How to care for an indoor lemon tree?

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Wanting to grow your own lemons, but don’t have the space or climate for an outdoor tree? Indoor lemon trees may be a great option for you. They produce edible fruit, are easy to maintain, and are lovely to look at. Check out the dwarf varieties and how to care for an indoor lemon tree by reading below.

Indoor lemon tree

Potted lemons are grown as indoor lemon trees for the cooler months in cold climates. Most gardeners who grow their lemon trees indoors do try to move them outdoors for at least a couple of months during the summer so they can thrive in a more natural environment with increased sunlight, warmth, and air circulation. Indoor lemon trees make fantastic patio plants for the warmest months, even in cold climates.

One stem left on lemon tree in pot

Choosing the best lemon tree to plant indoors

Considering lemon trees that grow outdoors can grow to very tall heights (about 30 feet), you don’t want to choose a large lemon tree. Instead, search for a dwarf lemon tree that stays small and grows fruit quickly. Growing a lemon tree indoors is a great option because there is no danger of frost and you get fruit without stepping outdoors.

Indoor Dwarf Meyer Lemon Trees are a great option and are one of the most popular indoor lemon trees. It is a cross between a lemon and mandarin orange tree, so the fruit is extremely sweet, tangy, and delicious. It’s one of the easiest indoor citrus trees to maintain and produces lemons that are just the right size.

Other lemon varieties are the Dwarf Ponderosa, which delivers slightly larger lemons, and the Dwarf Variegated Pink Lemonade which has beautiful pink flesh but tastes just like a regular lemon. Each of these is a good choice when picking an indoor plant.

Dwarf Meyer Lemons grow to about 3 or 4 feet tall and are the perfect citrus plants to have indoors. Other dwarf lemon plants may grow up to 6 feet tall. It is highly advised that you purchase a dwarf lemon tree instead of trying to grow your own from seed. Even if you have a dwarf seed, it will still produce a large tree not meant to be indoors. It also won’t bear fruit quickly and will take years to mature and be ready.

Indoor lemon tree
Place your lemon tree by the sunniest window in your house (or in your solarium if you happen to be so lucky! )

Placement of your indoor lemon tree

Lemon trees love sunlight! Wherever you place your lemon tree, make sure it has about 8 hours of sunlight each day. A south-facing window will give it the best light and the more light it gets, the better off it will be. Find a sunny window and set up shop for your little tree. A solarium is even better if you happen to have one. If you don’t have adequately lit windows or spaces, artificial light will do just fine.

Lemon trees are easy in terms of temperature because they like to be about 65 degrees F. Most homes are kept right around this temperature so you most likely won’t have to think about that aspect of raising indoor lemon plants.

Bring your potted lemon tree outdoors for the summer
Place your lemon trees in the sunniest spot in your home during the winter and then bring them outside in the summertime for a sun-bathing vacation.

Bringing your indoor lemon tree outdoors for the warm summer months is generally good for the health of the plant. In the spring, wait until temperatures are not only warm in the daytime but also not too cold in the nighttime. Lemon trees can usually survive 42°F (5°C) nights but really shouldn’t go outdoors overnight until nighttime lows don’t get much colder than 50°F (10°C). Bring them outdoors when you plant your tomatoes outdoors (as a general rule of thumb).

Small indoor potted citrus tree
Lemon trees are usually potted in a plastic nursery pot when they arrive. You can re-pot them into a proper planter or slip the plastic pot inside a larger decorative planter.

Picking the perfect lemon tree pot

As your little lemon tree grows, you will have to change the pot. You want the pot you choose to have just enough soil to surround the roots. Too much space and dirt and you won’t be able to tell if your plant needs more water. Start with a pot that is about a foot in diameter. As the plant grows, increase the size of the pot. To avoid having to rehome it too much, use pots that are doubled in size each time.

Whichever type of pot you choose to use, make sure it has adequate drainage holes at the bottom so excess water doesn’t build up in the soil. You may also want to opt for a lighter-colored pot because lemon trees like cool soil. Dark pots will attract the sun and heat.

Another tip is to place your pot on a wheeled dolly or platform. As the plant grows it gets very heavy and may be difficult to move when you need to re-pot or move around. In the summer months, your lemon tree might like a trip outdoors, but be sure to bring it back inside when fall hits.

Lemon foliage

How to water and fertilize your lemon tree?

Before watering your plant again, let the soil dry out to about 3 inches deep. I just poke my finger in until I feel the wetness and go based on that. Water your lemon tree until the water starts coming out of the drainage holes at the bottom. When you see this, you will know it has been watered through. The soil and plant will soak up what it needs and the rest will run out of the holes. You can use a moisture meter or your finger to test the wetness of the soil during watering.

If you see your lemon tree developing yellow leaves, it may have soggy soil, roots, or nutrient problems you will have to solve. Root rot isn’t something you want to have to mess with. Try your best not to over or underwater your plant.

Lemon trees require plenty of nitrogen in their diet. They also like magnesium and iron! You can use a fertilizer like Pennington Ultragreen Citrus Plant Food to give it the nutrients it needs. This fertilizer feeds your plant for up to four months due to the slow-release fertilizer! As with any plant, check the instructions when you purchase it for suggestions on optimal growth and maintenance. Your garden center specialist may also have some great tips.

Applying coffee grounds to your lemon tree’s soil can be very beneficial. Lemon trees and other citrus plants love acidic soil. Adding coffee grounds to the soil is a great way to improve the soil pH if it is low.

Baby lemon tree

Avoiding spider mites and other pests

Spider mites love lemons! I recommend isolating your new lemon tree for a month or so to make sure they aren’t unknowingly infested with any pests. You don’t want anything they have to transfer to your other indoor plants. Think of it like plant quarantine!

To avoid spider mite infestations, keep the humidity levels up because they love dry air. If you can add a humidifier in the room, it should help keep mites at bay. Cleaning your plant with mild soapy water from time to time will also help keep spider mites off your plant. Some insecticidal soap may also be useful but read the labels to make sure they are safe for lemon trees.

Do I need to pollinate or prune my lemon tree?

Indoor lemon trees and other indoor plants are self-pollinating, meaning you don’t have to do anything to get fruit. If you want to help the fruit-bearing process along though you can gently shake the lemon tree every so often to help spread the pollen. Outside, insects would pollinate the lovely plants we have, but indoors hopefully you don’t have that issue.

Your indoor lemon tree shouldn’t require any pruning. If however, you do see thorns, trim them away using a proper gardening tool like these Gardening Shears. Trim anything necessary near the soil level. If at all possible, avoid pruning on outside branches since that is where fruit tends to come from first.

Lemon tree indoors with shiny green foliage

Indoor lemon tree summary

Growing an indoor lemon tree can be a wonderful and easy experience. Since the dwarf variants of this tree are easy to maintain and require no additional pollination, they do much of the work themselves. The trickiest part is moving the plant if and when it gets too large for the pot it is in. If you enjoy lemons for making lemonade and other tart treats, you will love having your own fruit-bearing citrus plant inside the home. Enjoy the delicious fruit and the fruits of your labor.

Mary Jane Duford
Mary Jane Duford

Mary Jane Duford is a gardening expert and founder of Home for the Harvest. She's also a professional engineer, certified permaculture garden designer, and master gardener in training. Mary Jane has been featured by publications such as Real Simple, Mother Earth News, Homes & Gardens, Heirloom Gardener, and Family Handyman.