Is it possible to grow a Meyer lemon outdoors?

Asked March 2, 2015, 5:38 PM EST

I've seen many tutorials about growing in outdoor pots, then bringing into a sunny room for the winter, but I'd prefer to plant the tree in the ground and build a glass/plastic surround for the winter. Are there any opinions/experiences to support this strategy?

Multnomah County Oregon

1 Response

You may be able to successfully grow a Meyer lemon outdoors in Multnomah County, but you'll need to protect it from temperatures below 55°F and practice due diligence in selecting where to plant it and how to care for it.

Below is an edited excerpt from an answer given to someone else a few years ago that contains advice based on the expert’s experience in gardening in Southern California and Portland, Oregon.

“Here is how I maintained a thriving lemon outdoors year-round in our rather mild climate. My garden-grown Improved Meyer lemon was luxuriant and produced plenty of fruit to share, growing over its 7-year lifetime to 5 feet tall and 6 feet wide. Flowering was so profuse the fragrance permeated the entire backyard. I began with an Improved Meyer lemon (3-gallon container) purchased from a local garden center during March, planted it outdoors into a raised bed during June, then kept it going until an unexpected hard freeze during early December killed the top growth (all the way down to the root graft). Thus, a complete loss.

“During the years previous to the killing freeze, I rigged protection from cold using two layers of frost blanket (available in garden centers) with 4 mil plastic over that, both materials clipped to an overhead support and held tight to the ground with a combination of soil, rocks, and short lengths of 2x4s. I arranged it so I could vent the plastic and row cover on warmer days but could close up when colder. During the coldest times, I set a 60-watt work light on the ground inside the 'tent.' The light was on all day, every day, for as long as the severe cold lasted. Come spring, the only damage was on the branches that touched the covering.”

-- Jean Master Gardener Diagnostician (Washington, Multnomah and Clackamas Counties) Oregon State University Extension Service Volunteer Metro Master Gardeners

If you decide to go with an indoor/outdoor (container-grown) Meyer lemon, here are some comments. The most common suggestion for an indoor lemon is to keep it in a bright sunny room, perhaps a sun room, solarium, or outdoor greenhouse. Lighting is perhaps the major challenge in bringing evergreen trees indoors because available light is always less indoors than outdoors. Most articles advise providing light for at least 6 to 8 hours during the off-season. (No need for so-called grow lights.)

You can ignore suggestions to increase the humidity as our climate maintains adequate levels, even indoors. This article from Purdue University explains the basics: Growing Citrus Indoors in Cool Climates.

Keep in mind that if you do bring the plant indoors, many if not all of the sun-adapted leaves will drop to make way for new leaves adapted to the lower light level. Then, in spring, the process is similar when the tree goes outdoors. Then, shade-adapted leaves drop to make way for new, sun-adapted leaves. All this leaf production uses resources the tree needs to remain healthy and produce fruits. The container-grown Meyer can be put into a garage when temperatures are forecast to go below 32°F. After the threat of freeze passes, the tree can be moved outdoors again to a sunny site.

Here is some additional information on selecting the right location to plant the lemon and in caring for it.