When to Transplant Lemon Trees?

Hunker may earn compensation through affiliate links in this story.
You can transplant lemon trees.
Image Credit: _LeS_/iStock/Getty Images

The true lemon tree (​Citrus limon​) produces acidic yellow fruits that are perfect for cooking or for use in cold beverages and desserts. Hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 9 through 11, lemon trees thrive in the garden or in containers. Transplant lemon trees when they're actively growing, preferably in spring so they have time to become established in the garden before the heat of summer and chilly days of winter arrive.


Video of the Day


Transplant lemon trees when they are actively growing. While you can technically transplant potted trees at any time of the year, they will do better when planted outdoors in the cooler days of spring versus the hottest days of summer.

About Lemon Trees

The true lemon trees grow 10 to 20 feet tall and 10 to 15 feet wide when grown in the garden. ​Citrus limon​ 'Eureka' and 'Lisbon' can also be grown in 10- to 15-gallon containers in colder climates. If grafted onto dwarfing rootstocks, they require less pruning to maintain their size – an advantage when growing in a greenhouse or warm sunroom. ​Citrus limon​ 'Variegated Pink Eureka,' also known as 'Pink Lemonade,' has pink-fleshed, green-striped fruits that ripen to yellow and green and white variegated leaves.


A sweeter alternative is ​Citrus limon​ 'Improved Meyer.' A hybrid of a lemon and a mandarin orange, the trees are naturally small at 6 to 10 feet tall. While considered hardy in USDA zones 9 through 11, they can tolerate temperatures down to 20 degrees Fahrenheit for brief periods. When grown in a container, Improved Meyer rarely reaches 8 feet tall.

Safe Planting Practices

Put on safety gear, including safety goggles, long sleeves, long pants, closed-toe shoes and thornproof gloves. Some lemon trees are thorny, including Lisbon. Wrap the tree with a moving blanket or cardboard to avoid puncturing your skin or damaging the branches while moving it out of the grower's pot and into the planting hole or new container.


Before trimming the tree, pruning or harvesting ripe lemons, sterilize your cutting tools by dipping the blades into rubbing alcohol or Lysol. You can also wipe the blades between cuts with a rag soaked in the sterilizing solution.

Time to Transplant Lemon Trees

While lemon trees are evergreens, they can be thrown into dormancy when temperatures drop below 55 degrees. If you're transplanting a bag-and-burlap or potted tree outside, wait until the weather warms in spring and the tree begins actively growing. You can plant potted trees later in the season; plant in the early morning when the soil and air temperatures are cooler.


Choose a sunny spot in the garden. In cooler climates, a well-drained location next to a sunny, south-facing wall provides a warmer microclimate for your lemon tree. Dig the planting hole twice as wide and one and a half times as deep as the root ball. Loosen the dirt on the sides of the planting hole with a shovel. Fill the hole with water and let it soak into the soil.

Add enough of the excavated soil so the lemon tree sits at the same depth as it was in the grower's pot. Unwind any encircling roots and trim as needed. Place the tree in the hole and backfill. Tamp lightly and water thoroughly.


The Best Time to Repot

When repotting your indoor lemon tree, try to repot in spring, but if the roots are crawling out of the pot, it's better done sooner than later. Fill a 5-gallon or larger container with a citrus potting mix or a combination of equal parts compost, peat moss or coconut coir and coarse sand or perlite. Plant the tree at the same depth as it was in the previous container. Repot every two to three years.

Keep potted lemon trees in a south-facing window or add extra light by suspending a grow light or fluorescent fixture a few inches above the tree. You can take your tree outside in spring for a summer vacation but take it back indoors when night temperatures drop to the 40s and 50s.


Care of Lemon Trees

Lemon trees prefer evenly moist soils. Water when the soil is dry to a depth of 2 to 3 inches. Fertilize potted trees monthly with a half-strength liquid fertilizer formulated for citrus. In the garden, fertilize with a nitrogen or citrus fertilizer every six to eight weeks from late winter through summer.

Alternatively, rake well-decomposed compost or manure over the soil, starting 12 inches from the trunk and all the way out to the drip line. Apply every two months from late winter until late summer. Do not fertilize in fall or early winter.



Ruth de Jauregui is the author of 50 Fabulous Tomatoes for Your Garden. She writes numerous home and garden articles for a variety of online publications. She got her start as a book and cover designer in San Francisco for William (Bill) Yenne at American Graphic Systems. In addition to designing books, she wrote her first book, Ghost Towns. With several nonfiction books under her belt, de Jauregui recently published her first novel, Bitter.