Archives for June 2022

How to Grow Meyer Lemon and Key Lime Trees

Turn the juice from Meyer lemons and Key limes into delicious drinks and desserts.

This dwarf Key lime tree is studded with juicy, full-sized Key limes. Courtesy of Gardens Alive! van Bourgondien Photography

I’m hungry for something that’s sweet, yet slightly tart, with a refreshing, summery taste. In other words, I’m thinking about lemon meringue pie, strawberry jam flavored with tangy lemon juice, and a gorgeous Meyer lemon tart with a gingersnap cookie crust. Lemons and limes are the gems of the citrus world, as far as I’m concerned, fruits that cost way too much at the supermarket. This year, I’m growing my own.
 
In my Zone 7b garden, winter temperatures can average as low as 5 to 10 degrees F. Meyer lemons are hardy in Zones 8 to 11, and Key limes overwinter in Zones 9 to 10. So how do I plan to grow and harvest all those juicy yellow and green fruits?
 
It’s easy. I’m growing my dwarf Key lime and Meyer lemon tree in containers that I’ll move indoors when the mercury drops. I had a Meyer lemon for almost ten years before an unexpected freeze caught me off guard in 2018, and my tree perished. (It was in a large pot that I forgot to move in time.) Until then, it flowered and fruited beautifully, giving me enough lemons to last all summer and perfuming my cool basement when its flowers opened.

Dwarf Meyer lemon tree Courtesy of Gardens Alive!

 
This spring, I’m starting over. My dwarf Key lime tree promises to give me golf-ball-sized limes while topping out at just two feet tall. I could plant it outside if I lived where the winters are warmer, but it’s ideal for my container garden. It’ll start bearing in one to three years, and while it’s self-pollinating, I’ll put it outside every summer to let the bees help. If I planted it in the ground (it prefers loamy, sandy soil), it could reach four to six feet tall and wide.
 
Of course, I had to plant another Meyer lemon too. It’ll get a little taller, hitting four to six feet high in a pot or six to ten feet in the ground. When it blooms, the flowers will release a sweet scent that can fill a room. Little green lemons follow and soon ripen to an orange-yellow color.
 
I’ve read that the original Meyer lemons were imported from China, but today’s trees are a kind of cross between regular lemons and oranges, which accounts for their tangy, slightly sweet flavor and good disease resistance. The fruits are thin-skinned and juicy. I’ll need a little patience because I know it can take up to two years for a Meyer lemon tree to start bearing. Like Key lime trees, it’s self-pollinating.
 
If you’re planting lemons and lime trees in the ground, give them a spot with at least six hours of sun a day. If you live where the summer heat and sunlight are intense, Meyer lemons like morning sun and some afternoon shade.
 
You can these trees in garden soil or a commercial potting mix but be sure the soil drains easily. Keep the crown of your trees just above the surface of the soil when you plant. Then gently firm the soil over the roots and water.
 

Citrus Alive Citrus Fertilizer
Citrus Alive! fertilizer
Courtesy of Gardens Alive!
van Bourgondien Photography


When you water again, give your trees a good, deep drink. Shallow watering, especially if you do it often, encourages roots to grow near the surface where they can dry out too fast.
 
A sign of overwatering: yellow or cup-shaped leaves. Underwatering: wilted leaves. My best advice is to watch the weather and adjust as needed. Give your trees more water when it’s hot and less if it turns cloudy, overcast, or cool.
 
I fertilized my original Meyer lemon tree each spring with citrus plant food, and that’s what I’ll do with these new trees. A special citrus fertilizer has the extra nitrogen they need. I’ve also started using a Four-Way Soil Analyzer that gives me info on light levels, my soil’s pH, and how moist my soil is. It even tells me about the amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium in my soil.
 

4-Way Soil Analyzer
Courtesy of Gardens Alive!


My old tree didn’t need much pruning, although I cut off any shoots that grew below the graft union (the knobby spot on the stem). I didn’t know for a long time, but it’s okay to remove the thorns.
 
I never had to spray my first Meyer lemon for diseases, but if I was trying to prevent fungal or bacterial disease, I’d use a bio-fungicide like Garden Sentinel. It’s fine for organic gardening and comes ready to use or in a concentrated formula.
 
I’d love to hear how you use your Meyer lemons and limes in recipes. Please share a link with me in the comments!
~Lynn