Encyclopedia of Houseplants

How to Grow Lemon Trees Indoors

updated Jul 20, 2021
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watering lemon tree
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Walk into a botanical conservatory at any time of year and you’re going to stumble upon a plethora of citrus trees ready to bear fruit for the masses. Even more specifically, you’re going to see a lot of lemon trees. It’s possible that you’ve just noticed the beauty of a potted Meyer Lemon tree, but keeping citrus trees indoors is far from a new fad. For hundreds of years, lemon trees have been making waves in gardens and homes across the world. Their fragrant blooms and delicious fruits keep them in high demand, whether you have a chateau in the French countryside or a studio apartment in Brooklyn. 

It’s easy to fall in love with lemon trees, but if you’re concerned about the care part of things, don’t worry. You won’t need your own personal gardener to care for your private citrus grove. These plants are pretty straightforward if you can follow a few rules! 

Note: All citrus, including lemon trees, are generally toxic to both cats and dogs, according to the ASPCA.

Finding the right lemon tree to grow indoors

Do a little digging, and you’ll find that there are many different lemon trees to choose from that vary in size, both in stature and fruit. However, a few varieties are better suited for being grown in a container. 

Many local nurseries have really great options when it comes to citrus. If you’re really interested in making the investment and want a big name, try shopping at Logee’s, whose Ponderosa tree lemons are world renowned for weighing up to five pounds a piece. If you’re a beginner or worried about maintaining a full-sized tree, look for a dwarf variety that is easier to care for. Lisbon, dwarf Ponderosa, and the Meyer “improved” dwarf varieties are better suited for container growing than other larger cultivars. 

Another thing to keep in mind: Most lemon trees do not bear fruit until they are three to four years old. Do yourself a favor and purchase a more mature tree, especially if you’re looking to have fruit within the first year of ownership. 

How to pot a lemon tree

Many growers choose to grow their lemon trees in terracotta pots because it helps with keeping the soil from becoming oversaturated with water. That being said, there isn’t anything wrong with planting your tree in a plastic or glazed pot at long as there are drainage holes. Lemon trees do not like sitting in water.  

Also, as a standard rule of thumb, the container needs to be at least 2” larger than the root ball of the plant. This helps promote growth and keeps your plant healthy.

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What kind of soil is right for the lemon tree?

You’ll be able to find citrus potting mix at any local nursery or online source. The soil needs to be a compound that will dry out easily. If you need to make your own mix, add regular potting mix with equal parts sand for the same feel. A citrus mix will help to prevent over watering as well as mimicking your trees natural environment.  

What kind of light does the lemon tree need?

This is where it can get tricky while caring for lemon trees. All citrus plants need a ton of bright light in order to thrive indoors—I’m talking more than 10 hours per day. The optimal place for a lemon tree would be in a south-facing window. Without enough light the plant will not produce flowers, and therefore will not produce fruit. If you’re worried about your light situation, try supplementing with a grow light

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What kind of temperature does a lemon tree need?

Temperature is also very important when growing lemon trees indoors. These plants do not like cold temperatures, nor do they like radical temperature change. This means that you need to keep them away from forced air vents, doors that open outside, radiators, drafty windows, and fireplaces. 

Lemon trees thrive at steady temperatures between 50 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

How much should you water your lemon tree?

Even though lemon trees are native to the Mediterranean and thrive in arid environments, it is important to water your tree regularly. When the soil is dry 1 to 2 inches deep (roughly two knuckles into the soil), pour water into the pot until it runs out the drainage holes and into the tray. Let your lemon tree dry between waterings. This means that your watering schedule will be different in the summer than it will be in the winter. You might end up watering your tree every week in the summer, but only every two or three weeks in the winter.

For an additional boost, mist the leaves a few times a week and fertilize with a high-nitrogen product made for citrus trees. Be sure to read the instructions on the bottle. Don’t over fertilize your tree, which can give it chemical burn.

Dealing with bugs on your lemon tree

Keep on the lookout for the regular houseplant pests like aphids and spider mites. Lemon tree leaves are especially yummy which makes these plants extremely vulnerable. If your plant gets stressed from over or under-watering, not enough light, or extreme temperature change, it will become more susceptible to pests. 

Getting fruit from your lemon tree

Sometimes a lemon tree kept indoors will figure out how to pollinate itself without the help of insects, but most of the time they will need your help. All you need is a cotton swab or small paintbrush. The only tricky part is figuring out which part of the flower is male and which part is female. The male parts, called anthers, will be protruding from the bloom and will be covered in pollen. Coat your swab or brush with the pollen. Find the female part of the flower, called the stigma, which is in the middle of the bloom and will be sticky. Coat as much of the stigma as possible with the pollen collected. You’ll know if you were successful when the bloom begins to grow a small fruit.