaller in size than Meyer lemons, making them perfectly versatile for any range of applications. Take just one to squeeze into a salad or harvest a whole basket for lemonade or cake-baking.
Although they have smaller fruits than Meyer lemon trees, Eureka trees grow much taller and wider than Meyer lemon trees. These trees reach between 12’ and 15’ high with a 20’ spread—double that of the Meyer.
The Eureka lemon tree is a descendant of the superstar Italian Lunario lemon tree, which was popular for its strong-tasting juice, fast-fruiting time, and thornless branches. The Eureka inherited these pleasant traits and developed some rather tolerant growth and harvest conditions as well:
- Adaptable to various soil types – Eureka lemon trees can grow in poor, sandy, or loamy soil, as long as they can drain water regularly and reliably.
- Pest-resistant – No need to worry about pesticides or other sprays: Eureka lemon trees are naturally insect-repellant, especially due to their fruits’ high D-limonene content.
- Disease-resistant – Compared to other citrus trees, Eureka lemon trees have been proven to resist fatal citrus greening disease, which nullifies trees’ ability to bear citrus fruit.
- Easy harvests – Eureka lemon trees are the only widely available lemon trees that are completely thornless, like their Lunario predecessors.
Step 2: Plan Before Planting
Whether you’re planting a Meyer or Eureka lemon tree, if you want your tree to have a bountiful life, there are going to be a few things to keep in mind before you start digging.
First, plant your lemon tree in early to mid-spring, when you can be sure there won’t be any more freezes or frosts from the winter season. Choose a roomy spot near the south side of your home to provide ample protection from frost, as well as direct sunlight.
Lemon trees are as sunny as they look, and they need at least eight hours of unobstructed sunlight for maximum fruit bearing.
Lemon trees also like to be more lifted within the soil—so, not too deeply interred into the ground. When planting the tree, make sure the lump of roots doesn’t lie fully below the soil’s surface line. Bury the roots with extra soil atop, firmly packing them down to secure the tree and its roots.
Step 3: Water Your Lemon Tree
How much water your lemon tree needs are going to vary, depending on:
- Your tree’s size
- The current season
- Humidity and precipitation levels
However, the sacred rule with lemon trees is that they’re highly sensitive to overwatering, so they don’t need too much at all. Once a week is just right, though you may elect to water your tree twice a week during its growing season (spring to late summer).
While lemon trees are rather soil-tolerant compared to most plants, they do have one requirement: the soil needs to be able to drain thoroughly.
Before you water your tree again, check to see that the potting soil has become dry to the touch and, ideally, dry two to three inches below the soil surface, too. This helps prevent ailments to your tree, like root rot or general health imbalance, from overwatering.
Step 4: Fertilize Your Lemon Tree
Lemon trees should be fed with citrus fertilizer that’s very high in nitrogen. Nitrogen is a small chemical with an enormous impact on your lemon tree as it:
- Supports continuous leaf growth and regeneration
- Ensures adequate reserves of nutrients for following spring blooms
- Leads to impressively fruitful harvests once at the fruit-bearing stage
The best thing for your lemon tree is not to overwhelm it by spreading out your fertilization times. Apply nitrogen-rich fertilizer two to three times throughout your tree’s “growth spurts,” which occur in the growing season from spring to late summer.
For each fertilizing session, spread about two tablespoons of nitrogen-rich fertilizer directly over the citrus plant’s root area and one to two feet beyond the dripline (the space beyond the outer circumference of your tree’s branches).
Wash the citrus fertilizer into the potting soil with an inch of water atop, and you’re all set.
Step 5: Rid Your Lemon Tree of Pests
Lemon trees are a popular choice as fruit-bearing yard trees because they’re easy to grow and generally resistant to pests. However, like any tree, lemon trees of any kind still possess some susceptibility to pesky garden insects.
Most insects that pester lemon trees are relatively harmless, like aphids, who are usually kept at bay by ladybugs and other predator insects.
