Lemons are one of the most popular citrus trees to grow. Given their incredible health benefits, you may want to consider growing your own. Do you currently buy conventionally grown lemons rather than organic? If so, be aware that after harvest, they are routinely dipped in fungicide to prevent fungal diseases occurring during storage and when displayed at retailers.
Lemons are also waxed to improve appearance and retain the fungicide. Some are even ‘degreened’ to get them to market before they are naturally yellow. When you touch those lemons, the chemicals used may absorb into your skin. Not appetising thoughts are they?
Whilst citrus trees require higher maintenance than some fruits, if you want to harvest lots of delicious juicy ripe lemons, they’re worth the effort.
5 Reasons Why Lemons may not Ripen and Turn Yellow
If your lemons appear a reasonable size but are still green, rather than turning yellow, this could be due to a number of factors.
1. The Fruit may be Immature
You simply may need more patience! Your lemons may not yet be fully ripe. So just wait a bit longer. Depending on your climate and local conditions, lemons can take up to 9 months or longer to ripen!
My trees often produce so much fruit, we’re still using them from last season while the tree is producing new season flowers.
2. The Tree’s Age and Health
Young lemon trees focus on establishing roots as a priority, so most of the energy is directed into root and leaf growth. It can put a considerable strain on 1-2 year old trees to produce fruit, particularly if they are lacking nutrients. Which brings me to how healthy your lemon tree is.
Is it well fed? Lemons are heavy feeders. They need seasonal nutrients added to the soil or potting mix to sustain healthy, robust growth and sustain fruit development. You can’t expect a starving tree to deliver you a box of luscious lemons quickly! A slightly acidic soil pH, slow release nitrogen-rich organic matter and mulch will all help boost growth.
3. Lack of Warmth and Sunlight
Your tree location may be too shaded. Or the weather conditions may have an impact. Long periods of cold or cloudy weather with little sun and heat can slow ripening down. Frost can severely damage your lemon tree. If your tree is in a pot, you may be able to move it to a sunnier warm spot with better results.
If your lemon tree is in the ground, you may be able to prune it back for better aeration and allow more light in. Or maybe you need to prune or remove neighbouring plants that are competing for sunlight!
During cooler months, lemons become dormant, so be realistic in your expectations too.
Like all citrus, lemons need regular soil moisture for sustained healthy growth and to produce juicy fruit. If your tree has been drought or heat stressed, in too small a pot with hydrophobic soil or isn’t watered sufficiently, this may be a contributing factor to green fruit.
As your lemon tree grows, so does its need for water! Rain is full of nitrogen and you should see your lemon tree respond well afterwards. A couple of buckets of water might be sufficient for a pot grown lemon, but not a fully grown tree with a big root system.
5. Cultivar and Number of Fruit
Lastly, how long it takes for your lemon tree to ripen depends on the cultivar you’re growing and the rootstock it is grown on. Some varieties are large and others smaller, so they may mature more quickly.
The quantity of fruit on your tree will also have an impact on how quickly your lemons ripen. A heavily laden tree has to spread the nutrient and moisture resources across many more fruit than a small tree. It will also have a high demand for water and unless met, this may slow ripening and result in smaller fruit.
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When will Lemons Ripen?
This depends on your climate and variety. If you live in a cool climate, lemon trees generally form flowers in spring, as the weather warms up. Their fruit usually matures the following winter. Typically, there is one harvest a year and the growth is slower than warmer climates.
In subtropical and tropical climates with mild winter temperatures, lemons tend to continually flower and can produce multiple crops throughout the year. For example, in QLD, NT, WA and northern/coastal NSW, Australia, lemons develop in around 6-7 months. It’s quite common for fruit year round. In southern growing areas of NSW, SA and VIC, fruit is slower to mature, and may take 8-9 months.
In my subtropical climate, I have overlapping harvests with different varieties. When they’re not fruiting, often my limes will be in abundance. Choosing your varieties carefully ensures you have fruit for the longest period possible.
Colour Changes as Lemons Ripen
Once the baby fruit is ‘set’ after pollination occurs, the lemon will develop and grow over the warmer months.
As each lemon fills out, you will notice the colour start changing from fully green to yellow tinges and finally, full yellow for most varieties. In warmer climates, they may never turn 100% yellow when ripe.
Have you ever noticed the way nature provides us with all that vitamin C rich fruit during seasons when the body needs an immune boost?
How can you tell if Lemons are Ripe?
Lemons ripen best ON the tree, although you can ripen them after picking if needed. When fully ripe, the inner pulp will be filled with juice. As a lemon matures, it reaches optimum sugar content and flavour, as the acids inside decrease and sugars increase.
