Lemon trees are a wonderful addition to a coastal landscape. They thrive in hot, humid weather, and produce incredibly sweet aromatic blossoms. And of course, the fruit is a major plus.
However, warm-weather states like California and Florida average some of the smallest lawns in the country (source), so it’s important to plan your landscape carefully before you plant a long-term plant like a lemon tree.
How tall do lemon trees grow? On average, a domestic lemon tree will grow 10’-20’ tall and 15’-20’ wide. Dwarf varieties should stay under 10’ tall, while container trees can be even shorter. Of course, many factors determine the overall size of your lemon tree.
In general, a tree will be as large as it can be in its environment. A tree that should reach 30’ tall may only be 15’ tall in less-than-ideal conditions. Therefore, tree height can vary widely depending on variety, climate, and overall care.
Right Plant, Right Place
Plants will only reach their maximum height and width if they are planted in a conducive environment. If a lemon tree is planted in the northern part of Zone 9, it will be smaller and less productive than a lemon tree in the southern part of Zone 11.
To determine your plant zone, see the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map.
As heat and humidity rise and the threat of freezing winter temperatures decreases, lemon trees become more robust.
Therefore, a tree that could reach 20’ in height in southern Florida may only reach 12’ in northern Florida.
Microclimates can also affect the mature height of a lemon tree. A microclimate is a small portion of a lawn or landscape that has slightly different growing conditions. For example, a plant that is located next to an exterior dryer vent may have a warm microclimate in an otherwise cool landscape.
Similarly, a plant located on the north side of a house under the eaves will have a cooler, shadier, drier microclimate than a plant located on the south side of a house at the end of a drain pipe.
For lemon trees, a warm, humid microclimate would help protect against cooler winter temperatures, which would help it to grow to its full potential. This could allow growers in the southern areas of Zone 8 to grow a moderately successful lemon tree.
However, a lemon tree in an unprotected, cooler, drier microclimate, may do poorly even if it is in Zone 9 or 10. Since lawn size is much smaller in these growing zones, it’s important to scout out the warmest, most humid microclimates to make sure your lemon tree has the best growing conditions.
So, when a mature size is listed for a landscape plant, it is based on the right plant, right place rule.
Lemon Tree Varieties
Lemon trees can be divided into two major categories:
- Meyer Lemons
- A cross between a tangerine and a lemon
- True Lemons
- Traditional tart, yellow, oblong fruit
Meyer lemons will have the scientific name Citrus x Meyerii, which means it is a hybrid of a true lemon and a tangerine. They are native to China, and they have a sweeter, less tart fruit. Meyer lemons are popular because they are more cold-hardy than true lemons, and they produce more abundant fruit during the fall and winter season.
True lemons will have the scientific name Citrus x limon with a variety name in quotation marks. For example, “Lisbon” is a variety of true lemon that is known for large, juicy fruit that is more cold tolerant than the popular “Eureka” variety.
Each variety is bred for specific qualities, and therefore each has its own unique mature size.
|Lemon Tree Variety||Average Height||Considerations|
|Meyer lemons||6’-10’||Suitable for containers.|
|Eureka lemons||Up To 20’||Requires constant moisture.|
|Pink Variegated lemons||10’-15’||Pink flesh.|
|Lisbon||20’-30’||Suitable for containers (6’-10’)|
|Primofiori||10’-16’||Suitable for containers (5’)|
Note: When these lemons are grown in their ideal climates, mature heights can range from 6’-30’ and sometimes greater. However, these same trees can be grown in containers, which can reduce the mature height to a mere 5’ even in optimal conditions.
Watch this short video tutorial from Garden Answer on growing citrus trees in containers:
Dwarf Lemon Trees
Dwarf trees are generally the same varieties as full-sized trees, but grafted onto dwarf rootstock. Therefore, while a full-grown Eureka lemon tree may be 20’ tall, a dwarf Eureka lemon tree may be only 8’ tall. They are the exact same variety, but grown on a different rootstock.
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Even with dwarf varieties, mature height can range depending on growing conditions. Some trees may thrive and reach 8’-10’, while others struggle to survive at a mere 4’ tall.
Many dwarf fruit trees are less hardy than their full-sized counterparts, so be prepared to baby them a bit more for them to reach their mature size.
When you plant a permanent landscape plant, it’s important to consider the mature height and width to make sure the space is adequate for the future size of the plant.
Often, mature size is overlooked, and this results in trees that must be pruned around power lines, shrubs that must be shaped to clear sidewalks, and other unfortunate pruning disasters that could have been avoided with proper planning.
First, make sure the type (full-sized or dwarf) and variety of lemon tree you want to plant has the space to reach its full height and width comfortably. It can look odd to plant young trees 30’ apart from each other, but this will ensure they have room to spread out and soak up sunlight and water without competition from nearby plant life.
Second, make sure you have the right climate and microclimate to ensure your lemon tree will reach its mature size. If you plan a landscape around a 30’ tall lemon tree, make sure you have a warm, humid spot that will help your tree thrive.
Otherwise, you may have a struggling, 10’ tall lemon tree that looks out of place.
Growing Great Lemons
Mature height is based on ideal conditions, and most lemon trees have similar growing requirements. Make sure you plant your tree in a warm, humid spot near your home (or in a container), and follow these basic lemon tree care steps:
Plant new trees level with surrounding soil. Be careful not to plant a new tree too deep, which can cause problems with drainage.
Water new trees every other day. For the first month, water new transplants every other day to help establish a strong root system.
Water young trees once per week. After the first month, continue to water your new lemon tree once per week to help establish a strong root system.
Fertilize every 6 months. Use a mild fertilizer, like 5-5-5, every 6 months around the base of the tree. Amend with magnesium as needed.
Spray leaves to remove dust. Dusty citrus leaves can help harmful insects make a home for themselves. Spray off the leaves periodically to remove pests and clean off the dust.
Prune dead or diseased growth. Citrus trees don’t need much pruning, but make sure you keep a consistent shape and prune off dead or diseased growth every few months. Citrus is evergreen, so you can prune at any time.
Follow the instructions for your lemon variety. Some varieties require more moisture or different pH levels. Make sure you know what variety of lemon you are growing, and any unique care instructions for helping it reach maturity.
Topdress with compost. Each year, put a few inches of compost under your lemon tree out to the drip line. This will help retain moisture and add nutrients.
Maintain a mulch ring. After topdressing, add mulch out to the dripline of your lemon tree to help retain moisture and control competing weeds.
Once your lemon tree is established, you only need to water a few times during dry seasons, and fertilize if your tree shows signs of deficiency.
A well-tended mature tree should have a healthy root system that is able to reach water during times of drought, and consistent applications of compost should ensure a healthy overall soil profile.
Lemon trees are rewarding both as an ornamental landscape plant and as a tasty addition to an edible garden. If you are lucky enough to live in Zone 9 or warmer, consider adding a lemon tree to your landscape.
For more information on compost, improving soil, and managing poor soil conditions, visit Thriving Yard’s articles to help you grow a successful landscape.
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