Why Meyer Lemons Are So Special and How to Grow Them

meyer lemon on tree - why meyer lemons are so special and how to grow them

It’s safe to say most people love citrus fruits, right? Citrus fruits are typically tangy with a slight sweetness. They compliment drinks, desserts and even savory dishes. One decorative and sweet citrus fruit that’s been gaining popularity is Meyer lemons.

What are Meyer Lemon Trees?


Meyer lemons were discovered by an American agricultural explorer named Frank N. Meyer during a trip to China. These Chinese fruits are a hybrid of traditional lemons and mandarin oranges. Aside from their softer, thinner peel, Meyer lemons reassemble the lemons we often use.

Because they have a thinner peel, it’s possible to use every part of the Meyer lemon aside from the seeds. Also, it’s important to carefully peel these fruits to avoid damaging the meat. Meyer lemons have sweet, sour, and floral flavor notes.

Although they’ve been in America since the early 20th century, they weren’t popular until professional chef Alice Waters began using them in her restaurant. Once cooking genius and cultural icon Martha Stewart began incorporating them into her recipes, the Meyer lemon went mainstream.

How to Find Meyer Lemons


While Meyer lemons are available in grocery stores, they’re not as common as traditional ones. It’s partially due to their shelf life. Since they have a thinner peel, they’re unable to remain fresh during longer commutes.

When sealed in an airtight bag and refrigerated, these lemons last up to a week. When left at room temperature, they’re only fresh for a few days. You can also freeze their juice, which lasts for up to six months.

Meyer lemons are typically found as houseplants, however some plant them outdoors. These trees grow to be between six and ten feet. Usually, you grow Meyer lemon trees from smaller plants in garden pots. These can either continue growing in a pot or be transferred to a garden. If you want fresh, juicy Meyer lemons, consider growing a tree of your own.

Growing Meyer Lemons


yellow citrus tree - why meyer lemons are so special and how to grow them

One of the greatest things about growing Meyer lemon plants is that you only need one tree. These trees are self-pollinators, meaning planting one tree produces plenty of fruit. By consistently following a few steps, you’ll have a healthy tree full of Meyer lemons.

Environment

Meyer lemon trees are best grown in warm environments, so you can grow them indoors or outdoors in a container. Whether you grow them inside or outside, these plants need at least six hours of sunlight everyday. Indoor plants grow best near a south-facing window. If necessary, install grow lights in your home to increase growing potential.

If you decide to grow your Meyer lemon tree outdoors, find a sunny place with minimal amounts of shade. Citrus plants in general thrive in sunlight between 50 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Therefore, if your plants are outside and it reaches below 50 degrees, bring them indoors.

Soil

When it comes to growing these lemon trees, healthy growth depends on the soil. Make sure it has good drainage. This allows the soil to take in enough water to stay moist. You can find fertilizer made for citrus plants, which has a high nitrogen content. Slow-release, all-purpose fertilizer is an alternative. Liquid fertilizers like compost tea work well, but aren’t necessary for optimal plant growth.

Regularly add fertilizer during the warmer months. If possible, fertilize your Meyer lemons once a month between April and September. Installing applicators makes it easier to regularly feed your plants. Don’t feed your plants during the fall and winter months. As long as the leaves aren’t yellowing, they won’t need fertilizer until the warmer months.

Watering

Regularly watering potted Meyer lemon plants is essential for growth. You want your plants to have enough fluid to retain moisture, but avoid soggy soil. A great way to test your soil’s moisture is by sticking your finger into the soil up to your knuckle. If your fingertip feels wet, that means your plant has enough water and you should wait to add more. If dry, add water until it runs from the bottom of your pot.

If the inside of your home tends to be warm, it’s recommended you regularly spritz your lemon plant’s leaves with water. It’s also wise to use plant pot feet, which elevate your plant enough for excess water to drain. Pro tip: use a water conscious garden design.

Pruning

In addition to maintaining healthy growing habits, you should regularly prune your tree. While pruning isn’t absolutely necessary, it improves your tree’s health. If your tree takes up too much space, pruning regularly gives you more living space.

Pruning removes long branches that don’t produce fruit, dead and rotting leaves and diseased branches for better quality fruit. This also helps shape your plant to better support fruit as it appears. Allow your plant to grow between eight and ten feet before pruning otherwise healthy branches.

Harvesting

There’s nothing like enjoying fresh fruit. Growing your own Meyer lemons is the best way to enjoy these uncommon lemons year-round. Remember, Meyer lemons must be connected to the tree to ripen, so only pick them at their peak to ensure the best quality. Meyer lemons with an egg yolk-like color and relatively soft feel are usually ripe.

When harvesting your ripe lemons, it’s best to use a knife or scissors. Doing so keeps the other branches strong and healthy since you’re only taking what you need. Unless you’re planning to give them away, only harvest the amount of Meyer lemons you’ll use within their freshness window.

Ripe Meyer lemons are great for lemonade, desserts, and even savory meals. Since Meyer lemons tend to be significantly sweeter than traditional lemons, be sure to modify the amount of sugar in your recipes.

Conclusion


Taking care of Meyer lemon plants is relatively easy. By following the proper instructions, your lemon tree will flourish and consistently produce healthy fruits. If you’re lucky, you’ll never have to buy lemons again!

Feature image: Mark Bonica; Image 1: Ryan Baker

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