A mature lemon should have bright glossy skin and feel firm and heavy in your hand. This reflects the quantity of juice.
A juicy lemon should yield you 40-60ml (1.3 – 2 fl oz) of juice and 2-3 teaspoons of peel. Picking a lemon and measuring these will give you an indication of ripeness too.
Lemons can stay on your tree for several weeks even when ripe, without deteriorating in quality. So, you can pace how quickly you use them. If they start to feel soft or flavour deteriorates, it’s time to pick and refrigerate or juice them. Freeze juice if you can’t use immediately.
Taste Test for Lemon Ripeness
If you’re still not sure whether your fruit is ripe and the skin is still a little green, what should you do? Simply pick a lemon and taste it! It should be flavoursome and juicy. If it’s hard, bitter or the skin is very thick, these are clues you need to pay more attention to the way you are growing your lemon tree.
Well, I hope this has helped ‘colour in’ the reasons why your lemons may not be turning yellow, so you can make more informed decisions for juicy rewards.
If you need one-on-one help with your citrus trees, contact me for an onsite consultation or live chat and I’ll be happy to provide personalised advice.
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Why is my lemon skins have black on them
Without a photo, it’s hard to say however it could be black spot. You can find more information here: http://www.idtools.org/id/citrus/diseases/factsheet.php?name=Citrus%20Black%20Spot. Sooty mould is also another possibility.
You may find this resource helpful to visually identify the problem:
If you concentrate on improving soil health, this usually ensures the tree will have adequate nutrition and improve its ability to resist pests and diseases.
I hope this helps.
I would like to know. When they change from green to yellow. My tree is a year old and still no color change.
As mentioned in the article, young lemon trees focus on establishing roots as a priority, so most of the energy is directed into root and leaf growth. Your tree is doing well to produce fruit at all but it may be lacking nutrition because lemons are heavy feeders. They need seasonal nutrients added to the soil or potting mix to sustain healthy, robust growth and sustain fruit development. I feed my young trees in pots every 4-6 weeks. You might just need to be patient. Check the soil pH and moisture. A slightly acidic soil pH, slow release nitrogen-rich organic matter and mulch will all help boost growth.
Consider the temperature. During cooler months, expect your tree to become dormant! You need to be realistic in your expectations too.
You can also test ripeness if you’re not sure. If the lemon is full size and mature, it should have bright glossy skin and feel firm and heavy in your hand indicating high quantity of juice.
Hope this helps and happy harvesting.
I have a small lemon tree in a pot indoors in Connecticut. I believe it is only a few years old. I have he’d it almost a year. It has produced lemons the entire year but they continue to drop off after growing in size just a bit. The largest barely even reached the size of a golf ball. Any suggestions for keeping them on the tree?
I have the same problem with one potted in Ohio. I’ve gotten about 7 to stay on the plant but have lost dozens more.
I also live in Connecticut and my 2 yr old Meyer tree has 13 lemons on it and flowering. I suggest maintaining a consistent watering schedule adjusted depending on the size of your pot. Next, you need to add a fertilizer or a combination of bone and blood meal to the top of the soil. Stake your plant as needed. Apply fertilizer lightly.
Thanks for sharing your tips and experience Dana. Happy harvesting! Cheers Anne
Can I repot my lemon tree using Miracle Grow potting soil?
Personally, I wouldn’t choose that brand but I encourage you to do your own due diligence and research to see what other people have experienced before doing so. It’s good practice!
These are a couple of links so you can read reviews and some of the issues with quality and fungus gnats. Maybe take that into consideration when making your decision.
I prefer to make my own potting mix (and you’re welcome to try the recipe) using compost, rock minerals and other ingredients that play a role in creating a high performing mix for healthy plants without these issues. I find it more sustainable and cost-effective. Bagged mixes, unfortunately, tend to dry out quickly and it’s essential to cover your soil with a suitable mulch.
I also provide a laminated DIY Potting Mix recipe card you can use to make a wide variety of nutrient-rich and moisture-holding soilless potting mixes to suit your needs. Fruit trees, in particular, are heavy feeders and it’s essential you provide initial organic matter and slow-release nutrients to support healthy balanced growth and root development. I hope this helps.
Can Meyer lemon bear fruits in the Philippines?
Hi Henry, yes you should be able to grow one in good quality soil in full sun. This is a link to a supplier in the Philippines that provides a list of grafted/dwarf fruiting trees. Hope this helps. Cheers Anne