As an avid gardener and cook, I like to learn as much as I can about fruit and vegetable varietals. When I encounter an interesting fruit, I want to learn its name so I can find it again and grow it myself. But even if you’re not someone who looks through huge beautiful piles of heirloom tomatoes hoping to find one very special Black Krim, you will notice a flavor difference between a Meyer lemon and a standard lemon. Meyer lemons are smaller, less sour, less acidic, and darker in color than the more classically available Eureka lemon. The peel is thin and edible, with a very aromatic zest. Unfortunately their delicate nature makes them difficult to ship, so unless you live in a warm citrus-growing place, they may be a rare find in your local market2. However, Meyer lemon trees grow well in containers, so you can grow one even if you live in a colder agricultural zone.
Thought to be an ancient cross between a lemon and an orange, the Meyer lemon was brought to the United States from China in 19081. In the 1940s, Meyer Lemon trees were identified as carriers of a citrus virus plaguing commercial orchards at the time. The “Improved” variety was selected from one virus-free tree by Four Winds Growers in the 1950s, and marketed in 19753.
So, how can you grow one of these beautiful, fragrant, delicious trees? If you don’t live in a warm climate where the temperature stays above 32°F, you will need to grow your lemons in a pot. Choose a container slightly larger than the root ball of your tree with good drainage holes and fill with any well draining organic potting mix. Allow the soil to dry slightly between watering, then water deeply. Detailed information is available from Four Winds. My little tree has passed a very happy summer in a 5 gallon nursery pot on my San Francisco balcony. It seemed equally happy through our foggy summer and our sunny autumn. This year I chose to remove all of the fruits as soon as they form, because I wanted this young tree to use its energy to build strong new branches and leaves in hopes of producing more lemons in the future. But I can still enjoy the blossoms! When one of these lemon flowers opens on my patio, the fragrance is so powerful it can be savored indoors through a single open window. Our friendly neighborhood hummingbird excitedly greets every new bloom, and sometimes drops by just to check on his favorite nectar source.
1“Meyer Lemon” From Wikipedia
2“The Meyer Lemon: More Than A Pretty Face” by Julie O’Hara of The Kitchen Window, NPR
3“Why Is It Called the New & Improved Meyer Lemon Tree?” by Christina Piper, Demand Media of the SF Gate