Skip to content

How to Grow Meyer Lemon Trees from Seed

2012 September 1

If you live in a world without Meyer lemons, you’ll want to read this post.

IMG_1368_paticheri

For Meyers are among the most beautiful lemons around: something of a cross between oranges and their tarter cousins, with a so-sweet fragrance, a large, juicy body, encapsulated by an entirely smooth, yielding, glowingly yellow skin. Not green-yellow or orange yellow, but luminously yellow yellow. Faerie yellow.

IMG_1130_paticheri

If you’ve ever seen a Meyer tree laden with fruit in the cooler weeks of an American fall, elegantly lifting its heavy offerings off the ground and into the sky—or, better:

if you’ve ever watched the one in your backyard bloom with all the new vigor of the warming spring, scenting the air and drawing the bees;

if you’ve ever cut into a Meyer and found your hands dripping with its abundant juice and your fingers fragrant with its delicate flavor;

if you’ve ever savored the bittersweetness of a Meyer upside-down cake and understood how the fruit is an index of life itself;

if you’ve done some or all of these things, you’ll know that you have spied the dancing faeries.

And your life can never really be the same again.

IMG_1131_paticheri

IMG_1068

IMG_1354_paticheri

There might well be more robust lemons out there, heirloom varieties with oil-rich skins, from the Bergamots to the Citrons. But the Meyer is a spring faerie who casts a rapturous spell though she passes like a wisp in the summer and keeps you guessing until the first frost bites—when overnight, her fruit turn luminously yellow yellow against the still evergreen of her foliage. A bit like Christmas lights coming on; a sign that the magic is really just beginning.

IMG_1133_paticheri

As I say, your life can never be the same after that. You’ll do bewitched things, like forgetting gadgets and papers and chocolates, filling your backpack trans-continental flight carry-on with harvested lemons till it’s so heavy you can barely hoist it onto your shoulders and convincing airport security that these are special oranges for your children to consume in-flight. Thankfully, no one stops you.

Once home, the fruits will go into curd to make the lemons last, the zest saved for quickbreads, the rest into upside down cakes or lemon bars—each one a buoyant celebration of lemon-ness.

IMG_3389_paticheri

IMG_4915_paticheri

MeyerLemonCurd__paticheri

But then when you are left with only one more lemon from a tree no longer your own, you’ll know you’ll have to do something. Fast.

As with all movements that begin with desperation, your first actions will be hasty, ineffectual, and badly planned. You’ll stick seeds in a box and presume that you can, with such ease as that, capture the faerie folk. You’ll stick dried seeds in the earth and command them to do your bidding–which of course they won’t (dehydration reduces the chances of germination dramatically). The next time around, you’ll take a little more care and try your luck with a cutting, but it, too, will brown and dry.

Humbled, you’ll now see fit to pause. You’ve stolen the faerie child; you’ll need nothing short of magic to coax her to life. Study the Meyer, read what the magicians have prophesied, discover the faeries’ secrets by peering through secret pinholes into deep green foliage.

Then and only then, when you have seen what you have seen and known what you can know, with love on your hands and prayers on your lips, you’ll cut open the last fruit. Trembling.

Careful, not to split mature seeds with your knife. In a bowl to catch the precious juice, you’ll find each seed—and pop it into your mouth, relishing its slight acerbity while your tongue licks away the chemical coating that keeps the Meyer seed from germinating too early. You’ll take time to marvel at how the faerie folk keep life at bay until all is well and ready.

When all the seeds are removed and being bathed in your silence, you’ll ready their beds. A small pot, filled with the finest mix of mud and manure that’s around. A few sheets of paper towels, moistened, and a clear plastic bag—you’ll break out the Bounty for this one, from the last precious sneaked-in rolls from your container shipment, and the Hefty, too.

