The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Dwarf citrus blooms and fruits

Meyer lemon flowerNow for the fun part --- blooming!  I suspect that some people get dwarf Meyer lemons for the beauty and fragrance of the blooms alone, not even caring about the fruits.  Other dwarf citrus plants have similar, but less showy, flowers, and the information below applies to all of the common species.

Meyer lemons can bloom throughout the year, but they tend to bloom the most in the winter, as do most other dwarf citrus trees.  That presents a problem since there are no bees flying around your living room to pollinate the flowers.  I've found that some flowers will self-pollinate (especially if you shake the tree a bit), but you'll get more fruits if you take a few minutes to hand-pollinate each new batch of blooms.

Tiny orange fruitThe flowers are ready to be pollinated when the pistil (green part in the middle of the flower) is shiny and the petals are lush and white.  Simply take a small paintbrush (or your fingertip) and gently tap the stamens of one flower to gather pollen, then tap the pistil of another flower to fertilize that fruit.  You'll have to repeat this procedure a few times over the course of the bloom since flowers open in stages, and some have already lost their petals (too late to pollinate) by the time the last ones have opened.

Another option --- but one I can't recommend --- is to open your window during a sunny winter day and let your honeybees in.  We did this last year because our worker bees could smell the flowers' aroma through the screen and wanted in for such a luscious winter treat.  The bees pollinated our tree beautifully, but couldn't figure out how to get back outside, and several perished.

Meyer lemonsNo matter how you pollinate the flowers, you'll know you've been successful if the flowers drop their petals but maintain the green ovary in the center.  The tree will naturally thin itself, dropping perhaps 75% of its flowers within a few days of full bloom.  Citrus trees generally go through a second round of thinning a few weeks later when the fruits are pea- to marble-sized.  After this second thinning, you may choose to thin a bit further so that there's no more than one fruit in each cluster.

Then you wait, and wait, and wait.  Our dwarf Meyer lemon generally takes about eight months to ripen its fruits, which gives us lemons in November or December.  You can tell the fruits are ripe by color (Meyer lemons should actually turn slightly orange) and by the lift test --- gently lift a fruit upwards, and if the fruit is ripe it will snap off the branch without any force on your part.  Give one fruit a taste and then pick the others if that one was juicy and sweet.

I won't bother to tell you what to do with the fruits.  They go far too fast because they're so delicious.  That's when you have to be careful not to buy five more dwarf citrus trees, requiring you to kick your kids out to take over their sunny room.

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This post is part of our Dwarf Citrus lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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I must have a green citrus thumb because I've never hand-pollinated my lime tree and it's covered with fruit! I had no idea I should have been helping out with pollination! Thank you again for your wisdom and guidance. The lemon tree is just beginning to flower, so this post was very timely!
Comment by Debbi Thu Dec 8 21:19:34 2011
Our lime tree pollinates without any assistance, also. Our other citrus never bears fruit, so I probably need to get busy.
Comment by Errol Fri Dec 9 09:35:28 2011

Debbi --- To be honest, I often don't pollinate either and get fine results. I hear people on the internet arguing for and against the need to pollinate, and I suspect it might just depend on how much movement happens around your plant. Do the cats walk by, is there a ceiling fan, or are the plants hidden away in a still corner? If the latter, pollination is probably more essential.

Daddy --- Does your other citrus bloom and not bear fruit or just not bloom?

Comment by anna Fri Dec 9 16:49:22 2011
They bloom, have many little green things after blooming, but make no fruit.
Comment by Errol Fri Dec 9 16:53:40 2011
Huh, that sounds like the plant is dropping fertilized embryos. (Usually, if the flowers aren't fertilized, the whole flower seems to drop together rather than the petals falling away from the embryo and then the embryo dropping later.) That suggest to me that the plant isn't happy for some reason. Is the pot big enough? Is it getting enough fertility? Are you making sure it never gets below about 50 degrees even at night?
Comment by anna Fri Dec 9 17:19:11 2011


I live in a coastal town with lots of fog, but I bought a new dwarf Meyer lemon tree at a store right down the street last week. It is covered with lovely white flowers and even has two fruits dangling already. I've had it for five days and the petals are suddenly brown. They aren't falling off, but they're all brown and I'm really sad. What did I do wrong?


Comment by Katie Thu May 16 23:58:18 2013
Katie --- Is it possible your tree is just letting the flowers go now that it's time to turn those spots into fruit? The tree will also self-thin to a certain extent, so it'll totally drop a lot of flowers without leaving fruits behind.
Comment by anna Fri May 17 13:17:14 2013

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