Good to Grow: Sweet tips for growing your own lemons

OK, I admit it: I’m a bit jealous over a lemon tree.

My oldest and dearest friend is not a gardener, not even close, but her house has the perfect sunlight and soil to have fabulous vegetable gardens. I’ve gotten used to her having baskets of tomatoes and bushels of peppers, but I can’t get past the lush lemon tree that she grows effortlessly on her patio.

I buy lemons, she walks over to her tree and picks them. Yes, it makes me a bit sour (lemon humor), but now I’m on a mission to learn about lemon trees and how I, too, can have fresh lemons within my reach.

Meyer lemons are the most common lemon trees among home gardeners.

They are often more shrub-like but can be pruned into tree form. They will get big, 8 to 10 feet tall when planted outside in warmer climates, but when grown inside, the container will determine the size of the plant. (They do have dwarf varieties, but really what fun is that?)

So, choose a large pot, one that is wide and deep. This will give your tree room to form a healthy root structure, one that will support the 6- to 8-foot tree frame. Use quality soil and create good drainage — Meyer trees don’t like wet feet.

This pot will be heavy when planted, so choose your location carefully. I’m guessing it will be outside during the summer months, but it should be moved indoors when the temperatures drop to 50 degrees.

Keep in mind any stairs to your patio or porch, and be ready to transport a tree at the beginning and end of the season. When selecting your indoor spot, pick a window where your plant will get six hours of sunlight. If not, consider a grow lamp. And, as always, rotate the plant every few weeks so it grows straight and all sides are exposed to the light.

Also, keep your potted plant away from any furnace vent. This will cause the plant to dry out quickly and create stress for the leaves.

Keeping a spray mister close is a good idea. Consider lightly misting the leaves once a week. The mist will help with the humidity that the tree craves and gets from being outside in warmer temps. When it comes time to water the plant, a good way to check is to feel around the soil. Insert your finger up to the second knuckle; if the soil feels damp, wait a few days to water.

All of this is very important, but what about pollination? Luckily these trees are self-pollinating, although having another tree close by will increase fruit production. These trees can bloom all year long but like blooming in the cooler seasons. The blooms have a wonderful scent and are so beautiful, so be sure to enjoy this step in the growing cycle.

Did you know you can pollinate by hand? Take a small, dry paintbrush and delicately run it over the blooms, like you are painting them. Do this for a couple of days to each bloom and don’t wash your paintbrush in between days.

Just like any tree, the lemon tree can be pruned. If necessary, only trim the limbs that are outliers: those that are oddly tall or crossing/rubbing other branches. Avoid pruning the bottom branches, they are more mature and produce fruit that is easy to reach.

When it comes time to harvest your lemons, wait until they turn a deep yellow, almost orange-ish color. Be careful when removing them: don’t yank them off the branch, but gently twist, and if this doesn’t work, use a sharp knife to cut the fruit off the tree.

The great thing about Meyer lemons is that the skin is soft and edible when used for baking. If all of this lemon talk sounds complicated and not worth the effort when you could just buy a bag of lemons from the market, remember my non-gardener, non-green-thumbed friend. She does none of this, yet has an abundance of fruit every year.

So, don’t be a sour puss (see what I did there), give it a try. Meyer lemons are a treat. Use them, share them with your neighbors and feel accomplished with what you have harvested.