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Bringing the Tropics Home: How to Grow a Lemon Tree Indoors

Published: July 8, 2021
Woman harvesting potted lemon tree in garden.  How to grow a lemon tree indoors
Author Susan Poizner with her indoor/outdoor lemon tree. Photo Credit:

You may live in a cool climate, but that doesn't mean you can't enjoy the pleasure of growing a lemon tree. Here in Canada, a lemon tree planted outdoors would never survive our harsh winters.

But growing lemon trees indoors is possible and it is also delightful. In the winter, the blossoms are so fragrant that they can make you forget the frosty weather outside.

And in the summer, you can take your potted lemon tree outdoors where it will enjoy full sun and continue to delight you with a lemony harvest.

So in this article, we'll explore how to grow a lemon tree indoors, wherever you live! And the first consideration is to make sure you have the right location for your new lemon tree.

White lemon tree blossoms with tiny fruitlets emerging. How to grow a lemon tree indoors.
Lemon tree blossoms are fragrant and can make a home smell wonderful during the cold winter months.

growing a lemon tree indoors in the perfect location

If you want to know how to grow a lemon tree indoors, the first thing you need to understand is that lemon trees need LOTS of sun. I placed my indoor lemon tree in a huge east facing window where it could soak up the morning light.

Steve Biggs, author of Grow Lemons Where You Think you Can't, explains that his lemon trees thrived in his old house where he grew them in an unheated sunroom.

The temperature would dip down to just above freezing in the wintertime. It was cold, but Steve says "it was really bright and the lemons just loved it."

So place your indoor lemon tree in a very sunny spot with an average nightly temperature of about 65 degrees F (or 18 degrees C). And keep your lemon tree away from air conditioning or heating ducts as extreme temperatures can stress your tree.

Lemon tree roots in pot after root pruning |  How to grow a lemon tree indoors
If you are growing a lemon tree indoors, you'll need to prune its root system every few years. This will help keep the plant small so that it can remain in its original pot.

root prune your indoor lemon tree to keep it compact

My experience growing a lemon tree indoors was a success in the first couple of years. The tree was beautiful and produced a wonderful harvest. But the room it was in was small, and after a couple of years our lemon tree grew larger and dominated the space.

According to Steve Biggs, those who know how to grow lemon trees indoors understand that root pruning is necessary to keep a lemon tree compact. Every three or four years, he removes his lemon tree from its pot and gives its root system a gentle trim with his hand pruners. Then he replants the tree into the original pot.

Trimming the roots slows down tree growth but still allows the lemon tree to have enough energy to produce a good sized harvest. Steve's goal is to keep his trees small so they are easy to move outdoors in the summer and indoors in the winter.

“I want to keep them in the same size pot," he explains. "They can only get so big and be easy to lift.”

But what if you do want your indoor lemon tree to grow larger? You can repot your tree into a slightly larger pot. When you buy a lemon tree from a nursery, it will probably be in a pot that is 12 inches in diameter. You can replant it in a pot that is the next size up at about 14 inches in diameter.

When repotting, ensure that any extra soil you add to the pot will be suitable for your tree. It's best to use a well-draining potting mix that is specifically designed for citrus trees.

The best time to root prune or repot your indoor lemon tree is early spring through to mid-summer. At that time of year the tree's roots are actively growing and they will quickly expand into the fresh soil to take advantage of the the moisture and nutrients there.

Winter, on the other hand, is not a good time to root prune your lemon tree. That's because the roots aren't growing much so they won't expand into the fresh soil. Without active roots to suck out the moisture, the fresh soil may stay damp after watering. And soggy soil can cause root rot and can kill the tree.

People learning how to grow lemon trees often choose the wrong fertilizers and that can damage plant health. Be sure to buy a fertilizer specifically designed for citrus trees.

use the right fertilizer on your indoor lemon tree

Fruit trees are much like any other living beings. We all need good nutrition to keep us healthy, productive and strong. The same is true if you are growing a lemon tree indoors. All potted plants need nutrition and fertilizer to keep them healthy. But choosing the right one can be tricky.

“If you’re growing things in containers, you must be prepared to feed them,” says Biggs. “Start with one general purpose product. Try it out, see how it works. Most times it will work.”

