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Lemon trees for the Gainesville Florida backyard

4 year-old Meyer Lemon Tree.
4 year-old Meyer Lemon Tree.
Brian Harfe

One of the wonderful advantages of living in Florida is our ability to grow citrus. However, in Gainesville winter temperatures frequently dip below 30F making it essential to choose the correct variety of citrus tree since a number of citrus plants will not survive a freeze. Among citrus fruits, lemons are very popular and there are a number of varieties that can be successfully grown in the Gainesville area.

One of the most cold hardy varieties is the Meyer Lemon. If the only lemons you have tasted are the ones from the grocery store, Meyer Lemons will surprise you. They are 3/4 lemon and 1/4 tangelo (a mix of oranges and grapefruits). The addition of tangelo results in the production of a lemon that is sweeter than what you will find in the grocery store. They have very thin skins and make an amazing cup of lemonade.

Although Meyer Lemons are somewhat cold hardy, they will not survive 20F temperatures, which occur ever few years in Gainesville. We recently lost a mature Meyer Lemon tree on a 19F night. A grapefruit tree, which is less cold hardy than Meyer Lemons, 15 feet away survived with little damage. The grapefruit benefited from its location between two adjacent houses. The heat produced from the houses buffered the tree from the sever cold temperatures that the lemon tree was exposed to.

A number of other lemons are widely available in the Gainesville area. A couple of my favorites are briefly described below:

1. Eureka Lemon – the lemon that you can buy at the grocery store. Needs to be grown in containers in Gainesville and brought into the garage or otherwise protected from frost.

2. Ponderosa Lemon – a HUGE lemon (see picture). Very thick skinned and makes a nice lemonade. We grow this lemon against the house where it has survived 20F nights, but most commonly this lemon is grown in a container and protected from frost.

All the lemon trees described in this article can be purchased from Garden Gate Nursery here in Gainesville. Plants can also be obtained through mail-order from Just Fruits and Exotics.

Lemon trees in north-central Florida can be successfully grown if they are planted in the correct location. Like all citrus they require full sun. Planting them along the sunny side of a house will allow the trees to benefit from the heat produced from the house on cold winter nights. Mature Meyer Lemon trees only reach 6-10 feet, making them ideal for plating near a house (but watch out for their thorns!).

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