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San Luis Obispo, California | (805) 439-3056

  • Meg McCall

Lemon Picking: How to Tell When a Lemon is Ripe and Ready to Eat

Updated: Dec 1, 2019

Note: I wrote this blog for US Citrus and have included it here as part of my SEO writing portfolio. Article links have been removed.


Some fruits have all the luck. 

They give clear hints when they’re mature enough to be eaten.


Avocados turn a dark shade of green. Bananas make the final transition from green to yellow. Even tomatoes turn a deeper color to let you know they’re ready. 

But lemons? Their cues are a little more challenging to interpret.

Here are a few tips to help you determine whether a lemon is ripe enough to pick. 


Harvest Season


There are three common varieties of lemon: Lisbon, Eureka, and Meyer. Your local grocery store, however, is only likely to mark them as "lemons". Of the three, Meyer is considered the sweetest, and it's what we sell here at US Citrus.


The harvest time for lemons varies, with warm or coastal climates such as California, Florida and Texas producing year-round. Inland varietals are generally ready for harvest in the fall and winter.


With proper care, a citrus tree will start bearing fruit in its second year. It should deliver a substantial harvest in its third year and beyond. Mature potted trees will produce up to 50 pounds a year, and one in the ground will generate 50-120 pounds of fruit a year.


From the time a small green lemon appears on a tree, it will generally take several months to ripen.


How to Tell if a Lemon is Ripe


When lemons appear yellow or yellowish green, are firm in appearance, and have reached two to three inches in size, they're ready to pluck. Lemons prefer to ripen on the tree, so if you pick them too soon you may be out of luck.


Ripe lemons have a glossy skin and are not ripe until the color truly develops. If the skin is wrinkled, dull or squishy, you're too late. It's better to pick a lemon too early than to wait too long.


Because lemons may go through a green-colored phase, some people have a hard time discerning lemons vs limes. We'll save that distinction for another time!


Test It, Taste It


Even if the appearance checks off all the right boxes, you should cut one lemon open to determine if the rest of the tree is ripe. A ripe lemon will have lots of juice and firm flesh. 

Lemons are tart by nature, so leaving them on the tree will not improve their sweetness. The exception is Meyer lemons, which are milder and sweeter, to begin with. 


Do a taste and decide whether it's ready.  


How to Pick It


This isn't rocket science. The main goal is not to damage the lemon tree. You can use a hand-held snipper or simply take the lemon in your hand and twist it until it breaks free. 


Grow Your Own


If you're not lucky enough to have neighbors who let you pick their ripe lemons, you might want to consider getting your own potted citrus tree.


With a few simple steps, you can grow one anywhere and enjoy lemons year-round! You can read more about container gardening here. 


Check out our other citrus blog posts for more citrus tree and fruit tips, insight, recipes, and other helpful information.