Rachel and I have enjoyed growing Meyer lemons for the past several years. These tiny evergreen citrus trees produce fragrant flowers and juicy fruit. Citrus trees are definitely not hardy enough for Kansas, but they can be easily grown in pots outdoors during the summer and brought inside during the winter. The Meyer lemon tree was named for Frank Meyer, an agricultural explorer who worked for the USDA during the early 1900s. He was sent to East Asia to find plants that might be of economic value in the United States. He is credited with introducing numerous agricultural and ornamental crops into the American landscape.
The Meyer lemon is not really a lemon at all, but a cross between a regular lemon and a mandarin orange. They’re generally smaller, sweeter and less acidic than regular lemons. They also have a distinct herbal spiciness. Although they’re tart, they’re not quite as harsh. Keep this in mind when substituting for regular lemons in recipes. Meyer lemon juice adds a uniquely nuanced flavor when squeezed onto baked or grilled seafood.
Meyer lemon trees can grow to be over 10 feet tall. The size of the pot will determine the size of the tree. This is an important consideration because you’ll be moving the tree back and forth each year. We grow our two-foot tall lemon tree in a 12-inch deep pot with an eight-inch diameter. This keeps it to a more manageable size because our home fills up quickly when we bring in all of our plants for the winter. There’s nothing worse than trying to choose which plant to sacrifice or give away because we just don’t have any more room. Citrus trees are self-pollinating, so you’ll only need one plant in order to produce fruit. Your fruit production will be more consistent if you pollinate each blossom with a Q-tip. Two or more trees will help to pollinate each other. Meyer lemons are green on the tree until they mature. You might even mistake them for limes. They will slowly turn yellow over the course of several months as they ripen.
Meyer lemon trees are very easy to grow. Start by choosing a lightweight pot that drains well. Never use pots that don’t have drain holes. Rachel and I use a regular potting mixture for all of our plants. Water until the pot drains freely. Allow the soil to dry out between watering. Spritz the leaves on occasion because most homes are extremely dry during the winter. If the leaves start to turn yellow, or drop off, then water a little more frequently.
From March through September we fertilize monthly. Since the tree is outdoors at this time of year, it’s OK to use composted manure or fish emulsion. Try to grow food crops organically. There’s no need to fertilize during the winter. Make sure your tree gets at least six hours of sunlight. A south facing window is perfect. How easy is that? Meyer lemon trees provide fresh fruit, fragrant flowers, and evergreen leaves to help make winter a little more tolerable. These trees can be purchased online or from our local nurseries.
Rachel and I had a lemon and a lime tree until this past spring. An unexpected overnight frost killed our lime tree. I knew better than to set it out too early, but spring fever got the best of me. Citrus trees can’t tolerate temperatures cooler than 40 degrees. When you bring your plants in for the winter, make sure they’re away from drafty doors and windows.
Rachel and Ivan Minnis are avid gardeners. They live in Leavenworth. For more information, visit The Minnis Rose Garden on Facebook. Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org