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Annie in Austin
Welcome! As "Annie in Austin" I blog about gardening in Austin, TX with occasional looks back at our former gardens in Illinois. My husband Philo & I also make videos - some use garden images as background for my original songs, some capture Austin events & sometimes we share videos of birds in our garden. Come talk about gardens, movies, music, genealogy and Austin at the Transplantable Rose and listen to my original songs on YouTube. For an overview read Three Gardens, Twenty Years. Unless noted, these words and photos are my copyrighted work.
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Saturday, October 28, 2006

Destiny or Delusion?

In March I read about a Meyer’s Lemon tree in bloom at Zanthan Gardens, learning that MSS brought it inside only in the coldest winter, and that the butterfly-magnet blossoms smelled really good. This description intensified my desire to grow a Lemon tree, but I thought they were too expensive and didn’t actively search for one.

In April, Philo was looking for lumber, and I was bored and looking for trouble, tagging along to the big box store, cruising the garden section as I entered the building. It must have been Destiny when I stopped in front of a batch of newly unpacked little trees. These trees were small, “produced in Texas”, and labeled “Improved Meyer’s Lemon. They were tagged at only $14.88 so owning this lemon tree was affordable. In addition to the lure of the beautiful glossy foliage, there were even a few tiny lemons developing on one branch, proving that this particular tree had borne flowers.

We put the pot on the patio near the Rosemary where we could see it from the breakfast room, watching the tiny lemons grow slowly, so that by June they looked like medium size limes. There were also a few more blossoms, creamy and fragrant.

It’s nearing November now and my baby tree has held onto most of the fruit, even through the drought. The lemons are now turning yellow.

This little tree pleases me whenever I look at it, and whether or not the fruit turn out to be as delicious as the tag promised, they’re beautiful.

I should now be thinking of a place inside my house where the Lemon can get light all winter, but since last Saturday I’ve been envisioning a different future for my tree.

Over at Digging, Pam has been posting a photo journal of last Saturday’s Garden Conservancy tour. Philo & I went to several of the gardens, including that of Deborah Hornickel. Deborah’s garden is wonderful and dramatic, with interesting plants and great design – she was featured in a recent issue of Cottage Living Magazine. If you go over to Pam/Digging's Post you’ll see Deborah’s huge Meyer’s Lemon tree, planted outside, sheltered by the southwest-facing wall of her house. The lemons are enormous! Deborah told me that hers was just a small plant similar in size to mine when she took a chance and set it into the ground 5 years ago.

I really want to try this! Although it’s not exactly a blank area, there’s a perfect spot on a Southwest-facing wall at the back of our house. A large Nandina that was planted by one of the previous owners is there now, and we neither like nor dislike this Nandina – it just came with the house. Luckily for me, Philo was quite taken with the lemon at Deborah’s house, too, and he’s willing to oust the Nandina so we can plant our Meyer’s Lemon tree there. There’s an overhanging eave for ice protection, and it’s close to the back door – increasing the chances that we won’t forget to water it, and can quickly cover it with a blanket on a cold night.

A new batch of blossoms opened last week and are now turning into another set of tiny fruit, which will need months of sun and water to turn into juicy globes. I don't know what will happen if they get too cold and I don't know if the lemon could come back from the roots if we have a mini-ice age in Austin. But I’m ready to take a $15 chance on something wonderful. Do you think this plan is crazy, or would you also plant the Meyer's Lemon outside?


  1. I vote for plant it and hope for the best. You have the micro climate of the south facing wall and the easy access on those cold nights. I believe it will be a great success. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

  2. Oh Annie, I am so envious. I had a Meyer lemon in Dallas (kept it in the greenhouse during the winter). The lemons are mouthwatering -- not like any lemon you buy in the store.

    They are very large and heavy, too. I didn't support mine properly and two of the branches just completely broke from the weight of the lemons. What can I say? It was my first citrus -- I didn't know.

    If I were you, I would study up on what they do to protect citrus groves. Citrus can take 32F or even below for a short time. As small as it is now, you could always protect it with blankets, maybe with a light bulb inside? Also, I believe that they spray the trees with water when a freeze is coming to insulate the leaves from the cold.

    I say go for it!

  3. Pop that baby in the ground and see what happens! Maybe give it extra TLC this first winter while it gets established.

    I was just at Barton Springs Nursery today. They had the most beautiful metal bistro sets in bright colors. I can just see you sitting under your lemon tree one day in a bright-blue bistro chair the color of Hornickel's bench. Good luck with it.