A few seeds will go into the prepared container: holes gently poked into the soil, seeds inserted, covered up. The rest will undergo a slightly different treatment. Steadying your hands, you’ll so-carefully make a small nick on the seed’s white outer coating, and peel it off. Underneath, you’ll find a brown skin. Peel that off, too. [Just for the sake of experimental surety, you’ll leave some seeds with the brown on them, too.] What you’ll be left with is bare life: two curled-up cotyledons to be. Set these gently on the wet paper towels, folding them over the seeds securely. Insert the Bounty arrangement into your Hefty bag, and leave it on a warm spot on your kitchen counter.

And wait.

Calling faerie magic into the wild weeping of your world with incantations:

Come away! O faerie child,
To the water and the wild
With a human, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping
Than I can understand.

Every other day or so, moisten the soil in your seeded pot, and drip some fresh water on the paper towels.

Wait again.

Peek into the paper towels after about a week or so, and periodically after that, to see if anything has changed.

Wait yet again. It may seem like nothing is happening for an eternity, but everything is happening in ways you cannot be allowed to see. For in truth the faeries are awakening their young in the moist dark, and when they are ready you will see little feet stretching, arms reaching.

IMG_3967_paticheri

Your heart will race with happiness, and overflow with whispered exhortments: Come away! O faerie child,  With a human, hand in hand!

And when the little ones have stretched for a while, you’ll know it’s time to move them again, release them this time to the sun’s rich brightness so that they may extend themselves upwards. The sun knows their secrets, after all; he needs no pinholes through which to spy.

Ready a few more small pots, and set the little germinators in them, taking care to point their roots downwards and the greening cotyledons up. Softly: Come away! O faerie child,  To the water and the wild…

And because you coax it, love it, sing to it, call out to the possibilities of its enchantment every morning and without fail, the Meyer faerie emerges.

IMG_4092_paticheri

IMG_4088_paticheri

The seeds peeled and set in towels to germinate will grow faster. Those just planted straight from the fruit emerge more slowly–one wonders if not also a bit more painfully.

There will have to be more re-pottings and transplants before the baby Meyers can be allowed outdoors, to face the sun’s fiercer face and the life’s vicissitudes. More waiting, more love, more mystical chanting.

IMG_4395_paticheri

IMG_4402_paticheri

IMG_4460_paticheri

IMG_4462_paticheri

There will be no flowers or fruit from these little trees for 8-10 years, until they mature. You will not get anything back from the tree which once was yours until you are close to the year of turning 50. Such is the nature of the task you have selected, and the path you have chosen. You take the Meyer as a sign of how you must be.

You say to your soul:

be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.

And you chant, at last assured of the enchantment you are invoking:

Come away! O faerie child,
To the water and the wild
With a human, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping
Than I can understand.

—-

“Faerie child” lines are borrowed and liberally modified from W.B. Yeats’ original “The Stolen Child”; the lines on hope are from T.S. Eliot’s “Four Quartets” [with thanks to Sharanya Manivannan for reminding me of them in a comment on my "banana bundt" post].

Print

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
Email this Print this
32 Responses Post a comment
  1. September 20, 2012

    Oh Deepa, I am weeping. Because I carried 3 Meyer lemons in my bag home in June. I made the most amazing Lemon tarts with them, and cakes and I moaned the fact that I couldnt plant the seeds. Ask me why I thought that was not possible? My daughter suggested we keep them and I said…na, they wont grow. I thought. This is strange coming from me who has a herb garden where cilantro plants, 3 types of basil, savoury, radishes, asparagus, tomatoes and other beloved plants (grown from seed) share company.

    I planted the seeds even when everyone questioned me, saying ‘Will they grow?’, and me responding ‘ I wont know till I’ve planted them now, will I?’. Why then did I not treasure the Meyer seeds? Why didnt you write this earlier (I’m sorry, this is no blame deflection)! What I do know is that I keep this post in my heart, and the words in my head….because Meyer lemons are a GEM that I cant live without.

    And your drawing and writing are soooooooooooooooo inspired. Glad I met you!

