The improved Meyer lemon is a very special fruit. Special because it’s delicious. Special because it’s fragrant. Special because it’s disease resistant. Special because you can grow it in a pot.
I didn’t meet my first Meyer Lemon until late in life, but now I’m making up for lost time, using this versatile fruit every way I can: preserved Meyer lemons, Meyer limoncello, Meyer lemon cake…the list goes on.
The original Meyer lemon was brought to the United States from China in 1908 by Frank Meyer. Alas, in the 1940s, it was discovered that the Meyer lemon carried a serious citrus virus and it was banned from commercial cultivation. That’s why the title of this post is Improved Meyer Lemon. Today, all Meyer lemons are the improved, virus free variety. It’s hardy to zone 9, but because the tree is relatively small and grows well in containers, it can be grown as an indoor plant where winter temperatures get too low for it to survive outdoors. And unlike many other citrus, the improved Meyer lemon will actually produce fruit when grown in a container, especially if you can give it a summer vacation outdoors, in full sun.
You can buy improved Meyer lemon trees at garden centers and grow your own fruit, but you might not have to. Depending on where you live, a walk around the block may reveal a tree (or three) laden with lemons. Meyer lemons are popular landscape plants in warm areas because not only do they stay relatively small (six to ten feet tall) but they also produce copious amounts of fruit. That means they fit nicely into suburban yards and they’re easy to harvest since you don’t need a super tall ladder. And even if your neighbors with the Meyer lemon tree like to make the occasional bottle of limoncello, there’s no way they’re going to use all the fruit…this tree really puts out. I suggest you offer a trade: they give you lemons, you give them marmalade.
Because Meyer lemons are sweeter and less acidic than true lemons, they can’t be substituted one-for-one in all lemon recipes. But with a little tinkering and experimentation (and some help from me!) you’ll grow to love the complex flavor of this citrus hybrid.