Meyer Lemon Trees: Everything You Need to Know

Meyer lemon trees are a type of citrus tree native to China. They’re named after Frank Meyer, who introduced the lemon to the United States in 1908.

meyer lemon tree
meyer lemon tree

They’re a cross between a lemon and mandarin orange, are juicy and less tart. They’re also sweet compared to other lemons, making them ideal for desserts and cocktails.

These hybrid fruit trees are relatively small, reaching only 6 to 10 feet. They have a compact growth habit and can be grown indoors in containers or outdoors.

They also can withstand colder temperatures than other citrus trees. If you’re thinking about adding a Meyer lemon tree to your garden, here’s what you need to know.

A Brief History of Meyer Lemon Tree

The Meyer lemon tree is a relatively new citrus hybrid introduced to the United States in 1908. It’s named after Frank Meyer, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) employee who discovered it on a trip to China.

Meyer brought back about 2,500 seeds, which were planted at the USDA’s research station in Arlington, Virginia.

Of those 2,500 seeds, only one tree survived and produced fruit. All Meyer lemon trees currently in the USA are descended from that single tree.

However, this tree gained popularity in the 1970s when interest in backyard gardening was on the rise.

Homeowners were looking for fruit trees that produced tasty fruit; were easy to grow, and disease and insect-resistant; and the Meyer lemon tree fit the bill.

Today, Meyer lemon trees are still a popular choice for both home gardeners and commercial growers alike.

Where Does Meyer Lemon Tree Grow?

These hybrid citrus trees can grow in both tropical and subtropical climates. However, they prefer milder temperatures and won’t tolerate extreme heat or cold.

In the United States, Meyer lemon trees flourish in USDA Hardiness Zones 8-11, which include states like California, Texas, Florida, and Hawaii.

They can also be found in other countries with similar climates, such as Italy, Spain, Mexico, Australia, and South Africa.

Facts about Meyer Lemon Tree

A Meyer lemon tree has many characteristics that make it a desirable fruit tree for home gardeners and commercial growers.

Here are some notable facts about this unique tree:

  • They’re a cross between a lemon and mandarin orange
  • Can bear fruit in as little as two years
  • They’re self-pollinating trees
  • Will fruit both indoors and outdoors
  • They’re smaller than regular lemons and have a thinner skin
  • The flesh of the Meyer lemon is less acidic than the flesh of a regular lemon
  • Tolerates colder temperatures better than other citrus trees
  • Fruits are less acidic and sweeter than regular lemons

Meyer Lemon Tree Physical Appearance

Meyer lemon trees grow 6-10 feet tall, while the dwarf variety reaches 5-7 feet. However, the size of the Meyer plant can be controlled by growing it in a pot–the smaller the pot, the shorter the tree will be.

The tree has evergreen foliage of deep green, glossy leaves. Its beautiful white flowers have a light citrus scent and bloom in the spring.

Meyer Lemon Flower
Meyer Lemon Flower

These flowers will eventually turn into the fruit characteristic of Meyer lemon trees.

When ripe, the fruit is oval and has smooth, thin, and fragrant deep yellow skin. Its flesh is also deep yellow and contains several seeds. The fruit can measure up to 3 inches in length.

Meyer Lemons vs. Regular Lemons

Meyer lemons
Meyer lemons

Meyer lemon trees and regular lemon trees may look similar, but there are some differences between the two. These include:

Taste of the fruit

Meyer lemons are less acidic and sweeter than regular lemons.

Size of the tree

Meyer lemon trees are smaller than regular lemon trees. That is advantageous to a home garden where space is limited.

Cold tolerance

Meyer lemon trees are more cold tolerant than regular lemon trees. They can withstand temperatures as low as 20 degrees Fahrenheit, while regular lemons will only tolerate temperatures down to 30 degrees Fahrenheit.

Fruit skin

The skin of a Meyer lemon is thinner and more fragrant than the skin of a regular lemon.

Price and availability

Meyer lemons are more expensive than regular lemons and can be hard to find in grocery stores. They’re often only available in specialty stores or online.

Besides, Meyer lemons are seasonal and are typically only available from October through May.

Growing and Caring for Meyer Lemon Trees

Planting Meyer trees, whether indoors or outdoors, is relatively easy. Ensure to choose a location that gets full sun and has well-drained soil.

Meyer lemon trees are drought-tolerant, so you don’t need to worry about watering them too often.

Planting Meyer Lemon Tree:

Here are the steps for planting a Meyer lemon tree:

#1. Choose a location for your tree that gets full sunshine

#2. Dig a hole that’s twice as wide as the root ball and just as deep

#3. Carefully remove the tree from its container

#4. Place the tree in the hole so that the roots are spread out

#5. Backfill the hole with soil and water thoroughly

#6. Apply a layer of mulch around the base of the tree

#7. Water regularly, especially during the first growing season

If growing the tree in a pot, ensure it’s at least 10-12 inches in diameter and has drainage holes.

Be sure to mix a potting mix with peat moss, potting soil, and vermiculite or perlite. Also, citrus trees grown in pots need to be watered more often than those grown in the ground.

Soil Requirement:

Meyer lemon trees thrive in sandy, well-drained soils. They’re also tolerant of heavy clay soils as long as they’re not allowed to be waterlogged.

The ideal pH range for Meyer lemon trees is 6.0-7.0. You can modify your soil to reach the desired pH level by adding sulfur to increase soil acidity or lime to lower acidity.

Sunlight Needed:

Meyer lemon trees require 8-12 hours of sunlight daily to grow and yield the best. They’ll still grow in partial sun but may not produce as much fruit.

If you live in an area with hot summers, some afternoon shade might be beneficial to prevent leaf scorch.

