Nothing can beat fresh, home-grown lemons—whether it’s for a glass of cool homemade lemonade on a hot day, a slice of juicy lemon as a garnish, or to add a zing of real citrus to your favorite recipe.
But if you’ve recently planted a lemon tree, you may be wondering: just how long does it take for a lemon tree to bear fruit? That question, of course, is just the start of what you’ll want to know if you’re growing your own lemons. Here are some common questions that people who grow lemons ask, along with the answers.
How long does it take for a lemon tree to bear fruit?
The tart and tasty fruit of the lemon is a treat but getting to that treat requires patience if you’re growing your own. Assuming your plant is healthy and growing in the right conditions, it should take between three to five years before your lemon tree begins to provide fruit. That range depends on a number of factors, including where and how you are growing the tree and what kind of lemon tree it is.
According to The Daily Gardener, After five or six years, your tree will be mature and should produce lemons at a fairly consistent rate over the remainder of its life. Assuming it stays healthy and the growing conditions remain favorable, a lemon tree can live to be between 50 and 100 years old. Unlike many other fruit-bearing plants, the lemon tree’s rate of fruit production does not typically decline as it ages.
How can I get lemons from my tree sooner?
Probably the easiest way to speed up the process of getting lemons from your tree is to buy a sapling that is already several years of age and thus more established. When you go to the nursery, look for a plant that is around three feet in height: those are the lemon trees that will be closest to fruit-bearing age (some, in fact, might even already be growing fruits).
There are several other strategies, though, that can help to speed up or stimulate fruit growth in lemon trees:
- Lemon trees are more productive in warmer climates.
- Place your plant on the western or southern side of your home.
- Keep the plant deeply watered in the spring, summer, and fall, and make sure the soil drains thoroughly and there is no standing water around it.
- Protect the tree from drying or damaging winds.
- Cover new buds and juvenile fruits in the event of frost.
- Apply citrus-specific fertilizer each spring. Citrus trees prefer high levels of potash and phosphorus, which stimulate fruit growth. Avoid nitrogen-rich fertilizers, especially during the tree’s flowering cycle each year.
- Because the fruits form on the branch-ends, only prune dead or diseased branches.
How much fruit will my lemon tree produce?
Assuming the plant is healthy and growing in good conditions, most lemon trees produce between 30 pounds and 40 pounds of fruits in the first year. That’s about 120 to 160 lemons.
However, different varieties and growing conditions (such as amount of sunlight, weather, water, temperature, and so forth) can impact the quantity of fruit produced by your tree. The single most important variable is whether you plant the tree in a pot or in the ground.
Growing a lemon tree in a container may be convenient, but it will also constrain the tree’s root system and canopy. This will limit fruit growth. While the tree should still begin producing at the same age, once it reaches maturity at five to six years, it should provide you with 80 to 100 pounds of fruit every year, or roughly 320 to 400 lemons.
All other things being equal, growing your tree in the ground should double that production rate. At maturity, an in-ground tree should be able to yield you more than 200 pounds of lemons each year, or over 800 fruits.
No matter which method you use, always pick your lemons when they’re ripe. Leaving too many on the tree will inhibit the growth of new blossoms and can reduce production in subsequent years.
When during the year will my tree produce fruits?
Most varieties of lemon trees are everbearing, which means, depending on growing conditions, it could produce fruit all year. The Meyer variety—by far the most popular home-grown lemon tree—is everbearing. Some varieties, though, such as the Lisbon and the Eureka, are seasonal bearers. Most seasonal varieties of lemons produce more fruit from early winter into late spring and then will slow down over the summer and fall.
How will I know when my lemons are ready for picking?
Once your tree begins producing, avoid the temptation to pick fruits too soon. The cycle from blossom to ripe fruit takes between five and 12 months, depending on variety, climate, and growing conditions.
Over that time, the lemon will be varying shades of green. If you pick it while it’s green, the fruit will be sour and will quickly dry out. Wait until the fruit is fully yellow. At that point, gently twist and pull the lemon away from the branch.
The lemon’s porous skin makes it susceptible to drying out after it has been picked. To keep freshly picked lemons usable for up to three months, store them in the fridge, in either a bowl of water or an air-tight plastic bag. The one exception to this is if you picked the fruit too early and it is still a little green. In that case, keep it at room temperature; the fruit should mature in a few days, though its flavor may be slightly diminished.
Knowing how long it takes for a lemon tree to bear fruit will help you prepare to be patient as you tend to your new plant. After all, the rewards for that patience will be juicy, sweet, and delicious.