Here’s Why You Should Grow Lemon Trees in Your House During Winter

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Cheerful and fragrant lemon trees can bring a little sunshine into your home, even during the chilliest days of winter.

Unless you live in a zone with year-round warm weather, bringing your lemon trees indoors for the winter is essential for their survival. And it’s no hassle at all. Indoor lemon trees are easy to care for, bring a welcome touch of green to your winter, give off a sweet, fragrant aroma, and — best of all — bear fruit!

We asked experts to share their tips for how to grow a healthy lemon tree inside your home.

Why is a Lemon Tree the Perfect Houseplant?

“Given the right conditions, there are few plants that can be grown indoors that produce lovely foliage with glossy green leaves, and that yield both deliciously smelling flowers and edible fruit,” says Raffaele Di Lallo of Ohio Tropics, an online houseplant resource. “What more can you ask for?”

Sunlight is the most important factor in successfully growing lemon trees, says Lisa Eldred Steinkopf, resident expert at The Houseplant Guru. “Citrus trees in the house need full direct sun to flower,” she says. “If it has the right light, it will flower, and then you will know why it is a great house plant.”

Here are a few reasons why lemon trees make perfect houseplants:

  • Easy to grow: Lemon trees will thrive in the right indoor conditions.
  • Glossy green leaves: Lemon tree leaves are so shiny they look like they’ve been waxed.
  • Fragrant flowers: “The aroma of the flowers will fill the house with an intoxicating scent,” says Steinkopf.
  • Plentiful fruit: Indoor lemon trees can bear fruit up to four times a year.

Indoor lemon trees will grow to between six and 10 feet tall, though dwarf varieties will level off a few feet shorter than that. Ask your garden center expert for their recommendation for a dwarf lemon tree variety, such as Dwarf Meyer or Dwarf Ponderosa.

What Is the Best Location for a Lemon Tree?

“Here comes the sun.” That’s the tune you should hum as you choose the right spot in your home for a lemon tree.

Di Lallo suggests placing your plant in the sunniest window in the house. An unobstructed southern exposure window is best for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere. The next best place, he says, “would be an eastern- or western-facing window.”

If you don’t have enough direct natural light, Steinkopf recommends putting a large grow light over the top of the tree. “Turn your plant often to ensure all sides receive enough light to bloom,” she says. “If [it’s] not turned, only one side of the plant may bloom.”

After temperatures have warmed up in late spring, move your plant outdoors into full sun — carefully.

“When you move your plant from indoors to outdoors, you must gradually acclimate your plant to the higher light outside, otherwise it will quickly burn,” Di Lallo says. “Place your lemon tree outside in full shade at first for a week or so. [Then] you can gradually increase the amount of direct sun over the period of a few days, until your lemon tree is placed in full sun.”

Once temperatures start to drop in the fall, bring your lemon tree back inside before the first risk of freeze. The tree can tolerate a range of indoor temperatures. If you set the thermostat in your home at a comfortable temperature for humans and pets, your lemon tree will be just fine.

What Type of Pot and Soil is Best for a Lemon Tree?

When you raise a tree — or any plant — indoors, its survival entirely depends on you! Make the right choices for your lemon tree with the best type of pot and soil.

Start with an inexpensive clay pot. “Terra-cotta pots are wonderful for citrus because they are porous and offer more oxygen to the root system,” Di Lallo says. “Citrus plants are very prone to root rot caused by various pathogens, so terra-cotta pots will greatly reduce this risk.” Terra-cotta also helps when it’s time to water your lemon tree; more on that below.

While it might make sense to buy a pot larger than your tree needs — it’s gonna grow, right? — it’s actually best to think small. Go with a container that’s “just” big enough for the tree and root system.

Because of their predilection for pathogens, Di Lallo says, it’s best to keep them slightly under-potted so that the soil can dry out properly. “Up-potting” your lemon tree, or planting it in too big of a pot, will result in soil that doesn’t dry out fast enough and can increase the risk of root disorders.

“Anytime your citrus has become root-bound and needs a bigger pot, only go up one pot size,” says Di Lallo. “For example, if your lemon tree is in a four-inch diameter pot and it needs a bigger pot, use a six-inch pot.” As your plant grows and the pot becomes heavier, you can add a wheeled plant caddy to help with periodic turning and transferring.

For those same moisture and root rot concerns, your lemon tree needs a very well-draining potting mix. Both Di Lallo and Steinkopf recommend mixes specifically formulated for citrus plants. You can also use an all-purpose potting mix, but Di Lallo cautions to make it porous by adding soil soil amendments like perlite. Soil pH for a lemon tree should be between 5.5 to 6.5, he says.

How to Water an Indoor Lemon Tree

“Citrus can be a bit picky when it comes to its water needs,” says Steinkopf. Roots need to stay relatively dry, but you also can’t let the soil completely dry out, especially while the tree is flowering. “The flowers may wilt and even fall off,” she says, “never allowing for any fruit.”

A clay pot is helpful here. That way, you can tell if the soil is still moist; the bottom of the pot will be darker than the top. Di Lallo says to wait until the top inch or two of potting mix dries out before watering thoroughly again.

“It’s best to keep your plant more on the dry side,” he says, “but try not to let the potting mix go completely dry to the point where the plant wilts.”

How to Fertilize a Lemon Tree

Fertilizing your lemon tree will help it produce more fruit. Since you’ll eventually eat those lemons, Di Lallo recommends sticking with an organic granule fertilizer. “Simply sprinkle the recommended amount into your pot, mix it in lightly and water it in,” he says.

Start fertilizing in the spring when your lemon will flush out into new foliage and flowers, he says. Then continue fertilizing through early autumn according to the directions on your fertilizer label. By then, it will be time to bring your plant indoors again, and enjoy its cheerful color, scent and fruit all winter long.

Elizabeth Heath
Elizabeth Heath is a travel, culinary and lifestyle writer based in rural Umbria, Italy. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, HuffPost, Frommers.com, TripSavvy and many other publications. Her guidebook, An Architecture Lover's Guide to Rome, was released in 2019. Liz's husband is a stonemason and together they are passionate about the great outdoors, endless home improvement projects, dogs, their unruly garden and their slightly less unruly 8-year-old.