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What’s blooming indoors? Meyer lemon

I have a Meyer lemon tree that I keep indoors. It’s often full of blooms and the flowers smell wonderful. I’m always looking for lemons to start growing, but the flowers dry up and fall off and I never get any fruit.

meyer lemon flower closeup 3As long as the tree is indoors where the air is still and there aren’t any insects flying around, your Meyer lemon will most likely continue to be a delightfully fragrant but non-fruit-bearing plant. What the flowers need to produce fruit is the process of pollination.

You’ve heard of the birds and the bees, right? Outdoors, flying insects (bees and other pollinators) go from flower to flower, dipping into the pollen on the stamens – the cluster of thin filaments — and spreading it to the stigma at the center of the flower.

Indoors, if you want fruit, you’ll have to take care of that little detail yourself. Lemon trees are self-pollinating, meaning that the flowers shed pollen directly onto the stigma, but they still may rely on wind or insects — or human intervention, if necessary — to shake things up.

Here’s how you can help: As the flowers open, use a cotton swab or a small artist’s paintbrush to collect pollen from the anthers (the tips of the stamens), then rub the stigma with the swab to transfer the pollen. It’s a slow process, but the tree should begin to produce lemons (which grow fairly slowly, by the way).

Meyer lemons growing indoors where winters are cold need a lot of sunlight, and they also benefit from time spent outside when the weather warms up. Place a lemon tree in a protected spot outdoors, moving it gradually into full sun, when nighttime temperatures stay above about 50 degrees. Outdoors, the bees will do the job of pollinating the flowers, of course.

In general, Meyer lemon trees thrive in good potting mix in a container that drains well. Make sure the soil doesn’t dry out completely, but don’t overwater it, either. Fertilize regularly with an organic fertilizer designed for citrus, following directions on the label. (I’ve used Espoma’s Organic Citrus-tone citrus and avocado food, with good results).

Learn to love a lemon

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?
Meyer lemon
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.