By: Susan Patterson, Master Gardener
There is nothing fresher smelling or tasting than a ripe lemon from your very own lemon tree. Lemon trees are a lovely addition to any landscape or sunroom, as they produce fruit and flowers all year long. Keep reading for information on when to harvest a lemon as well as how to pick lemons from your tree.
How Long Does a Lemon Take to Ripen?
Healthy lemon trees produce an abundance of fruit, so be sure that you are taking good care of your tree at all times. From the time a small green lemon appears on your tree, it will generally take several months to ripen depending on the variety.
When to Harvest a Lemon
Lemons are ready to pick as soon as they are yellow or yellow green in appearance and firm. The fruit will be 2 to 3 inches (5-7.5 cm.) in size. It’s better to wait until they are the right size and not worry so much about color than to wait for them to be completely yellow.
Lemons that are ready to be picked also have a slightly glossy appearance. Lemon picking is better too early than too late. If lemons are greenish-yellow, they will more than likely ripen off of the tree. If they are squishy, you’ve waited too long.
How to Pick Lemons
Picking lemons from a tree is isn’t difficult as long as you you’re careful not to damage the tree. Take the entire fruit in your hand and twist it gently until it breaks free from the tree. You can also use clean and sharp hand nippers if it is easier.
Lemon picking isn’t difficult once you know a little about when to harvest a lemon, making this an easy undertaking for even the most novice of gardeners.
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Read more about Lemon Trees
Do lemons ripen after being picked?
When to Harvest a Lemon. Lemons are ready to pick as soon as they are yellow or yellow green in appearance and firm. The fruit will be 2 to 3 inches in size. It's better to wait until they are the right size and not worry so much about color than to wait for them to be completely yellow.
Similarly, can you eat unripe lemons? Yes, if you are talking about the lemon that actually has a color of green on the skin and people sell it at the high-end supermarket then it's totally fine. The flesh is ripe and edible. But if you've mistaken it with a lime or an unripe green lemon then I suggest you only eat them once they are ripe.
Keeping this in view, what time of year do lemons ripen?
Lemons ripen anywhere between four and 12 months after flowering. Flowers most commonly appear in spring, the fruit develops over summer, and then slowly turns from green to yellow in fall or winter.
Do Meyer lemons ripen after picked?
Some types of Lemon Trees, such as Meyers and “Rough Lemon”, will grow true to seed. If left to ripen on trees, Lemons can get a bit sweet. Picking them green makes them a little more sour. Unlike other citrus fruits, Lemons will ripen after being picked and become fully yellow in storage (as bananas will.)
"Eureka" lemons can often be picked year round, but the primary season of harvest is from late winter to early summer. The "Lisbon" variety also produces fruit sporadically throughout the year, though the main season is in winter and early spring. The harvest of "Bearrs" lemons is heaviest in the months of July through December. "Meyer" lemons are a hybrid variety with sweeter juice, picked mainly from November to March, but is likely to have some ripe fruit at almost any time of year.
Ripe Lemon Appearance
The timing after the lemon tree blossoms is one factor when harvesting your lemons. Rather than marking days on the calendar, the appearance of the fruit is what matters. Once a lemon tree produces flowers, you generally have to wait six to nine months for the first ripe lemon, but it may be up to a year before the fruits are ready to harvest, according to the Missouri Botanical Garden. The lemons will continue to ripen on the tree even if you do not have the hot summers required by other citrus fruit.
The appearance of the fruit is the biggest factor in when you harvest. You should pick your lemons as they turn completely yellow, or in the case of the 'Improved Meyer,' yellow-orange. Any fruit with green should be left on the tree to continue to ripen, where it will drop in acid content. The University of California points out that if you keep lemons, or other citrus species, on the tree past the fully ripened stage, their flavor turns from sweet-tart and juicy to dry, pithy and flavorless.
Water supply also influences whether the harvest spreads throughout the year or is more concentrated in the winter. If soil moisture is consistent, lemons will blossom and produce some fruit throughout the year. During times of drought, the trees are unlikely to flower, resulting in longer gaps between periods of ripe fruit. Commercial producers exploit this characteristic by intentionally causing drought stress followed by irrigation, forcing the trees to bloom at a time that will produce ripe fruit in the summer off-season.
Brian Barth works in the fields of landscape architecture and urban planning and is co-founder of Urban Agriculture, Inc., an Atlanta-based design firm where he is head environmental consultant. He holds a Master's Degree in Environmental Planning and Design from the University of Georgia. His blog, Food for Thought, explores the themes of land use, urban agriculture, and environmental literacy.