How to Plant, Grow, and Care For Dwarf Meyer Lemon Trees
Dwarf meyer lemon trees can make excellent fruit tree companions for your garden, in the right climate and hardiness zone. In this article, recreational gardener Jason White walks through every step you'll need to take in order to successfully plant, grow, and care for dwarf meyer lemon trees in your garden.
Owning a dwarf Meyer lemon tree can make you feel like you’re living in a tropical paradise. As a result of this fruit tree’s small size, it thrives in both outdoor and indoor settings. That means you can reap the benefits of its calming, vacation-like ambiance even in the middle of winter.
Dwarf Meyer lemon trees grow well in containers, and they’re a low-maintenance plant for people who don’t have green thumbs. Despite this tree’s small size, their branches become heavy with yellowing fruit that you can use to make your favorite drinks and desserts. The tree’s dark green leaves and twisting branches make it an attractive house ornament even when it isn’t fruit season.
So, if you’re ready to embark on dwarf Meyer lemon tree ownership, we’ll share must-know details about how to grow and care for this plant. You can go ahead and get attached to it in the process. If you follow our advice, your tree could live more than 30 years!
Dwarf Meyer Lemon Tree Plant Overview
Plant Type Broadleaf Evergreen Tree
Species Citrus x meyeri
Hardiness Zone USDA 9-11
Maturity Rate 2 years grafted, 3-7 years grown
Plant Height 5-7 feet
Growth Rate Moderate
Plant With Tropicals
Don’t Plant With Cold Hardy Plants
Soil Type Sandy, Loamy, Well-draining
Plant Spacing 15 feet
Watering Needs High
Sun Exposure Full Sun
Attracts Bees, Butterflies
Pests Aphids, Caterpillars, Mites
Diseases Sooty Mold, Citrus Canker
History and Cultivation
Meyer lemon trees date back to China, and many people believe that the plant is thousands of years old. They’re hybrid citrus trees and contain genes from both citron (lemon) and mandarin and pomelo (orange) species.
In 1908, a man named Frank Nicholas Meyer from the U.S. Department of Agriculture traveled to Beijing. Meyer brought a sample of what’s now known as the Meyer lemon tree home with him.
Throughout his career, Meyer brought more than 2,500 new plant species to the United States. Unfortunately, his death on a work trip in 1918 meant that he never got to see the Meyer lemon’s massive rise to fame, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture named the Meyer lemon in his honor.
Since then, it’s become a popular tree for growing in containers in California, Florida, and Texas.
Unfortunately, in the 1960s, a deadly virus spread through California, wiping out almost all the Meyer lemon trees. However, a single stock remained virus-free. Botanists used that stock to create what they now call the “Improved Meyer Lemon” tree.
The Meyer lemon’s popularity grew exponentially in the 1970s when chefs like Alice Waters and Chez Panisse began using it in their meals because the skin’s thin layer is edible. Martha Stewart also gets credit for the Meyer lemon’s rise since she began promoting it for her lemon-pine nut tart and coffee cake, among other recipes.
Meyer lemon and dwarf Meyer lemon trees are the same species. Since this tree grows according to its space, if you plant a Meyer lemon tree in a container, it’ll remain dwarf size; if you plant the tree in the ground, it could grow up to 10 feet tall. That characteristic isn’t new to this species, as Mr. Meyer encountered many people in China planting these trees in pots.
Many garden stores sell these particular trees, but it’s satisfying to grow one on your own. You have two options for propagating this tree: growing it from cuttings or seeds. We recommend propagation through cutting, as it increases the chances of lemon production and helps retain the Meyer lemon’s classic flavor.
Propagation From Cuttings
If you already have a dwarf Meyer lemon tree or know someone who does, an excellent way to grow more of this species is by using cuttings. To do so, wait until you see your tree producing new shoots. Once that happens, you’ll want to wait until they’re firmer, but not completely hard; the University of Minnesota Extension recommends cutting shoots in the spring or summer.
Then, snip off a 3-6 inch piece of cutting from the tree, ensuring you do so beneath the leaf node. Make sure to use anvil pruners that you’ve sterilized to maximize a successful propagation.
