Potted lemon tree, how to grow lemon in a container

Lemon tree growing in a container

Potted lemon trees are an excellent for growing at home. Re-potting and pruning boost harvests and prevent diseases.

Key potted lemon facts

NameCitrus limon

Height – 3 to 10 feet (1 to 3 m)
Exposure – full sun
Soil – well-drained

Foliage: evergreen  –  Flowering: spring/summer  –  Harvest: fall/winter

The climate in most of our regions isn’t well suited to growing lemon trees directly in the ground, but growing them in pots is perfectly possible.

The best varieties for growing lemon in pots are dwarf ones like the ‘Lisbon’. Special dwarf versions of the ‘Meyer’ and ‘Ponderosa’ lemons exist, too.

Re-potting potted lemon tree

Lemon seedling started in a shallow container.Potted lemon trees cannot extract the nutrients they need from the ground.

So the pot and soil you have put in it are their only source of food for them to stock up and grow. Re-potting is critical.

  • Re-pot every 2 or 3 years in spring.
  • Choose high-quality citrus-specific soil mix. It should be neutral to acidic (pH 5.5 to 7) and quite rich.
  • Double-check that the bottom of the pot has a hole drilled in.
  • Place a bed of small pebbles or clay pebbles at the bottom of the pot to ensure excellent drainage.

For larger pots, repotting becomes difficult. In this case, increase nutrient availability by topdressing the top of the pot with rich, fresh soil mix.

Pruning a potted lemon tree

Pruning isn’t really needed but if you don’t prune your lemon tree, it will quickly grow very large.
In pots, it is best to control your tree’s growth with very regular pruning.

How to prune a lemon in a potShorten each new shoot back to more or less half its length, taking great care to cut just above a leaf.
This will result in your lemon tree keeping a nice, tight shape.

  • You might need to do this several times a year.

Remove dead wood regularly and clear the inside branches of your lemon tree to let light penetrate to the center.

Important: many lemon trees are grafted. If you see suckers or shoots growing from below or at the graft point, prune them off immediately.

Watering potted lemon tree

In pots, lemon trees dry up much faster than if they were planted in the ground.
In summer, frequent watering is required, whereas watering can be reduced in winter.

  • Water as soon as the soil is dry, without flooding the pots.
  • Avoid all heat sources such as nearby radiators, because this could dry your tree out.

Every two weeks, during the growth phase, add citrus-specific fertilizer to boost fruit-bearing. You can do this while watering your lemon tree.

Potted lemon tree in winter

A potted lemon tree with fruits protected in winterGrowing these trees in pots is most adapted, because it makes it possible to bring the lemon trees to a well-lit spot where it doesn’t freeze in the winter.

Lemon trees aren’t indoor plants, and can’t bear staying in a heated environment all year round. They need relatively lower temperatures from October to May.

It is important to place them in an unheated greenhouse for instance, where the temperature never drops below 32°F (0°C).

Harvesting lemons

Hand picking a lemon from a potted lemon tree indoors.Harvest season is usually November to March.

  • For lemons to mature best, protect the tree from freezing, and keep the soil slightly moist.

In the northern hemisphere, lemon fruits start forming in spring and slowly mature over the winter.

  • Protecting the lemon tree from both cold and intense indoor heat is important at this point.

If ever you have to absolutely bring your lemon tree indoors to keep it from freezing, do your best to keep the air moist.

Common potted lemon tree diseases

Learn more about citrus plants:

Smart tip about the lemon tree

Pick the lemons as soon as they easily break off from their branch.

This shows that the fruit has matured enough for the seeds and flesh to be fully developed, without yet being over-ripe.

Images: adobestock: Ivan Semenovych, CC BY-SA 2.0: Martin Belam; Pixabay: Ulrike Leone, Wolfgang Claussen; shutterstock: Iryna Inshyna