How To Plant and Keep an Indoor Lemon Tree

How To Plant and Keep an Indoor Lemon Tree

Feb 16, 2010

When winter comes to Italy, the lemon trees potted in terra cotta get moved indoors. Every large estate has a sunny, ventilated room to store their lemons, known as a limonaia. Winter is when the trees bloom, and I've always imagined a room full of these as exquisite to the point of intoxicating. Worried about cold snaps, I've brought my Meyer lemon tree indoor and the smell of blossoms on just one tree greet me every time I walk in the house.

Sweeter citrus trees like oranges and tangerines need more heat, but acidic ones like lemons, limes and kumquats do very well inside. My favorites for keeping in sunny windows are Meiwa kumquat, Kaffir lime, and probably the most popular indoor fruit tree, the dwarf Improved Meyer Lemon. Keep these in a sunny window.

Order Your Tree

When ordering your tree, find out how large it will be. They are usually sold by their age or container size. Purchase one that's two-three years old (the tree should be at least 3 feet high by then) and plant them in a container only 2 inches larger than the root ball. You can order these from your local nursery or Four Winds Grower or Raintree Nursery.

What You Need

Citrus Tree
Potting Soil
Landscaper cloth (optional)
Mist Bottle
Mulch (optional)

Equipment or Tools
Drill or hammer and nails


1. Find a saucer that is larger than the container you plan to use for the tree, put some pebbles on it, add water, and place it under the plant. This way the roots aren't soaking, but the plant gets moisture from the evaporating water.

2. Make sure your planter has drainage holes in it. If it doesn't, then be sure to drill or hammer holes into it.

3. If you'd like to, cut and layer a strip of landscaper's cloth over the bottom. This helps the dirt from flowing out when you water.

4. Fill the planter about ½ full with potting soil. (See this post for mixing your own potting soil.)

5. Remove the citrus tree from its nursery pot and gently massage its roots so they can spread more easily.

6. Place the plant into the pot and then fill in around it with more soil. Press down around the base of the plant. Don't cover the trunk with soil or leave any roots exposed.

7. After planting, water it thoroughly.

8. Indoor citrus trees like to be misted with water regularly. I tend to mist all my indoor plants when it rains outside so they don't feel like they're missing anything. If you live in a drier climate, mist more often. (And if you have a cat, a loving spray from the water bottle helps keep them off the tree!)

9. Mulch is great for outdoor plants as it helps retain moisture and helps protect the roots during the winter months. You don't need mulch for indoor plants, but I like the look of this colorful beach glass, and admittedly, this mulch is more decorative than anything else.

10. When you have a cluster of tiny lemons, pull about ⅔ of them from the tree so the remaining ones will grow into a full size fruit.

About the Author:

Maria Finn has written for Saveur, Metropolis, Forbes, The New York Times,, and The Los Angeles Times. She is the founder of Prospect & Refuge, a garden-design and installation firm and also writes the weekly newsletter/blog City Dirt, dedicated to adventures in urban gardening. Her newest book, A Little Piece of Earth: How To Grow Your Own Food in Small Spaces, will be released on February 16. She lives on a houseboat in Sausalito, California.

Other Posts from Maria Finn:

How To Start A Home Worm Composting System
How To Grow a Strawberry Windowbox

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(Images: Maria Finn)

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