To further improve the chances of propagating a new tree, buy some rooting hormone and dunk the cut end into it. You should also remove all leaves from the branch, leaving only four leaves at the top.
After sticking the cutting into a pot of moist soil, cover it with a plastic bag and set it in a warm and bright location. For the next eight weeks, check the cutting regularly, watering it to ensure the soil stays moist. It’s also a good idea to mist it with a sprayer.
At the eight-week mark, gently wiggle the cutting to check for roots. Once its roots form, remove the plastic bag and continue caring for the plant as you would a fully sized adult tree.
Propagating From Seeds
It’s best to propagate this particular tree from cuttings. That’s because as a hybrid fruit, its taste could change if you plant it from a seed. Furthermore, seeds take longer for the plant to reach maturity, and often, the plant rarely gets to this point, let alone produce fruit.
Nevertheless, if you love the thought of adorning your house with this beautiful tree, plant the seed about a quarter inch beneath moist potting soil. Set the pot in a brightly lit and warm environment, and make sure to keep the plant well-watered but not waterlogged.
Since your goal is to grow a dwarf Meyer lemon tree, you should always plant the tree in a pot. Otherwise, it’ll use the ample space of an outdoor setting to grow to a larger size.
When selecting a pot, choose one that’s five gallons or slightly larger. You also want to make sure the container is a minimum of 12 inches high to avoid it becoming top-heavy as the tree grows. Furthermore, your pot needs holes on the bottom to allow for drainage.
If you’ll be growing your tree indoors, the time of year you plant it doesn’t matter. Otherwise, if you live in a climate with warm weather and want to plant your lemon tree outside, it’s best to do so in the late winter or early spring.
Purchasing potting soil is best to kickstart your tree’s life. You can even buy potting soil made for citrus trees, which has more sand and loam than standard soil.
If you purchased a tree from the store and want to transplant it, fill up half of your container with potting soil. Then take the tree out of its original pot, gently shaking it and untangling the roots if they’re matted. Set the tree in its new container and fill the remaining space with soil until you reach the crown of the roots. Press the soil down and water it well.
When it comes to companion planting, this tree will need to be planted with other sub-tropical plants. You can also plant other citrus trees, like the Kaffir lime. Regular kitchen herbs can be planted under the Dwarf Meyer, including rosemary, and basil. Dill also has benefit, as it will ward off bugs that attack citrus.
How to Grow
Dwarf Meyer lemon trees are low-maintenance plants as long as you provide them with warm growing conditions and ample sunlight. People who live in warm climates like Florida, California, and Texas have the option to keep their containers outside or inside. Frequent watering combined with excellent drainage is also crucial to keep this particular citrus tree healthy.
Abundant sunlight is essential for the dwarf Meyer lemon tree. It thrives in environments where it receives a minimum of eight hours of sunlight per day. Therefore, if you keep your tree indoors, place it in an area of your home that gets the most sun.
Because the angle of sunlight changes throughout the year, depending on the setup of your windows, it might be beneficial to move your plant periodically. For this reason, coupled with how heavy this tree can get even in its dwarf size, it’s a good idea to set your container on a potted plant mover with wheels.
If your home doesn’t receive much sunlight, you can still grow a dwarf Meyer tree. In that case, you’ll need to purchase a grow lamp. Depending on the type of lamp you buy, you may have the ability to control the light’s spectrum and set it up on a timed schedule so that it mimics the tree’s natural environment.
In nature, dwarf Meyer lemon trees grow where it rains a lot. So, you’ll need to water your tree frequently while simultaneously providing it with good drainage. Otherwise, you could inadvertently drown your tree.
To determine when and how much water to give your lemon tree, push your index finger halfway into the soil. If the soil feels damp, it’s too soon to water; if it’s dry, your plant needs hydration.
Since every lemon tree needs different quantities of water depending on its size, there isn’t a set amount of water you should give it. Luckily, the solution to this is even easier than measuring—using a watering can, slowly pour water evenly around the soil until water starts running out of the container’s underside.