There are many different types of organic fertilizers and some say they are specifically for citrus trees. Biggs says growers should also read the fertilizer labels carefully because if you use the wrong type of fertilizer - or if you use too much of it - it can actually damage your tree.

The problem is that your lemon tree's fertilizer needs are dependent on the type of soil you use. For instance, if your soil is too alkaline, the plant will not be able to absorb some of the necessary nutrients from the soil and your lemon tree may become iron deficient.

If your lemon tree is deficient in iron, you will find that the young leaves will turn yellow, while the veins stay green. If that happens, you may need to use a more acidic fertilizer, or iron supplements made specifically for plants.

In this handy article, you can read about how various nutrient deficiencies will affect lemon tree leaves. Once you know what the problem is, you will be able to do your research and resolve it by supplying your indoor lemon tree with the nutrition it needs.

You can take your indoor lemon tree outside during the warmer summer months, but be sure to do so in stages to prevent sunburn and protect them from extreme fluctuations in temperature.

protect your indoor lemon tree from sunburn

Often new growers want to know how to grow a lemon tree indoors, but they don't consider the trees needs in the summer. At that time of year, many indoor growers take their lemon trees outside onto a sunny balcony or patio where they can benefit from fresh air and natural sunlight.

That's a great thing to do... but for a tree that hasn't experienced hot and direct sunlight for months, the extreme change in temperature can be stressful.

In addition to that, lemon trees can experience sunburn! If you put an indoor lemon tree out in full sun, the hot sun can damage the bark, leaving a crack or wound in the tree. This can provides an entryway for pest and disease problems.

So Steve Biggs suggests that you can prevent sunburn by slowly acclimatizing your tree to the sun. First put it in a shady part of the garden. Once it has adjusted, you can move the tree to sunnier spots until it's ready to enjoy full sun.

There are lots of different lemon tree varieties that you can grow indoors. Meyer lemons are very popular. But you can also try to grow the exotic Buddha's Hand lemon trees - which look like a creepy yellow hand.

choose the right variety for indoor lemon tree growing

When you are researching how to grow a lemon tree indoors, make sure to take time to consider what cultivar to buy. Meyer lemon trees are very popular. Its a hybrid lemon tree, resulting from a lemon and mandarin orange cross. Meyer lemons are smaller and slightly sweeter than the lemons that you buy in your local grocery store.

But there are lots of other exotic options, like the Buddah's Hand lemon tree that produce fruit that looks like a creepy yellow hand. This type of lemon is not juicy inside. It's used for its zesty pith which tastes lemony with a hint of lavender.

There are entire fruit tree nurseries that specialize in selling interesting varieties of tropical fruit trees that can be grown indoors and they will have a wide range of plants to choose from that will stay compact. These are perfect for indoor growers.

In episode 42 of The Urban Forestry Radio Show and Podcast, I interviewed Byron Martin, author of Growing Tasty Tropical Plants in Any Home, Anywhere and owner of Logee’s Plants for Home and Garden. He explained how they carefully select varieties that they believe will be easier to grow indoors.

In the podcast, Martin shared his top tips for keeping indoor tropical fruit plants healthy and productive and he shared his favourite varieties of citrus and other trees that growers in cold climates can grow indoors. Some of the featured trees and shrubs he recommends include Calamondin Orange, Dwarf Pomegranate, Kumquat and even Coffee!

learn how to grow lemon trees indoors in steve's book

Really, lemon trees aren’t too different to grow from other fruit trees, Biggs says. They just have some extra challenges that need to be tackled before they can thrive and he writes about those challenges in his book Grow Lemons Where You Think you Can't.

You can also learn how to grow lemon trees indoors by listening to episode 4 of my radio show and podcast where I interview Steve on the topic. With the right attention and preparation, you too can grow your own lemon tree, wherever you may live.

*This site contains affiliate links to products. We may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

Susan Poizner

Director, Fruit Tree Care Education Online

Susan Poizner is an urban orchardist and the author of the award-winning fruit tree care book Growing Urban Orchards. She is the creator of the award-winning online fruit tree care training program at and the host of The Urban Forestry Radio Show and Podcast.  She is also an ISA Certified Arborist..

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