    • September 22, 2012

      You have me crying, too, now that I know, wondering why I didn’t write this earlier–such is the devotion that Meyers inspire. Don’t worry, Oz, even if yours don’t grow, I’ll get you more seeds–somehow, but I will. Now that I know these beauties can be grown this way, I’m rather inspired by their possibilities myself. And never forget that I take constant inspiration from your work–writing, photography, ideas–too. These unexpected friendships are what have made blogging such a rich and fulfilling exercise.

      • April 7, 2013

        Thank you very much for Deepa, even belatedly for getting the seeds to me. I am in such joy…..for the hope that one day, someday, these Meyers shall be mine, growing in my back garden!

  2. September 25, 2012

    You suck. A lot. And in a way most-excellent, if frustrating.

    Yoo-Mi and I had conspired to bring you Meyer lemon seeds to Pondy when we come in November — but you have obviously beaten to that punch.

    What do you get the woman who has everything?

    MBJ

    • September 25, 2012

      Why thank you, MBJ — for those characteristic words of praise, for the thought that you’d arrive with gifts as special as Meyer seeds, and for the affirmation that having Meyers in a place like Pondicherry really does mean one has it all. It may seem like I need the seeds no longer, but if you scroll up and see my response to Kitchen Butterfly, you’ll realize your gift of Meyer seeds is actually a wish come true. So while I keep thinking about what else I could need here to make my circle that much more .. er, circular, bring the Meyer seeds along–secure in the knowledge that half will address my insecurity about having planted all I had, with nothing in reserve, the other half shipped off to a Nigerian friend and fellow food blogger who lives in a world without Meyers. I do have to ask though, having had the experiences I did with dehydrated seeds: have you had better luck with them? Or were you planning to bring them to me in their, you know, yellow yellow, so-juicy, so-lovely natural casing? With a ribbon on top?

    • September 25, 2012

      MBJ, take those seeds to Pondy, and you would have earned a new friend. Not that you are of course seeking new ones, whom you know nothing about. Suffice it to say that Deepa and I are friends…..and that counts for a lot. I shall reward you with a virtual hug. With much kindness

  3. vaishnavi permalink
    October 2, 2012

    Hi Deepa…That is one lovely post on lemons:) do you know if can find a lemon tree sapling in bangalore?

    • October 3, 2012

      Hello Vaishnavi, Thanks for those sweet words and for stopping by. I wish I could help you more on where to find a lemon sapling in Bangalore, which I know poorly though I’ve lived there in patches. Have you tried Indo-American seeds? The last time I was there was in 2001, but they did have lots of very cool plants… Of course, I couldn’t tell you at all if you’d find Meyers there, but ordinary lemons would be much more likely. Do you know Suman Bolar’s site? It might be worht your while to ask her. Good luck, and don’t be a stranger!

  4. Connie permalink
    January 12, 2013

    Your lovely story really struck a cord with me. I just returned from Los Angeles with a bag full of meyer lemons. My last bag. I am selling the house and after removing a nightmare tenant. That same tenant chopped down my beloved lemon tree. The horror, but it turns out the tenant left the trunk standing. And from that trunk sprung shoots laden with lemons.

    I must’ve picked close to 50 lemons, since that would be my last opportunity. I made lemons bars for my work people in Michigan and they raved it was the best batch ever. I have frozen enough juice for 3 more batches to make in the future. And I saved some seeds, which is how I ran across your beautiful story. I’m not sure I have it in me to wait 7 years on meyer lemons grown from seed. And now I’m contemplating buying a tree, since they are said to grow well indoors.

    Nice to find other folks captivated by this very special lemon. It must be the faeries.