  4. I looked at Pam's photos and wondered the same thing about planting mine out. I'm holding off, though.

    Speaking of it being a butterfly magnet--about a month ago I saw a swallowtail hanging around it even though there was no blossom. When I returned from visiting my folks about 11 caterpillars were doing a pretty good job of deleafing my little tree. I removed them to other plants but unfortunately I don't think any survived.

  5. I vote for you to live my dream and plant yours outside!

    I also bought a Meyer Lemon Tree this spring, via mail order. No chance for me to plant it outside here in Zone 5. It is destined to be moved in and out as the seasons dictate. I have one small green lemon so far. Currently it is inside with a west facing window.

    FYI, I've tried to get to Pam/Digging's site but always get "page not found". I think it is an IE problem...

  6. You are making me want one here in Houston. I already have plants that need winter protection, though, and I'm not sure I wan't to add more. It is definately something to think about. Good luck with yours.

  7. I like it in the pot for the deck. It looks happy now and can continue to be trained to a small tree form and moved to a larger pot when needed.

    I say go buy another small $15 lemon tree to plant in the ground or perhaps a Key Lime which should do fine in your more alkaline soil.

  8. I once read a gardening quote to the effect that "Gardening is the only socially respectable form of gambling." Fifteen dollars is not too big of a gamble. Or to put it another way: it is better to have planted and lost, than not to have planted at all.

  9. Carol, it concerns me that you (and maybe others?) can't get to my site. I have no idea why. Anyone else having trouble? Please let me know, and I'll see what I can do.

  10. Hello cousin flee! I'm not surprised that you and Carol and Kathy would want me to plant this one, because you take chances every winter in the North and that's a perfect quote, "Gardening is the only socially respectable form of gambling."

    I'm confused that La Gringa could be jealous - wouldn't it be easy for you to grow Meyer's Lemon trees? Maybe it's hard to find them there. And isn't Houston also warm enough for them to be outside, Gary? I think of you as close to tropical!

    Pam and MSS, do you think Deborah's tour will cause a run on Meyer's Lemon trees in Austin? She probably could have sold them by the dozens at the ticket table that Saturday! MSS - never thought of caterpillars! I'd better watch out for them.

    Christopher, you zeroed in on my one point of hesitation - the tree is developing a cascading bonsai-type form in that container, which would be destroyed by the shape pruning needed to plant it. On the other hand, LaGringa is warning me the branches could crack unless supported, which would be possible in the ground, but not with a potted lemon that is periodically stuffed in the house.

    Parroting Jamaica Kincaid, I wonder, "What to do? What to do?"


    [Pam, I hope you and Carol can figure out the non-view mystery! I don't think Digging shows up on Bloglines, either, and I wondered about that.]

  11. Annie/Pam
    I don't know if I figured out the non-view thing for Pam's blog, but I did find another link that worked for me. http://penick.dnsalias.net:58089/digging/?cat=5
    I loved the pictures of the tour, and the lemon tree.

  12. Hi Annie. Love your lemon. I'd have to find (squeeze it in somewhere) a spot for a lemon tree in the house during the winter here! I did see some in mail-order catalogue, but they were pretty close to $50.00 a piece. Maybe someday...
    And thank-you for your kind words regarding my sudden and painful loss of Molly. We are coping. Misty is a little anxious, following me from room to room, as you guessed she might!

  13. Annie - I just planted the exact same one (Meyer's Improved) out in backyard this summer. I've got a pink lemon in a pot that I'll have to bring inside, but I'm giving the Meyer's a good outside. It's about 2' tall, and I think I'm going to put four metal stakes around it that I can anchor a plastic tarp or blanket to on the really cold nights, and I've going to mulch it well. I'm about 20 miles north of Charleston - and there are many gardens downtown that are protected in the winters that have gorgeous citrus - so I'm hoping that with a bit of extra attention from time-to-time, that mine will make it (one trick I've heard is to put a string or two of lights on them in the wintertime, and turn them on at nights - they provide just enough heat to take the edge off the cold).

    So - I vote for planting it outside!

  14. I would plant it outside and hope that I was doing something daring and crazy! *grin*

  15. I have my citrus inside now, since we are near the mountains and can get some cold snaps, but I heard on SC radio that citrus can make it in the costal regions, so I'm guessing TX might be a fine home for your lemon tree outdoors!

  16. Oh, what a beautiful little tree! I have several citrus trees (orange, lemon, lime, mandarin), grown from seeds the kids dropped into my garden. But they are all in pots, and all grown indoors, and none have ever had fruit. I still love the plants, they are so pretty.
    I bet in Texas you can grow them outdoors, do you ever get frost?


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