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Plant of the month: The Meyer lemon

Plant of the month: The Meyer lemon

Meyer lemons (Citrus × meyeri) are a great option for small gardens. They are particularly appreciated by cooks and bakers for their sweet aroma and delicate flavor.

If you have ever smelled a Meyer lemon (Citrus x meyeri), you’ve probably fallen in love. It’s the sweetest, most aromatic lemon; in fact, it’s a hybrid between a mandarin orange and a lemon. Its low acidity and fragrance make it wonderful for cooking, baking and preserving, and you can grow it in a container, making it ideal for small spaces; it can even be grown indoors.

Because of its thin skin and juiciness, the Meyer lemon is not usually available in stores since it does not ship well. Thus if you want it in your kitchen, the best option is to grow it yourself. The only cultivar available for sale is "Improved Meyer." Past cultivars carried a virus that infected and killed other citrus trees. The original trees were imported from China, where they are used as ornamental container plants. As with other citrus, it produces wonderful fragrant flowers in the spring.

It can be planted anytime in the early spring, from February to March; however it is frost sensitive so you will want to be able to move it indoors if you plant it before the last frost date (officially on March 15 in Tucson). If temperatures are dipping around 22 F you need to protect it outside. If you are growing it in a container, most sources recommend you bring it indoors in winter once temps are regularly in the 40s. Avoid fertilizing for the first year if it is in the ground, so that the plant isn’t putting all of its energy into foliage and the roots have a chance to develop. After it’s established, you can follow the University of Arizona Extension’s recommendations for fertilization.

The Meyer lemon can be grown by itself as it is self-pollinating. Make sure it has good drainage, whether planted outside or in a container. If you plant it outside, choose a spot with afternoon shade and no reflected heat. It may grow 6-10 feet tall if it’s happy outside. Some people grow it as an ornamental informal hedge.

You can grow it indoors, as long as it gets 6-8 hours of full sun per day. However, since you won’t have any pollinators buzzing around in your house, you will need to hand-pollinate the flowers. This isn’t as hard as it sounds — just take a small paintbrush and move the pollen from flower to flower. Since your containerized tree is small, it shouldn’t take too long.

Fruit can be picked when it turns bright yellow, but you can also leave it on the tree until it starts to get an orange hue. The fruit doesn’t keep long due to its thin skin. If you have lots of fruit, you can do a variety of things with it:

Resources for more information:

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