    • January 13, 2013

      Connie, What a delightful comment to wake up to–made my Sunday. I smiled at the image of another Meyer-loving kindred spirit hauling a bag of lemons cross-country, treasuring their juices, sharing their lemon-ness (they really DO make the best lemon bars ever!). And I gasped at the thought that anyone would be so unfeeling as to cut down a Meyer tree–it’s a bit like it being a sin to kill a mockingbird. But then there was that happy ending of regrowth, so my faith in the world is regained :) I’ve struggled with my little plants, as the pests and bugs out here love them as much as I do, apparently. So we might both just go with an indoor growing experiment for now. The Meyers were cultivated as ornamental indoor fruiting plants, too, as I understand, so you might not have much difficulty with wintering indoors and sunning in the summers. We used to find Meyer trees at the local nurseries all the time in Houston; no doubt these days they’re available through mail-order sources, too. Good luck, and do let me know how it goes!

  5. Choi Vo permalink
    June 26, 2013

    Can I have some seeds? I believe I have two spouts growing, but I am unsure if they will ever fruit. Please help me.
    Sincerely,
    Choi

    • June 27, 2013

      I wish I had seeds to distribute! As it stands I’m standing guard over my little saplings to keep the ratty squirrels away. They’ve destroyed more than a few of mine — and I could use some extra seeds, too! I’d not hold my breath for fruits — I’m told they could take 8 years. Given the slow rate of growth, I don’t doubt that I’ll have waited to turn 50 before I see this project.. er, bear fruit.

      • Choi Vo permalink
        June 27, 2013

        Whew! I’m glad I started young. Thanks for replying! I totally understand. My wife and I experienced our first meyer lemon a few weeks ago on a whim and we fell in love. We have not seen them again at our local Whole Foods. At least I have to sprouts growing. I heard that sometimes people will get different plants when that take seeds from fruits. Is this true?

        • June 28, 2013

          Not different plants per se, but it’s all about genetic variability, yeah? The child will never quite be identical to the father of the man :) Seriously, it’s why lots of folks turn to grafting rather than seeding. Not only does the process produce fruit faster (because you’ve put an old branch onto a new set of roots), it also assures that the fruit will closer to what the older tree produced. But hey, if you’re in the vicinity of a Whole Foods, then surely you’re also in the vicinity of a Home Depot or a Lowes–both stores with garden centers that will for sure stock Meyers come summertime. It’s where I got my first tree from. Why not keep your seedlings growing, but also get a tree? It’ll take a couple of years to establish–I’ll bet those are grafts, too–but you’ll get fruit really quickly. All for about $15. Or maybe it’s now up to $30, I’m not sure. But still, well worth it for the Meyer! You’re quite right to call the Meyer an “experience.” That it certainly is!

  6. JoAnn permalink
    July 1, 2013

    I have lots and lots of ‘freebie’ Meyer lemon trees (babies) growing in my garden! I used my compose for my corn this year. Week, the corn is harvested and all that’s left is little lemon trees every! I’m praise my Lord for blessing me with these beauties!

  7. JoAnn permalink
    July 1, 2013

    Sorry for the typos. Typing on my ipad and the words change as I make mistakes. :o)

    • July 2, 2013

      Don’t worry about the typoes — I know how those happen, especially on Apple devices! You’re a lucky woman to have all those freebies. If I’d been closer by, I might have asked to come by for a look. I’m still guarding mine, increasingly ferociously, from all the other bugs and critters who seem to love baby Meyer shoots and leaves. I hope someday I’ll be able to post as you do, about having freebies and inviting folks to come share in the Meyer joy! Here’s hoping your babies thrive and give you lots of beautiful fruit.

  8. Diane Allen Parks permalink
    July 11, 2013

    Oh, my…..I really wasn’t aware that there were others as obsessed with Meyer lemons, as I! We have a dwarf, that we brought back from Florida, to my Mother-in-law, in the 70’s. When she no longer felt like caring for it, we took it back. We have now had it for about 20 years and we wait impatiently every year to have lemons for our tea at Thanksgiving. We live in Tennessee and bring it in every winter, to live, almost forgotten about, in the basement. It always bounces back quickly and begins to bloom, in the spring, after the bees begin to pollinate. I truly love my meyer lemon tree! This year, our local Walmart had bags of meyer lemons on sale for $1…..can you believe that?!?!? Apparently, our little country town doesn’t know the wonder of meyer lemons. I bought bag after bag, and juiced them and popped them into ice trays for the freezer, but alas, I did not think to save the seeds! I, for sure, will save them from our lemons this fall. Thank you so much for this beautiful ode to the meyer lemon!

