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**NOTE: This post contains excerpts from my book, The Complete Mini-Guide to Growing Windowsill Lemon Trees: A Reference Manual for Northern-Zone Gardeners. The book is a comprehensive instruction manual for growing potted lemon trees indoors, and may be purchased on Amazon in ebook or paperback formats for less than the price of a fancy cup of coffee!**

Buying and growing a windowsill lemon tree should be at the top of the wish-list for every northern-zone gardener. Lemons are so incredibly useful and – let’s face it – the bragging rights to be able to say you successfully grew a lemon tree in zone four and colder climates are second to none!

However, there are a lot of options on the market, and you should know what you’re getting before you buy. Not every lemon tree is suited for windowsill growing, and not every windowsill-friendly lemon tree is suited for every garden (particularly those households with children. Do be aware that many citrus trees have thorns, and you need to be careful about selecting a thornless variety if this is a concern). For your convenience, I’ve listed out my top three dwarf lemon trees below, with some tips on finding a reputable nursery.

MEYER LEMONS: READILY AVAILABLE, EASY-CARE AND SWEET

The Meyer Dwarf Lemon is particularly popular, despite the fact (or because of the fact) that it’s not a true lemon. This hybrid tree is sweeter than your typical lemon because it is a cross with the mandarin, a member of the sweet orange family. Natural height is roughly ten feet, if grown in the outdoor environment it was designed for; as a windowsill lemon, this tree tends to be readily available, relatively cheap, fairly hardy and easy to grow.

If you have the option, choose the Improved Meyer rather than the typical Meyer lemon. The Improved has resistance to some viruses that have been a real concern in citrus groves in the southern US; although the Meyer itself is resistant, it has been called the Typhoid Mary of the citrus world for its ability to spread the disease to other trees. For most windowsills this won’t be an issue, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

Meyer thorns are very few and far between, and the thorns that are there tend to be flexible and bend when you touch them rather than stabbing you. I personally rate this tree as a standard must-have starter lemon for northern windowsill gardeners.

(Personally, I highly recommend the Meyer; I find it very easy to keep contained to fruiting size even in a relatively small pot. Not sure how big a container to put your baby tree in when you bring the seedling home? Check out this article on pot size and watering for container-grown lemon trees).

PONDEROSA LEMON: MASSIVE FRUIT, POTENTIAL FOR THORNS

The Ponderosa is advertised based on its ginormous size (often advertised up to 5 pounds. That’s the size of a small cat). Once again, this isn’t a true lemon; instead, this tree is a hybrid of a citron and a lemon – or possibly, depending on arguments too complicated for my knowledge of citrus genetics, a hybrid of a citron and a pomelo. This tree is reportedly considered a natural dwarf, reportedly topping out around 12 feet when planted outdoors in its native environment; for container growing, your order will probably arrive grafted on dwarf rootstock to keep it more manageable.

The tree does have more thorns than many of the other varieties, so just heads up this might be a concern if you have small children. The fruit has a knobbly rind and is often considered ornamental, but there’s nothing wrong with it other than some seediness and the acidic sourness of your typical lemon (…yes, sour lemons. Who knew???). This tree is reportedly more cold-sensitive than many other lemon varieties, but I can’t verify that from personal experience.

VARIEGATED PINK LEMONS: FLASHY, TASTY, AND UNIQUE

There’s more than one kind of variegated lemon on the market, but the type I typically see advertised for windowsill cultivation is a Eureka variety. Eurekas are marvelous trees, with very limited thorns and less seediness than many other lemon varieties. The tree has very splashy two-toned foliage (white and green), and the lemons themselves start out in streaky shades of deep and light green before fading to cream, yellow and pink.

Just be aware that when advertisers call it a “pink” lemon in both internal flesh and the rind, you won’t be looking at a neon, Barbie-handbag pink; this will be more like a light blush. It’s still super awesomely cool and is one of the top favorite windowsill trees I’ve ever owned, but just know what you’re getting before you buy. In addition to the sheer gorgeousness of the foliage, I’ve found the tree to be very low-maintenance and easy to grow even in lower light conditions.

(Interested in growing other striking and unusual fruit colors on your windowsill or in your orchard? There’s so many unique fruits to choose from! Check out this article on different types of unusually-colored fruits you can grow at home (white blackberries? pink blueberries? striped oranges? Yes, please!)

WHERE TO BUY WINDOWSILL LEMON TREES

 

Windowsill gardening has boomed in popularity in recent years. When I first started collecting dwarf citrus, it was pretty tough to track down a reasonably-priced lemon tree, but in the last few years the options have expanded dramatically. There’s a wide variety of online nurseries you can order from, and even small-town garden stores have started carrying lemons and other semi-tropical fruits in seasonal displays.

When you are looking at online nurseries, just be aware that what you see is not always what you get. Many of these places offer buy-in-bulk discounts. These discounts are fantastic if – and only if! – the quality of the product is good. A cheap “tree” can be an expensive mistake if it arrives as a dead twig stuck in a pot of dirt. I would recommend a small order as an initial trial run if you have no experience with a company and cannot otherwise determine the quality of product and service they have provided to their customers.

It really helps if you can get the inside scoop from a friend, family member, or other gardening buddy before you buy, but in the absence of local insight, try looking up reviews online through Dave’s Garden. There’s a lot of helpful information there and it’s my go-to source when I don’t know a supplier well.

Growing Potted Lemon Trees Indoors

At the end of the day, purchasing a dwarf lemon tree to grow on your windowsill is an exciting moment for gardeners new to growing citrus fruit in northern zones. Of all citrus varieties, lemons are some of the easiest to grow in pots on your windowsill (and for those concerned about running into problems, check out my FAQs on growing lemon trees indoors, or my article on growing windowsill lemons… i.e., what I’ve learned from failure!).

Lemons have relatively low maintenance needs, so don’t panic. As long as you follow some guidelines about temperature and humidity for potted lemon trees, you should be fine. Don’t forget to pay attention while the tree is blossoming, however; although the tree is technically self-pollinating and doesn’t need an additional tree as a partner, the absence of bees indoors means you may need to assist lemon trees with pollination.

The challenge is rewarded with a beautiful conversation piece that spreads a lovely scent of citrus blossom through your home — alone with fresh-squeezed lemonade from your own tree!

This post was originally published in 2022. The post has since been updated to keep information and links current.

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