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How Much Sunlight Do Lemon Trees Need?

When I first got my potted Meyer lemon tree, I didn’t know much about its needs. One of the first questions I had was, “How much sun should I be giving it?”. After some time, I picked up some tips to provide my lemon trees with enough sunlight and get great fruit yields. Here’s what I learned.

Lemon trees need at least 4 hours of direct sunlight a day but do best with 6 or more hours. This is because sunlight is photosynthesized by lemon trees and converted into sugar, which feeds the tree and ripens the fruit. Lemon trees can still grow with less sunlight, but they’ll grow slower and have poorer yields.

So, while lemon trees need at least 4-6 hours of sunlight a day, does this have to be direct sunlight, and how can you maximize their sunlight intake (especially if they’re indoors)? Let’s take a closer look.

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Do Lemon Trees Need Direct Sunlight?

my potted meyer lemon tree in the sunlight

Lemon trees prefer direct sunlight, but they can grow well with indirect sunlight as long as they receive enough exposure. Typically, lemon trees will need a longer exposure with indirect sunlight, usually at least 6-8 hours a day. For indoor lemon trees, southern-facing windows have the most sunlight exposure.

I started my potted Meyer lemon on an apartment balcony that received more indirect sunlight than it did direct. It only got 4-6 hours of direct light (sometimes even partially shaded), but it still grew and fruited nicely (pictured above).

Like other citrus trees, lemon trees are subtropical, so they grow best in USDA hardiness zones 9-11. One of the only downsides to these growing zones is that direct sunlight can sometimes become too hot. This can sometimes cause leaves to dry, brown, and fall off.

So, when the weather is a bit hot for lemon trees, is shading them a good idea?

Can Lemon Trees Grow in the Shade?

Lemon trees can grow in partial shade but they prefer full sun. If temperatures exceed 95ºF, providing partial shade can be helpful as lemon trees could use a break from the hot afternoon sun. The only downside to partial shade is that lemon trees will need more sunlight than normal—usually at least 6-8 hours total.

Even though lemon trees can grow in the shade, it’s not ideal for them. However, it can be a good idea to provide them with a couple of hours of shade during the hottest part of the day (usually from 2-4pm). This is especially true during the summer.

For smaller and potted lemon trees you can shade them with a large umbrella or use other trees. For larger and planted lemon trees, consider strategically planting taller trees nearby to help shade the lemon trees for a couple of hours during the hotter part of the day.

Where Is the Best Place to Plant a Lemon Tree?

The best place to plant a lemon tree is in an area that has rich, loamy, and well-draining soil. The area should also have at least 4 hours of direct sunlight—the best direction being a southern exposure. Lastly, the tree should be at least 10-25 feet away from anything to prevent its roots from damaging structures.

Since lemon trees are tropical trees, they’re used to soils that are loamy and even sandy. The same goes for other citrus trees. This is one reason why Florida is such a big citrus state. Of course, you can still grow lemon trees in other regions, but you should first know if your soil has a high amount of clay in it and if the tree is compatible with your growing zone.

If your soil is high in clay, its tightly packed particles might not promote good drainage. In this case, consider planting your lemon tree in an area with different soil, or amending the clay soil with compost or sand to break up the clumps.

Another way to improve the soil drainage is to elevate the tree. For example, you can plant it on a mound or in a raised bed and let gravity assist in pulling the water out of the soil.

When choosing a place to plant your lemon tree based on sun exposure, know that the best directions to face it are (in order):

  1. Southern
  2. Eastern
  3. Western
  4. Northern

Generally, lemon trees benefit the most from southern exposure. This will provide the maximum amount of sunlight, while northern exposure provides the least. You can also plant lemon trees in a western or eastern exposure if you’d like, but keep in mind that the tree would typically only get part of the day’s sunlight. Eastern is typically better than western since the morning sun is cooler and not as harsh.

Additionally, it’s a good idea to plant your lemon tree in areas that have some windbreakers such as walls, buildings, or other trees. High winds can damage and even kill lemon trees, especially in hurricane states such as Florida, so planting them with windbreaks can help them survive the elements.

Lastly, make sure to plant your lemon tree at least 10-25 feet away from other trees and structures. This includes buildings, fences, and fire hydrants. Lemon tree roots can be slightly invasive and seek out water dripping from pipes, along with water collected under the foundations of houses—potentially causing quite a bit of damage (and costs).

Do Potted Lemon Trees Need Full Sun?

Having both a potted Meyer lemon tree and a full-size lemon tree, I know it can be a bit tricky to provide the proper amount of sunlight. So, are potted lemon trees any different in terms of sunlight than planted lemon trees?

Potted lemon trees need full sun, just like planted lemon trees. This means at least 4-6 hours, but ideally 8 or more. However, this can be a bit difficult since many potted lemon trees are located indoors. For best results, place the lemon tree next to a southern-facing window or use a grow light.

If you have a garden or balcony with plenty of sunlight, and you don’t currently have frost, your lemon tree should do great outside (just remember to mulch it and deep water it to keep it cool and hydrated).

For more information about watering lemon trees, make sure to check out my recent post: How Much Water Lemon Trees Need (With Real Examples).

On the other hand, if you don’t have a place with a lot of sunlight, and you’re growing your lemon tree indoors, there are a couple tricks to maximize the sunlight it receives. Namely—planting alongside a southern facing window or using a grow light.

The reason why southern-facing windows work better than other directions is because of the path of the sun. We’re familiar that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, and plants facing either of these directions typically get the sunrise or sunset, but not both. However, southern-facing trees actually get exposed to all-day sun, including the sunrise and sunset. The opposite is true of northern-facing trees, often getting little to no sun.

For example, one of the apartments that I lived in faced directly north. I found out the hard way that its patio received 4 hours of sun in the spring and summer and only 1-2 hours in the fall and winter. It’s not difficult to guess that I wasn’t able to grow anything while living there. An easy way of telling the direction of your patio is to use the compass app on your smartphone and point it directly at your patio.

Of course, not everyone has a southern-facing window to provide their potted lemon tree with more sunlight. So, what else can we do if our indoor lemon trees need more light?

For Potted Lemon Trees That Need More Light, Use Grow Lights

If your indoor lemon tree gets less than 4 hours of direct sunlight per day, it can benefit from a grow light. When looking for a grow light, get a full-spectrum light and position it 18-24 inches above the tree. Compared to sunlight, grow lights will need to provide 2-3 times more exposure, or 12-18 hours per day.

When it comes to lemon trees, even though grow lights aren’t as efficient as natural sunlight, they can still get the job done and result in solid growth and yields.

I personally haven’t tried a grow light on my potted lemon tree (since I haven’t needed it yet), but I’ve used grow lights on microgreens and a few houseplants and can say they work really well.

As long as you get the right light and position it well, your lemon tree should grow nicely. If you’d like my recommendation for a grow light, check out this Sansi 24W LED grow light on Amazon.

If you’d like more information about caring for lemon trees, make sure to check out my recent post: Lemon Tree Care: The Complete Guide (Indoor & Outdoor).