My friends gave me a small Meyer lemon tree in a pot for my birthday. It already has a few tiny lemons growing! How should I take care of it?
As you probably already know, Meyer lemon (or any citrus) must be grown in a container anywhere the temperature gets to the freezing point in winter, because it will have to come indoors. With that in mind, plan to treat it as you would any high-maintenance houseplant – give it the right soil, lots of light, enough (but not too much) water, a little fertilizer, and plenty of TLC.
Use a container with adequate drainage, and a good potting mix. Some sources recommend placing a layer of gravel in the bottom of the pot for additional drainage. Choose a soilless potting mix that contains vermiculite or perlite; never use garden soil for your Meyer lemon in a container.
The tree can spend the summer outdoors where it can get plenty of sunlight (the recommended amount is at least 8 hours a day). In fact, if you want lemons, place the plant outdoors before it blooms, so the bees and other pollinators can do their job when the flowers emerge; otherwise, you’ll need to fertilize the flowers by hand in order for lemons to form.
Be sure to water the plant regularly. A layer of mulch on top of the soil will help retain moisture, but don’t smother the trunk of the tree with mulch, and allow the soil to dry between waterings.
Meyer lemon (and other citrus plants) benefits from regular applications of plant food. I use Espoma Organic Citrus-tone, but there are other choices available. Follow the instructions on the package. Citrus-tone’s recommended fertilizing schedule suggests feeding in late winter (before the plant blooms), late spring (after it blooms) and in fall.
As the weather begins to cool down, prepare the tree to come indoors. Begin to bring it into the shade well before the first frost date, so that it can begin to acclimate to lower light conditions. When you bring the plant indoors, place it in a south- or southwest-facing window – or as sunny a spot as you can find – and provide supplemental light if necessary. Regular, light misting with water from a spray bottle helps provide the humidity citrus plants need.
Watch for aphids, spider mites, mealybugs and scale, all of which may be attracted to your Meyer lemon. If you find signs of insect infestation (webs, speckled leaves, sticky residue) treat the plant with insecticidal soap.
Lemons generally ripen in six to nine months. It takes a bit of care and attention to produce fruit, but the flavor of Meyer lemons, which is somewhat sweeter than other lemons, is worth the extra work.