Monday, 5 February 2018

Meyer Lemon tree from cutting

I have never been a huge fan of lemons.  There is little doubt that the lemon is the poor cousin of the lime.  To be completely honest, I was never a huge fan of growing any citrus tree, recently this has changed. 

Lemons from my tree
We have had a few citrus trees in the past, some oranges and a few different lemons, they were slow growing, unproductive, demanded huge quantities of water, they died back in the heat, they died back in the cold, branches died from lack of water even though I mulched heavily and watered each afternoon, they seemed to attract every pest known to man, then if you pampered them and watered them and protected them from the sheep and they actually set fruit it was pithy and seedy and more often than not completely filled with fruit fly.

When we moved to our current house it had a lemon tree.  I am happy to say that due to our harsh winters the fruit fly don’t do well here.  The lemon tree had some fruit on it that was ripe, some that was over ripe and rotting, and some that was mummified and appeared diseased, all of which needed to be picked.  I reluctantly picked the fruit while planning to remove the tree and eventually replace it with something else.  As we had some ripe lemons we used them, no point wasting them, and found it to be the best lemon I have ever eaten. 

My lemon tree produces fruit that is smaller than the lemons I can buy from markets, it had a very thin skin with little to no noticeable pith, it was extremely juicy, it was strangely sweet for a lemon, and it seemed relatively productive even though it has clearly not been taken care of.  While I think it is sour some of my kids can eat it straight off the tree or drink its juice without screwing up their faces too much. 
Meyer lemons
After a little research I found that this is a meyer lemon.  Meyer lemons are different to regular lemons in a number of ways.

The Meyer lemon tree was ‘discovered’ in China in the early 1900s (possibly 1908) by Frank Meyer, who was an agricultural explorer.  It is thought to be a natural cross between a lemon and a bitter orange, the exact parentage is debated somewhat.  Like most citrus it does have thorns when young, but as the tree ages it tends to grow less thorns or no thorns.  It is sweeter than most lemons, juicier than most lemons, and has a thinner skin than most lemons. 

This thin skin means that meyer lemons are more difficult to pick, ship, and store for extended periods.  As a home gardener I don’t store anything in warehouses for extended periods, I don’t ship fresh fruit across the globe, and I am not picking for hours at a time so can take the care required not to damage them too badly.  So having thin skin is not a bad thing for me.

This past year I decided to weigh the fruit my little tree produced, in one season it produced over 50 kg of ripe lemons.  This coming season it looks like it will produce a lot less.  If I remember I will try to weigh it, but it is a lot of work weighing fruit that is picked over several months so I may not bother.

Meyer lemon tree cutting
Being such a great tree I decided to grow another one from a cutting.  Who would have thought I would ever consider doing that when I was originally planning to just rip out the tree!

Meyer lemon tree cutting with roots
I looked on the internet and many people say it is impossible for home gardeners to grow lemons from cuttings, or they give strict instructions that they claim must be followed, others claim you need to use rooting hormones or expensive cloning thingies.  I didn’t do any of that.  Perhaps I just got lucky, but for me growing a lemon tree from a cutting really wasn’t that difficult to do.   

I cut off a small branch, loosely tied a plastic bag over the end, and kept it in some water until it grew roots.  You can easily see the roots in the pictures above.  Once the roots were visible I removed the plastic bag and planted it into a pot of soil.  Then I forgot to water it for a while, and had it in too much shade, and so forth, but it is still alive and growing.
Meyer lemon tree cutting is now a proper little tree - look how much it has grown!

I have also planted some meyer lemon seeds.  I know full well that each of these seeds will be different to the parent, most won’t be as good, but I may end up with something even better. 

I also know it can take a few years before the tree is old enough to flower and fruit.  It will be interesting to see how many years it actually takes.

If you plan to grow lemons from seeds it is easier to grow from fresh seeds as dry seeds don’t seem to do as well.  Perhaps they die when dried, perhaps they go dormant and take longer to sprout, I don’t really know or care, I just know it is easier to germinate fresh seeds. 

I found web sites describing how to grow lemons from seeds who claim “non-organic lemons often contain non-germinating seeds” and “Make sure you purchase an organic lemon since some non-organic lemon seeds may be “duds”, incapable of germinating”.  This is utterly ridiculous.  Please ignore anything you hear from people who spread this kind of misinformation. 

Both organically grown and non-organically grown lemon seeds have an equal chance of germinating and growing.  My tree, much like everything in my yard, is organically grown, but if I applied synthetic fertiliser it would not alter the ability of the seeds to germinate.   

Perhaps these people are misunderstanding what they have heard about vegetables?  Maybe they are misunderstanding hybrid sterility due to incompatible ploidy levels, or cytoplasmic male sterility?  Obviously they wont grow true to type as it is Meyer lemons are a hybrid to begin with.  The parents of meyer lemons clearly had the same ploidy level, the fruit is not seedless, they self-pollinate and produces viable seeds, so there is no reason that organic will have more viable seeds than non-organic.

I find it frustrating that people spread these kinds of lies.  Most are well meaning and either confused or are doing it to try and convince people to grow organically.  I grow things organically, and I encourage others to grow organically, but I like to encourage by providing information rather than through making up illogical lies and pretending that things are different than they really are.  People who spread this nonsense are doing far more harm than good.

I grew my lemon seeds by getting some seeds from some lemons that we were juicing, and planting them in a punnet of soil.  I kept this punnet moist, mostly forgot about it, figured it had been so long that they weren’t going to grow, and they grew when they were ready.  I only planted the fatter and more developed seeds.  I didn’t expect many to grow so I put a fair few in.  Unfortunately I didn’t count them but I am guessing that most germinated.

So far all my little lemon tree seedlings have been burned intense sunlight, they have not been watered enough, they are in poor soil, some were pelted with large hail, but they are all surviving.  I don’t have much space so don’t plan to keep many, lemon seedlings are not very winter hardy so perhaps I will wait and keep the largest ones that survive winter.

Maybe one day I will sell lemon trees through my for sale page.


  1. I have a lemon tree that I grew from a pip. It's more than 7 years old now, and hasn't flowered yet, although I hope one day it will. But I have my first lemons now, from a Meyer lemon tree I was given last year. It's exciting, isn't it?

    1. 7 years and still hasn't flowered! Hopefully it flowers and fruits for you soon.

      I really like my Meyer lemon tree. I never would have planted one but I am really glad it was here. I have a feeling that the crop will be significantly smaller next time, but I am sure that it will still produce more than enough lemons for my family.

  2. I have a Meyer lemon that is 55 years old, planted by my father. I once grew some orange trees from pips, but no fruit ever, so I budded my Meyer lemon onto one and have great crops every year. (BTW, the only plant I've ever successfully budded!)
    What time of year did you take your cutting, and did you cut it off or rip it with a little 'heel'? I'm keen to try this also. How long before your new little tree had those blossoms that are pictured?
    Meyer lemon is my favourite tree. Also the favourite of the possums and rats that co-exist in my garden.

  3. Hi Parlance,

    The cutting was mostly new growth and had a small ~1cm bit of heel on it. I took the lemon tree cutting 27/11/2016 and it had visible roots 20/12/2016 which was much faster than I had expected. It flowered sometime in 2017 but I didn't write that down anywhere.

    It doesn't have any fruit on it at the moment while the parent tree has plenty of unripe fruit, I think that may be due to lack of nutrients. I top dressed the other week using guinea pig manure and it has already put on a lot of leaf growth. I think it is a pretty little tree.