Although choosing a container with holes in it is an excellent start for keeping your tree from becoming waterlogged, it serves little purpose if the pot sits flush with the ground. Therefore, you should choose a container with feet on it or straddle the container over bricks or another material to give excess water an easy exit.
There are a few essential qualities that soil needs to have for dwarf Meyer lemon trees to thrive, including a pH from 5.5-6.5 and a sandy or loamy composition.
It’s easy to know if the soil in your backyard has a lot of sand or if it has the good drainage qualities that come with loamy soil. However, most people don’t know what their soil’s pH is. So, one of the best ways to set your tree up for success is to purchase soil made for citrus plants.
Alternatively, if you’re a DIY type of person, you can make your own loamy soil. The advantage of loam instead of sand is that loam tends to hold in more moisture for a longer period while simultaneously offering the high-quality drainage that this tree requires.
The following three ingredients make up loam:
To make this soil, use about equal parts sand and silt. Then, add about half of one part in clay and mix thoroughly. You’ll know that you achieved a good ratio for making loam if the soil forms a ball but crumbles if you put pressure on it.
Of course, making loamy soil leaves out one crucial part of a dwarf Meyer lemon tree’s requirement: a proper pH balance. So, there are economical pH testers on the market that you can stick in your soil. Not only will this technology indicate the pH level, but it’ll often offer the humidity and sunlight statistics.
If you discover that your tree’s pH is above 6.5, you can lower it using several techniques, such as introducing sphagnum peat, aluminum sulfate, or acidifying nitrogen. Alternatively, if your soil is below a pH of 5.5, you can increase it by adding lime. The smaller the lime particles you use, the quicker the lime will reduce the soil’s pH.
If you plan on keeping your dwarf Meyer lemon tree outside, you’ll need to live in a USDA growing zone of 9 to 11. Otherwise, your tree will die.
This tree prefers to live in temperatures between 50-80°F. Therefore, even if you live in a USDA growing zone of 9 to 11, there are likely times during the winter when the temperatures drop below 50°F. Therefore, you should keep your tree in a wheeled pot so that you can easily move it indoors during those times.
It isn’t likely that you’ll have to make changes to the temperature of your home if you keep your tree inside. However, since you’ll have your tree near a window, check to make sure there isn’t a draft, as it can create a cooler microclimate around your plant during the winter.
Along the same lines of temperature is humidity, which is another climate factor that significantly impacts the health of these trees. These trees need a humidity level of at least 50%, although the more humid it is, the better.
While trees that stay outdoors in USDA growing zones 9 to 11 probably won’t encounter a humidity problem, your indoor tree likely will. One way to counterbalance this is by filling a small container with rocks and water, ensuring that the water stays slightly below the tops of the stones.
Then, set your potted lemon tree over the rocks. That will create a comfortable microclimate for your tree. Another excellent habit of getting into is to mist your tree’s leaves with water periodically. Doing so will help decrease the amount of water your dwarf Meyer lemon plant loses through its leaves.
Fertilizing your dwarf Meyer lemon tree is critical because if it’s in a container, it won’t have access to the natural fertilizers from its environment. Although you can plant your lemon tree any time of year, we recommend fertilizing your plant in the spring, summer, and fall.
That period is when your lemon tree goes through its growth spurt, requiring more nutrients to feed the energy it’s consuming. Popular types of fertilizers for citrus plants include high-nitrogen or slow-release all-purpose fertilizers.
These fertilizers ensure that your lemon tree receives ample amounts of the following macronutrients: Nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, sulfur, and calcium.
Other fertilizers you can supplement with include:
- Compost tea
- Liquid kelp
- Fish emulsion
That said, if you prefer to keep your tree organic, there are several excellent organic fertilizers you can prepare.
For example, to give your tree a boost of macronutrients, take the leaves, stems, and flowers of the comfrey herb and pack it into a container with water. Leave the container in the sun for 24-hours, then pour the water over your lemon tree’s soil (make sure to remove the herb before doing so).