    • July 23, 2013

      Diane, Thanks for your comment and apologies for the late response on my reply! Indeed, it’s been a delightful surprise, this post and the little community of Meyer-lovers and enthusiasts out there to which it has apparently called out. Loved your vivid snapshot of your tree, its history, its journeys, its place in your life, and in your tea :) Loved hearing also of its resilience. This makes me think that it’s not such a bad thing to leave our plants in pots, where they are relatively safer from bugs and other critters who also love Meyers, but in a most destructive sort of way! Tell me please, how large is your pot? And how many lemons do you usually get each winter? I may never be able to forgive Walmart for selling them by the bags for so little — surely they are worth more — but if it helps others share in Meyer love, then maybe there’s reason to be placated (Walmart’s cheapening of all things is by itself a separate issue). And if you do save seeds and plant your own babies, let me know how it goes.

  9. October 8, 2013

    Thank you, Deepa, for your beautiful post. I have two lemon trees and am about to adopt my neighbours unhappy lemon tree. It seems rather silly to have three lemon trees in a small garden and to suddenly have a dream to grow many more little lemon trees from seeds. But reading your post, inspires me to consider doing it. I didnt realise I’d have to wait that long though!! Off to research where to find your lemons on this side of the world.

    • October 21, 2013

      IMHO, there’re not ever enough lemons to go around and unhappy lemon trees should never be allowed to stay that way–I’m all for world colonization by Meyers :) Would love to hear how your seeding experiment goes!

  10. Deana permalink
    May 29, 2014

    was wondering if the seeds would grow if they had been frozen? I ran into a meyer lemon sale and of course bought several and juiced and zested and the last bag i sliced and froze for summer drinks and iced teas. i never removed the seeds from the slices and it has only been no longer than 6 months , is it possible that they would grow after be thawed?

    • May 30, 2014

      Hmm. There’s no real way to know unless you try–and it can’t hurt, so why not? I wonder if the process of freezing–and then thawing–damages the little kernel that’s inside the seed, and keeps it from germinating. But, as I say, the only way to know for sure is to test it out. Use only “whole” seeds, not ones that may have been nicked in slicing. It’ll be an experiment in Meyer cryogenics! Do let me know how it goes; I’ll be happy to mark an update to this post for any others in similar situations! Thanks for your comment!

  11. Ruth permalink
    September 8, 2014

    I have a beautiful Meyer lemon tree that is 16 inches tall that I started from seed. Question: when do I cut the top so it branches out?

    • September 9, 2014

      Hi Ruth,
      I’m not sure I’d cut the top at all — or just yet. 16″ is still under 2 feet. I’d actually let it grow taller than that (min 3 feet) and then trim the lower branches, rather than from above. Our Meyers (from seed and from nursery saplings) did a pretty good job of branching out on their own with this care. I hope this helps you!

      • Ruth permalink
        September 10, 2014

        Thanks so much! It is about 18 months old and is my baby.

        • September 10, 2014

          Oh I know that sense of having a Meyer baby! It’s such a pleasure to have them around. And they don’t even need diaper changes! Though I’ll say I’ve spent sleepless nights worrying about the bugs and squirrels that attack in the dark. Is yours in a pot or directly in the ground?

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. November 2012: ‘Made in Nigeria’ – In My Kitchen | Kitchen Butterfly
  2. The Anatomy of a Meyer Lemon | Kitchen Butterfly
  3. How to grow Meyer Lemons from seed | Kitchen Butterfly
  4. Guest Post on Meyers: Living with Lemons | Kitchen Butterfly
  5. GI Jasmine — Infusion and Cocktail | Pâticheri

Leave a Reply

Note: You may use basic HTML in your comments. Your email address will not be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS