Lemon tree a fun way to shake shiver

After spending the summer and fall on our patio, we moved our Myer lemon tree inside where it continues to thrive, producing large blooms and lemons.

Now that Christmas is over, I’m ready for spring.

Despite the fact that winter “officially” started only a week ago, I’m totally over it already. We garden people are hankering for something green and lush, something growing and alive amidst all this dead, cold frozen tundra.

As we end one of the coldest months on record in the Grand Valley, I need something to keep me going until the thaw.

Enter the beautiful lemon tree. What’s better than a sunny lemon to stave off the winter doldrums?

I treated myself to a Meyer lemon tree last summer, when I was passing through Delta and stopped at the Garden Center, which had a wide selection of gorgeous dwarf citrus trees.

I just couldn’t help buying this adorable little lemon tree. Its shiny leaves and almost waxy, snow-white blooms called out to me.

Meyer lemons are a smaller, more orange type of lemon, well-suited for container growing. My lemon tree is actually an “improved” Meyer lemon, developed in the 1950s by California’s Four Winds Growers nursery. It’s the new-and-improved Meyer lemon that is immune to the citrus-attacking Tristeza virus it once was a symptomless carrier of, which earned it a bad rap for a while. Its predecessor was named for agricultural explorer Frank N. Meyer, who discovered it growing in China in the early 1900s.

The lemon tree spent summer and fall on the patio, enjoying the warm climate. I brought it inside when frost started forming on the grass in the morning, and since then it has thrived in a sunny little corner of our dining room.

I wondered if it would be warm and sunny enough inside the house for the little lemon tree to bloom and produce fruit in the winter. I’d seen them thrive in botanical gardens before, but this was my first foray into citrus growing.

Luckily, the lemon tree is bursting with lightly fragrant blooms and is producing ripe, juicy lemons. I’ve never seen Meyer lemons this large — I actually wondered if I had accidentally bought a regular lemon tree.

But, no, in fact they’re just twice as large as the Meyer lemons at the grocery store (and twice as juicy). Their flavor is not as tart as a lemon, with a hint of tangerine.

Not only are the lemons delicious, the plant itself is worthy of a spot in our house. The dark green, shiny foliage almost shimmers. And the delicate, white flowers bloom right on time, when everything else is dead and dormant.

You can start your own citrus from seed, but it requires patience. Buying an already started nursery-grown tree that was already more than a foot tall gave me a head start. It can take three (or more) years to actually produce a fruit-bearing citrus tree from seed, and I’m not that patient.

Surprisingly, our little lemon tree doesn’t require a lot of heat to thrive and bear fruit. We keep the house pretty cool (low 60s most of the time) and it’s doing great.

With proper fertilizing, the tree has fruit or blooms on it year-round. I use a high-nitrogen, acidic fertilizer such as Miracid, with caution. Too much nitrogen causes all the blooms to fall off.

I’ve found that consistent watering is key to growing citrus trees in containers. They like moist but not wet soil, so checking frequently is important, especially as we use our forced-air heater more and it dries out everything in the house.

With luck, my little lemon tree will someday grow to be five or six feet tall and continue to bear fruit year-round, and we’ll have homemade lemonade for Christmas every year!

For information on growing indoor citrus in containers, check out fourwindsgrowers.com.

Erin McIntyre is an advanced master gardener, writer and Grand Valley native. Please email her at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) with story ideas or feedback.


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