My parents have a Meyer lemon tree in their backyard, and they occasionally get a split or cracked lemon. While it didn’t affect too many fruits, it got to the point where it prompted some investigation. So, why do Meyer lemons split?
The most common reason why Meyer lemons split is due to a sudden change in watering. If their soil is dry and quickly gets a large watering, the tree sends excess water to ripening fruit, which quickly expands the rind. This expansion causes lemons with weaker rinds to split.
While watering is the main reason why Meyer lemons split, there are other factors you should be aware of that can contribute to this issue.
Why Lemons Split and How to Fix It
Lemons aren’t the only fruits that can split. Oranges are also another victim of this condition. And although not a fruit, cabbages can split too. Let’s take a look into some of the reasons why these, and in particular – Meyer lemons crack or split.
Change in Watering
As mentioned earlier, when Meyer lemons go through a dry period and then get a sudden change in water and soil moisture they have an increased chance to split. But why does this happen?
If we consider the environment lemon trees are native to, it’s often a tropical or subtropical climate. Typically, these climates get plenty of consistent rain and rarely get drought followed by a downpour.
So, when the lemon tree’s soil is dry for long periods, the tree tries its best to be as efficient as possible with the little water it has. This even means occasionally diverting water, sugar, and energy away from the fruit.
Following the dry period, if the tree gets excess water (either from you or the rain), it will try to store as much as possible to survive. One of those places of storage is the fruit, even if it causes some to tear or split. Additionally, if some of the lemons have a weaker rind, their chance to split increases, as they aren’t strong enough to hold in the water.
This is why it’s best to water your Meyer lemon tree with a light to moderate amount of water, consistently.
If you’re out of town or unable to water your lemon trees for more than a week or two, restart the watering cycle by giving it a small amount of water and gradually increase over the next two weeks back to the regular volume.
Change in Temperature
A sudden temperature change can also cause Meyer lemons to split (although, it’s not as common as it is from watering).
If the soil has been dry for a while, the lemons can be more rigid due to the lack of water. When temperatures swing by 20-30ºF in either direction, the rinds can expand or contract, depending on if it’s hot or cold. Both expanding or contracting can cause splitting, especially in rinds that already have a small defect or weak point.
To help prevent splitting during temperature changes, keep a consistent watering schedule and ensure the soil doesn’t stay dry for an extended period. Maintaining proper soil moisture will help the lemon tree regulate the rind’s elasticity to outlast the weather changes.
Alternatively, if you’re growing your Meyer lemon in a pot or container, you can bring it inside during these dramatic temperature changes to reduce the chance of splitting.
Too Much Sunlight
Lemons that have also had too much sunlight, or are sunburned, are also not as elastic. If combined with intermittent watering and dryness, the rinds have an increased chance to split.
Sunburns on lemons look like abnormally-shaped lesions that can be brown in color. This can also introduce bacteria and fungus into the fruit (and tree). To help prevent your lemons from getting sunburned, make sure you prune your tree to have enough foliage acting as the canopy to the fruit. If many lemons are directly exposed to sunlight for long periods of the day, try shading them if possible.
If you have a potted Meyer Lemon, bringing it inside or moving it to a shady area on extremely hot days would help prevent sunburns and splitting.
What to Do With Split Lemons
Split lemons can harbor some bacteria and even diseases that can be harmful to the lemon tree. They can also attract pests if left unattended. While some people choose to eat split fruits, others suggest to remove them from the tree and discard them.
Either way, removing the split fruit is a good idea not only to reduce contamination but also to help the tree focus on providing nutrients on the remaining, healthier fruit. By removing these split lemons, you’re thinning the competition the other lemons have and will hopefully grow larger from the concentration of nutrients.
How to Water Meyer Lemons in Containers
Like other citrus trees, Meyer lemons like moist, but not soaking soil. While you can use the “finger test” and feel if the soil is dry, it can be hard to tell if it’s dry towards the roots as well. For this reason, you may want to consider getting a moisture meter. They’re pretty inexpensive and can make monitoring soil easier. Here’s a link to one on Amazon if you’re interested.
Depending on how dry and hot your weather is, you may need to water your potted Meyer lemon 2-3 times a week. To reduce the effect of the heat and improve water retention, try mulching the top of the soil. This will also provide a slow breakdown of nutrients for the soil.
When it’s cooler, you’ll likely notice the soil holding more water. If so, cut back to 1-2 times per week. If the soil is holding too much water, you may need to drill more holes into the pot or evaluate the soil to see if it’s collapsed and needs to be repotted.
Additionally, wilting leaves or dropping flowers can be a sign of under-watering, especially if they perk up immediately after you water the tree. In this case, increase the watering frequency. However, if the leaves are curling or yellow and don’t improve after watering, it could be the tree is getting over-watered.
In any case, pay attention to how your lemon tree responds and learn what its preferences are. Over time, you can learn to provide the tree exactly what it needs and it’ll reward you with plenty of large lemons.
More Tips to Reduce Split or Cracked Lemons
- Split lemons are more common on younger trees that have shallow roots. As the tree matures it should split less fruit.
- If you notice your lemon tree only has a few split lemons, don’t worry, it’s a fairly natural occurrence and should balance itself out soon. If not, follow the information in this post to learn how to treat it.
- The best way to reduce split fruit is to be consistent in your watering over the lifespan of the tree. Also, by adding sufficient fertilizer seasonally, you can ensure your lemon tree has everything it needs to bear fruit every season. Over time, this consistency will encourage the tree to produce better harvests each year. To see my recommendations for fertilizer, check out my post on the best citrus tree fertilizers.
- Avoid extreme temperatures by either bringing your tree inside (if possible), or taking measures to keep it warm outside. Meyer lemon trees can handle near-freezing temperatures (~35ºF) for short periods but can die if left to the elements. A good temperature to aim for during the majority of the year is 50-100ºF or 85ºF on average.
Photo credit: Neil Sperry