Lemon trees can flourish in containers. There are dwarf varieties that have been developed to make having an indoor tree more manageable. And with a little prudent pruning, you can have a beautiful, productive tree for years. And depending on where you live, your tree can spend much of its time outside, as long as it’s frost-free and it gets everything else it needs.
The secret to successfully growing lemon trees in containers is to have good light, a comfortable temperature and humidity for the tree, healthy soil, and consistent water. Hit all those targets and your container-grown lemon tree will be just fine!
Lemon trees need eight to 12 hours of sunlight each day to flourish. If they’re indoors, they should be in a window that faces south or southwest. The light should be direct, not filtered. Unlike deciduous trees, lemon trees don’t go dormant during the winter, so you may need to provide some supplemental light in the darker months of winter. At the very least, your trees will need at least five to six hours of direct sunlight (natural or artificial) when indoors for the winter.
If you live in a temperate zone with warm summers and cold winters, your lemon trees can spend spring, summer, and probably part of fall outside. Just don’t leave them outside if there’s a chance of temperatures dropping below freezing. You’ll want to phase them into indoor living over the course of a month to avoid shocking their system. See Winterizing Your Lemon Trees for details.
Water & Humidity
Keep your tree’s soil moist, but not soggy. In general, plan to water your tree with a quart to a half gallon of water every five to seven days. Make sure the container your tree is growing in has adequate drainage, so the roots are never standing in water. Check the soil’s moisture level periodically. You can use something as basic as a pencil to poke down into the soil to see where the moisture is.
In the winter time, when humidity is lower, you may need to provide a little extra moisture for the air. If you put the container on top of a layer of pebbles or marbles, you can add water to that layer. You’ll be providing extra moisture for the air and improving airflow for the plant. You can also mist the tree’s leaves with a spray bottle; that will provide humidity and get any accumulated dust off the leaves as well.
For a happy, healthy lemon tree, use a commercial soil mix developed for trees. Some gardeners prefer to use soil from their garden, but that can introduce any number of pathogens to your young tree.
When it comes to using fertilizer, only fertilize your tree when it’s actively growing, usually spring through summer. Choose a slow-release granular fertilizer made especially for citrus plants. If there are no specific instructions for container-grown trees, mix the fertilizer at half the recommended strength.
Even dwarf variety lemon trees can grow to a sizeable height. To keep your container-grown tree at a manageable size, you’ll want to prune it regularly. Cut new shoots back to about half their length, cutting just above a leaf. Assess the inside branches of your tree. If it’s getting dense in the middle, prune some of those inner branches back; this will improve airflow and will let more sun get to the middle of your tree. Remove dead wood on a regular basis.
Have you grown lemon trees in containers? Do you put them outside for part of the year, or grow them indoors year-round? Please tell us about your successes and challenges growing lemon trees in containers.