Alternatively, the stinging nettle is an excellent natural fertilizer for increasing a citrus plant’s micronutrients. You can make this fertilizer following the same procedure as the comfrey herb. In both cases, it’s safe to apply this fertilizer once per month.
In contrast, if you end up choosing a store-bought fertilizer, we recommend applying it three times during the growing season.
Dwarf Meyer lemon trees are a favorite plant among garden enthusiasts because they require little maintenance to produce delicious lemons. However, to get those lemons, you’ll need to ensure that your tree has the right conditions for pollination.
If you keep your tree outside, there’s nothing you’ll need to do to prompt your tree to produce lemon as they don’t require another tree for cross-pollination, so bees and the wind will move the tree’s own pollen between its flowers.
Luckily, pollinating your lemon tree by hand is easy if you keep it inside. In that case, take a cotton swab or small paintbrush and gently dab each flower. Repeat this process daily until the flowers drop. To maximize your pollination efforts, don’t wash the paintbrush or use a new cue tip each day; the more pollen there is to spread around, the better.
It’s always exciting to see new lemons grow, and it can be difficult to remove any. However, if you want your lemons to reach their maximum size potential, you’ll need to pick some green ones that cluster together. It’s best to do this when the lemons reach the size of a pea since it’ll direct more nutrients to the lemons that remain.
Another maintenance item that you can perform on your tree is pruning. Although pruning isn’t necessary for your plant, it comes with the following advantages:
- You can shape it to fit in small spaces.
- Branch offshoots can become unruly.
- You can get rid of dead or diseased parts of the tree.
- By removing excess branches, the tree’s primary branches will have more strength for supporting lemons as they grow.
A pruned dwarf Meyer lemon tree can produce bountiful amounts of fruit, as the size of the tree isn’t always an indicator of how many lemons it’ll grow.
So, if you choose to prune your lemon tree, aim to do so during the fall or early spring. That’s the time when new branches form, and it’s the thin offshoots that grow upwards that you want to prune. Luckily, those offshoots rarely produce lemons.
In addition to pruning offshoots that grow vertically, you should also cut away any branches that are dead, diseased, or are crossing over other branches. By opening up the airflow and sunlight access around the tree’s main branches, you’ll decrease the risk of mold and fungi.
To maximize your pruning efforts, cut the branches at a 45-degree angle. Make sure the angle faces upward, as it’ll promote new (and hopefully more useful) growth.
Pests and Diseases
The Meyer lemon tree doesn’t have the exact same genes as the original plant that Mr. Meyer brought from China, and that’s a good thing for us since scientists bred the newer version to be more disease resistant. Nevertheless, as hardy as the dwarf Meyer lemon tree is, it’s still susceptible to pests and diseases.
Below are some of the most common issues and how you can manage them.
Sooty mold has a name as unpleasant as its impact on dwarf Meyer lemon plants. The fungus happens when insects leave honeydew secretions on the tree’s leaves. You’ll know that your tree is suffering from sooty mold if its leaves turn black.
To get rid of sooty mold, you’ll need to spray your tree with liquid copper fungicide. If your tree has an advanced case of sooty mold, you may need to apply a second treatment two weeks apart.
Citrus canker is a bacteria that’ll turn your dwarf Meyer lemon tree’s leaves and branches yellow and spotty. It may also make your tree drop its leaves or blemish its fruit with the same yellow scab-like markings.
Unfortunately, citrus canker can spread through the wind, insects, and people’s clothing (although people themselves don’t suffer from the disease). There isn’t an effective remedy for citrus canker, so if your tree has it, you should get rid of it immediately to avoid infecting other plants.
It’s easy to mistake greasy spot as citrus canker at first since this fungus produces yellowish-brown spots on leaves. However, these spots typically only reside on the underside of leaves, and they take on an oily appearance over time.
You’ll need to use a fungicide to get rid of greasy spot. Also, make sure to regularly collect your lemon tree’s fallen leaves, as it reduces the area where fungus spores can grow.
