When Life Gives You a Lemon Tree . . .

by Colin Lewis


Colin and his (very happy) lemon tree, Cynthia.

What teenager in their right mind would want a lemon tree for their birthday? 


This teenager happened to be me. My favorite fruit--ever since I was little--is a lemon. I loved everything lemon: drinking lemonade, eating lemon meringue pies and cookies, and even eating the slices of lemons most people  put in their water glass. I was obsessed with lemons. 


As a joke for my 15th birthday, I asked for a lemon tree. To my surprise, a week later, I received a large, green package in the mail from my Aunt Melissa. Not knowing what to expect, I opened the box quickly (as any teenager would do) and a small tree dropped at my feet. I was utterly dumbfounded and confused as to why I got a tree for my birthday. The tree at my feet did not really look like a tree at all, to me it looked like one single woody branch with a few green leaves. This sad looking tree was no more than a foot tall and had wet soil leaking all over my shoes. 

I instantly called up my Aunt to find out why she gifted this unexpected surprise. She told me it was a Meyer Lemon Tree and she got it as a gag gift. She also thought it would be neat if I could actually grow a Meyer Lemon, like my great-grandfather once did. I told her to not expect this tree to live long because I was still in high school and was always running back and forth between school, tennis practice, and other after-school activities. Nevertheless, I accepted my Aunt’s challenge and studied how to keep a lemon tree alive in Pennsylvania, where the temperature  can range all the way from below 0°F to above 90°F. Since it was still early June, I decided I would keep the tree outside until the weather turned in the fall. I went to my neighborhood’s local nursery and bought a fairly large pot for my lemon tree. I picked the sunniest spot in our yard and kept it there for the time being. 


Having my own lemon tree for the first couple of months was pretty boring. I watered it every so often and moved it inside when there were strong winds and storms. When fall arrived in October, I moved my tree to my bedroom in front of a large window where it could get adequate sun. The fall and winter season took me by surprise as my tree started to lose many leaves. I worried that it would lose all of its leaves because it lack enough sun and was cold because it was too close to the window. I did some more research, and bought a heating pad and a grow light for my room. My tree started to look a lot healthier and I could see buds of new growth appearing as well. This was also when my tree first produced its first flowers. I was really excited by this because it meant I was doing a good job in keeping this tree alive. I even pollinated each flower when they opened by using a q-tip and swabbing each flower. Unfortunately, I did not get any lemons to grow by doing this. 

My tree is now named Cynthia. She earned this name because when I bring her inside for the winter, she gets raggedy and rough looking. This is just like in the show called “The Rugrats,” one of the main characters, Angelica, has a doll named Cynthia who has the same description.

Currently, I am 19 years old and a sophomore at the University of Pittsburgh. My lemon tree has never been healthier. My tree has grown so much over the past  4 years. I’ve already replaced the tree’s pot three times and I’m worried the next time I need to get a larger pot, I will not be able to carry my tree anymore. My tree is now named Cynthia. She earned this name because when I bring her inside for the winter, she gets raggedy and rough looking. This is just like in the show called “The Rugrats,” one of the main characters, Angelica, has a doll named Cynthia who has the same description. Having this lemon tree has taught me how to be more responsible and caring about plants. I have since acquired a knack for collecting plants and I currently have Bamboo, Aloe, and a lemon tree sapling I grew from a lemon from this very tree. However, I still struggle during the winter months, so if anyone reading this has any tips, please don’t hesitate to email me at cmlewis403@gmail.com.


Colin is a 19-year-old biology major at the University of Pittsburgh and a Pittsburgh native.

Photo Credits: Top Photo provided by the Author; Bottom Photo by Emily Sanburg on Unsplash

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