Citrus mites, on the other hand, are common and harmful, feeding on all components of the lemon tree, including:
- Lemon fruits
They deal their damage quickly and in large numbers, so, unfortunately, many folks only realize their lemon tree is harmed once the mites have already done their worst.
We recommend checking your tree periodically as it grows for extremely small, white, or rusty brown insects—a magnifying glass may be needed. Keeping your lemon tree infestation-free is the best way to ensure no permanent damage makes its way to your tree.
If you do find mites on your lemon tree, try a miticide spray, or consider introducing ladybird beetles—commonly known as ladybugs—into your garden to keep lesser wanted micro-insects at bay.
Step 6: Prune Your Lemon Tree
For a proper blooming beauty in your yard, pruning helps your lemon tree keep its shape—especially since it’s such a fast grower. There’s not much to it other than clipping awkwardly overgrown branches, paying special attention to those smaller ones that are angled toward the tree trunk.
Removing overgrowth, as well as these trunk-oriented branches, is vital to expose your lemon tree leaves to plenty of direct sunlight.
Step 7: Harvest Your Lemon Tree
After all that careful tending to your lemon tree, you can await your lemon harvest with eager eyes (or stomachs). A pickable lemon is easy to spot:
- It’s mostly all yellow with only a bit of green tinge (if any)
- It’s at least two to three inches in diameter
- It’s firm, but not rough, to the touch.
When Life Gives You Lemons… Plant and Harvest Them with Plants Express
Sure, you can make lemonade, but you need a lemon tree first! Once you’ve found an ideal spot in your yard and cared for your tree with the proper watering, fertilization, and pruning, your homegrown lemons will be ready to go from tree to kitchen.
For the finest trees, look to Plants Express. Our selection of lemon trees features quick growers that will transform your garden space into a tropical, summer-vibe oasis sooner than citrus fruit can drop to the ground. From our Meyer Lemon Tree to our Eureka Lemon Tree (and to their bush varieties), Plants Express can help you make all this lemon tree learning a reality.
All our plants—trees, flowers, shrubs, and more—are carefully cultivated in California, for California. We hand-deliver our sunshine-sprouted greenery right to your doorstep, ensuring verdant quality every step of the way.
NPR. The Meyer Lemon: More Than A Pretty Face. https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=100778147
Better Homes & Gardens. How to Grow a Meyer Lemon Tree in Your Garden or Home. https://www.bhg.com/gardening/vegetable/fruit/meyer-lemon-tree/
Food Garden Life. How Cold Can Lemon Trees Get?https://www.foodgardenlife.com/learn/2019/5/1/how-cold-can-lemon-trees-get
Givaudan Citrus Variety Collection at University of California, Riverside. Old line Eureka lemon. https://citrusvariety.ucr.edu/crc4094
Givaudan Citrus Variety Collection at University of California, Riverside. Lunario lemon. https://citrusvariety.ucr.edu/crc3159
HerbaZest. Lemon. https://www.herbazest.com/herbs/lemon
Science X: Phys.org. Lemon trees showed less response to citrus greening disease pathogen than orange trees. https://phys.org/news/2021-05-lemon-trees-response-citrus-greening.html
Couch to Homestead. Do Citrus Trees Need Direct Sunlight? https://couchtohomestead.com/do-citrus-trees-need-direct-sunlight/
Gardenine. How Much Water Do Lemon Trees Need (and How Often)? https://gardenine.com/watering-lemon-trees/
Agronomic Insights. The time is right to optimise your citrus fertiliser plans. https://www.incitecpivotfertilisers.com.au/news-and-insights/agronomic-insights/horticulture/the-time-is-right-to-optimise-your-citrus-fertiliser-plans
Los Angeles Times. Proper Fertilization of Citrus Trees Is a Job for Nitrogen. https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1999-feb-06-hm-5320-story.htmlGardening Know How. Citrus Mites: Learn How To Kill Mites on Citrus Trees. https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/edible/fruits/citrus/citrus-mite-problems.htm