As yet another fungal disease, root rot wreaks havoc on dwarf Meyer lemon trees because it causes its bark to become brittle and die. It may also rot fruit and cause the leaves to turn yellow. In its early stages, you can identify root rot by looking for dark brown patches on your tree’s bark.
To get rid of root rot, you’ll need to spray your tree with a fungicide. Once you get the fungus under control, you can decrease the chance of a recurrence by ensuring water doesn’t splash up when you water your tree and keeping low-lying branches away from the soil.
Aphids love hanging out around dwarf Meyer lemon trees. Although they’re usually not harmful in small quantities, they’re quick reproducers; females produce up to 12 per day through asexual reproduction.
That causes issues for your tree because aphids consume the sap from its leaves. If you have an aphid problem, you’ll notice many small, yellowing spots on your tree’s leaves, and the leaves might begin to twist.
You’ll need to apply insecticide to get rid of your aphid problem. The underside of the leaves is an aphid’s primary target, so make sure to spray well there. One or two treatments should take care of an aphid infestation. However, you might want to do an annual maintenance spray at the beginning of each summer.
Orange Dog Caterpillars
Orange dog caterpillars can cause substantial damage to your dwarf Meyer lemon tree. These caterpillars have easy access to your precious tree since adult yellow and black swallowtail butterflies lay their eggs on its leaves. When caterpillars hatch, they start snacking on your tree.
As a silver lining, it’s easy to spot orange dog caterpillars—they grow up to two inches long. So, when you see them, pull them off your lemon tree’s leaves. Once you’ve removed them all, you can either assume the problem is over or place plant netting around your tree until caterpillar season ends.
From sweet lemonade to zesting up salads, lemons from the dwarf Meyer lemon plant offer an array of tasty uses. You probably don’t want to stick a slice of this lemon in your mouth, but the Meyer variety has a hint of sweetness compared to standard lemons. You might even be able to detect a slight orange taste since the fruit is a hybrid of the orange plant.
Below are some of the many foods and drinks people make with dwarf Meyer lemons:
- Fish dishes
- Candied peel
If you’ve never scratched and smelled a dwarf Meyer lemon tree leaf, try it the next time you have the opportunity. You’ll notice that the leaf emits a strong lemon smell. That makes it great for cooking with seafood, meat, curries, and kabobs.
Furthermore, you can boil their leaves in a pot of water to make a delicious and natural tea.
Frequently Asked Questions
Will my dwarf meyer lemon tree flower indoors?
Provided that you offer your tree plenty of light and suitable growing conditions, it will flower indoors. Once it flowers, you’ll need to self-pollinate the plant since there aren’t insects or wind to do it for you. Dwarf Meyer lemon trees don’t require another plant for reproduction, so you just need to move its own pollen between its flowers.
Why are the leaves turning yellow?
Yellowing leaves are a sign of a fungal or bacterial infection, and insects like aphids often instigate it. For example, the leaves on your lemon tree might be turning yellow because the plant has citrus canker, greasy spot, or root rot, among others.
The section we wrote above on pests and diseases should help you determine the issue. Often, you’ll need to apply fungicides or insecticides to solve the problem.
What is the expected lifespan of this tree?
Dwarf Meyer lemon trees can live more than 30 years if they have optimal conditions. However, pests and diseases often reduce this tree’s life to 10 – 15 years, especially if you keep it outdoors.
Are they poisonous to animals?
Dogs, cats, and horses all have adverse reactions if they consume dwarf Meyer lemons. That’s because lemons contain essential oils and psoralens that are toxic to them. If your pet gets lemon in their system, contact your veterinarian immediately.
Can they survive cold winter conditions?
Dwarf Meyer lemon trees can survive the winter as long as the temperature doesn’t drop below 50°F. Therefore, if you keep your potted lemon tree outside, make sure to keep an eye on the weather as fall and winter approach so that you can bring it indoors if needed.
Owning a dwarf Meyer lemon tree is a delight from both a gardening and ornamental standpoint. It makes for an excellent talking point when guests visit, and it produces large quantities of lemons despite its small size. With the background knowledge we shared here, you’ll get to enjoy your tree for dozens of years.