The Q&A Archives: Lisbon Lemon At Home

Question: I may have mistakenly bought a Lisbon Lemon tree for my home. I told the salesperson that it was going in my home, they thought it was a great idea. How long will the tree be healthy in a pot indoors? How fast will it grow?

Answer: Some of the citrus types best adapted to indoor culture include Ponderosa lemon, Otaheite orange, Meyer lemon, Persian lime and Calamondin orange.

Citrus foliage can adapt to the relatively low light levels typical of our homes. However, if flowers and fruit are what you're after, you'll need to give the plants as much light as possible. If natural light is inadequate, you can supplement with artificial lights. A combination of cool white and warm white florescent lights placed close to the plants will help, as will the special "grow lights" that emit the wavelengths of light most important for plant growth.

Relative humidity is generally too low in the typical home, especially during the winter heating season. Running a humidifier will increase both plant and people comfort. Pebble trays with water evaporating from the surface also can be helpful. Hand-misting is generally ineffective at raising relative humidity, though it can help wash dust off of the foliage.

Soil, water and fertilizer needs of citrus are similar to other houseplants. A good-quality potting soil mix with blooming-houseplant food applied according to label directions should be sufficient. Water thoroughly at intervals that allow the soil to dry just a little between waterings.

Citrus flowering is dependent on the particular species of plant, as well as environmental conditions. Generally, best success with flowering is achieved by moving the plant outdoors to a protected, partially sunny location after all danger of frost is past. Similarly, the plant will need to be brought back indoors at the end of summer, before temperatures dip below 50 F. However, unless the plants are gradually exposed to these drastic changes of environment, they will often respond by dropping many leaves and, possibly, flowers and young fruit.

If citrus is kept indoors year-round, the plants will likely need a bit of pollination assistance when they do flower. Use an artist's paintbrush or cotton swab to transfer pollen from one flower to another.

Just for the record, Lisbon Lemon (Citrus limon 'Lisbon') is a productive, commercial variety that is more tolerant of heat, cold, winds, and neglect than other lemons. Fruit can be harvested year round in most areas. In full sun, it's a vigorous growing to 30 feet tall and 25 feet wide.

Take your tree outdoors during the summer months and it should live a long and happy life.

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