I’ve had a Meyer lemon tree for about three years. In spring of 2018, it flowered like crazy and set a bunch of fruit. Even though it was a small tree, I harvested eight large lemons and made a delicious pie with them. Success!
In 2019, things did not go so well. The lemon tree flowered in spring, but then dropped all of its flowers and produced no fruit. It spent the summer outside (as it usually does), then flowered again in late fall. No fruit, which did not surprise me because citrus needs a lot of sun and even in my south window, it’s pretty dark in Minnesota from November through March.
A week or so ago, my lemon tree started to flower again—abundantly. The timing is perfect so I decided to help the tree along to get some fruit. Meyer lemons are “self-pollinating,” which means you don’t need a second tree to get fruit. The pollen on the tree will cling to the stigmas in other flowers, which creates the little lemons. Outside, wind and insects will do the pollinating for you, but inside it may need assistance.
Be the Bee: Lemon Tree Pollination
The procedure is simple. Get a small paint brush or Q-tip swab and rub it into the flowers that have lots of pollen on their anthers. (These are male flowers.) Make sure you get some of the yellow pollen grains on your brush or swab. Then go to a flower that has the bulbous stigma (also called a pistil). Gently touch the edge of the swab or brush on the stigma. You want to see some grains of pollen present on the stigma after you have pollinated. Continue to do this as long as the plant is flowering. Wait to see the little lemons start developing. If you achieve pollination and are lucky, those little lemons will be big delicious fruit in about eight months.
My lemon tree will go outside some time in mid-May. Temperatures have to be consistently about 50 degrees for a lemon to be happy. I’ll also be adding some fertilizer to the plant, which needs a fair amount of nitrogen but not much phosphorus or potassium. In the three-plus years it has been in this pot, I’ve only added fish emulsion. Finally, come fall, I’ll be re-potting my tree. While lemon trees can grow well in a fairly small pot, they do like fresh soil every few years.
For more on growing lemons, check out this excellent bulletin from the Wisconsin master gardeners and this step-by-step pollination guide. I’ll let you know how many lemons I get over on my Instagram account.