However, grow lights can be an alternative if you can’t provide your tree with the sun it requires.

Watering Meyer Lemon Tree:

Meyer lemon trees are drought-tolerant and only need to be watered when the top inch of soil is dry.

You should water deeply so that the water penetrates the roots and allow the soil to dry out completely between watering sessions.

If you’re growing your tree in a pot, it’ll need to be watered more often than the one grown in the ground. However, don’t overwater your Meyer lemon tree as that can lead to problems like root rot.

Fertilizing Meyer Lemon Tree:

Meyer lemon trees don’t need a lot of fertilizer to thrive. If you need to fertilize, use a citrus fertilizer with a 3-1-2 ratio of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.

Apply the fertilizer in early spring and late fall, following the instructions on the package.

Temperature and Humidity:

Meyer lemon trees can tolerate temperatures as low as 20°F. However, they won’t produce fruits if the temperature drops below 55°F.

If frost is predicted in your area, take measures to protect your tree, such as covering it with a sheet or moving it indoors.

Citrus trees do best with humidity levels between 40-60%. If the air is too dry, the leaves may dry out, and the plant may be more susceptible to pests and diseases.

You can mist the leaves or set the tree on a pebble tray to increase humidity levels.

Pollination Tips:

The best thing about Meyer lemon trees is that they’re self-pollinating. So if your tree is located outdoors, bees will do the pollinating for you.

However, if it’s indoors and you want to ensure a good fruit crop, you can help by gently shaking the tree when the flowers are blooming.

Pruning Meyer Lemon Tree:

It’s crucial to prune your Meyer lemon tree periodically to encourage new growth and prevent problems like diseased or dead branches.

Use sharp, clean pruning shears to cut back branches that are crossing or rubbing against each other, don’t produce fruits, are dead, damaged, or diseased.

You can also trim away any suckers (shoots that grow from the roots) and water sprouts (shoots that extend from the trunk or branches).

Propagating Meyer Lemon Trees:

It’s pretty straightforward to propagate Meyer lemon trees by seeds or cuttings.

Seed propagation is the fickle method and can take up to 8 years for the tree to fruit. Cutting, on the other hand, is the most reliable method and can take 1- 3 years for the tree to fruit.

Here is the procedure on how to propagate the Meyer lemon tree via cutting:

#1. Take a cutting from a mature and disease-free mother plant

#2. Start with a cutting that is about 6-8 inches long and has 2-3 leaves

#3. Remove the bottom leaves so that you’re left with 2-3 leaves at the top

#4. Dip the end of the cutting into rooting hormone to protect against root rot or disease

#5. Fill a pot with well-draining potting mix and make a hole in the center

#6. Insert the cutting into the hole and firm the potting mix around it

#7. Water the soil and place the pot in a location that gets indirect sunlight

#8. Keep the soil moist but not wet, and wait for the cutting to root, which usually takes 1-2 months

#9. Transplant the cutting into a larger pot or the ground once it has rooted

Pests and diseases:

Meyer lemon trees are generally resistant to pests and diseases. However, they can be susceptible to problems like aphids, scale, mealy bugs, and whiteflies.

These pests can be controlled with insecticidal soap or horticultural oil.

Meyer lemon trees can also be affected by diseases like Alternaria brown spot, greasy spot, and anthracnose. These can be controlled with fungicides.

When Does a Meyer Lemon Tree Bear Fruit?

Meyer lemon trees start bearing fruit at different times, depending on how they’re grown. Meyer lemon tree propagated from a cutting usually takes 2-3 years to produce fruit, while the one grown from seed can take up to 8 years.

How to Harvest Meyer Lemons?

Meyer lemons are ready to harvest in late fall or early winter. First, gently squeeze the lemon to find out if they’re ripe.

Unripe Meyer Lemon on Tree
Unripe Meyer Lemon on Tree

If it yields to pressure, it’s ready to be picked. You can also tell by the color. Ripe lemons will be deep yellow, while unripe ones are green.

How to store Meyer Lemons?

Fruits can be stored at room temperature for up to 2 weeks. If you want to store them for longer, you can place them in the fridge, where they’ll keep for up to 4 weeks.

You can also freeze them. To do so, wash and dry the lemons, then slice or quarter them.

Place the lemon slices or quarters in a freezer bag and remove as much air as possible before sealing. Frozen Meyer lemons will keep for up to 6 months.

Uses for Meyer Lemons

The unique flavor of Meyer lemons makes them a popular choice for use in both sweet and savory dishes.

Lemon Loaf and Meyer Lemons
Lemon Loaf and Meyer Lemons

Here are some ideas for how to use Meyer lemons:

  • Add them to baked goods like cakes, cookies, and pies
  • Make a Meyer lemonade by mixing the juice with water and sugar
  • Use the zest to flavor salad dressings, fish dishes, or pasta
  • Make a Meyer lemon marmalade or jelly
  • Add them to cocktails or mocktails for a refreshing twist

Meyer Lemons Health Benefits

Here are different ways that Meyer lemons can benefit your health:

  • The antioxidants in Meyer lemons can help boost your immune system
  • Meyer lemon juice is a good source of vitamin C needed for good health
  • The citrus scent of Meyer lemons can help boost your mood and fight fatigue
  • Meyer lemons also contain flavonoids, compounds that have been linked to a lower risk of heart disease

Bottom Line: Make Meyer Lemon Trees Part of Your Garden

Meyer lemon trees are a great addition to any garden. This fast-growing and unique tree in the citrus world can provide you with an abundance of delicious lemons used in different ways.

Not to mention, Meyer lemon trees are also relatively easy to care for. So, if you’re looking for a new tree to add to your garden, consider a Meyer lemon tree.

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