Lemon Tree Care 101: Everything You Need to Know
You may buy all of your lemons at the store. But have your ever thought of how rewarding it would be to grow your own lemons? Even if you don't grow enough lemons to make a year's supply of lemonade, it can still be fun to get a few lemons a year from your own plant. What's more is that a lemon tree can be a beautiful focal point of any room and also a great conversation starter. I'm going to go over all that you need to know to grow your own lemon tree and review the basics of lemon tree care.
How to Grow a Lemon Tree in a Pot
Are you considering growing a lemon tree in a container? If so, you will want to make sure you plant it just right so that your lemon tree does not die. Make sure the pot your tree will be in is similar to outdoor soil. The best fertilizer for citrus trees in containers will be soil that has good drainage, and slightly acidic soil. Also make sure to have a good lemon tree container size. A good pot size for citrus trees would be a 16 to 20" diameter once the lemon tree begins to grow. Do not start with a pot that is too large, since it makes the soil moisture levels harder to control with small lemon trees. As the tree grows, you can expand the pot size.
If you will be planting a lemon tree in a pot, it is best to go with a smaller lemon tree. The best lemon tree for pots would be a dwarf lemon tree. The Meyer dwarf lemon tree, Lisbon, or Ponderosa Dwarf make good trees for pots.
How to Plant a Lemon Tree
If you will be planting your lemon tree in a pot, then it is recommended to use a light potting mix. Do not use any soil or fertilizer that is too heavy, as this can prevent proper drainage. Pour the soil into the bottom of the pot. Place the roots of the tree into the pot, and gently fill in with your potting mix. Leave the crown of the roots above the ground. Once the tree is planted, give it a good watering.
If you will be plating your lemon tree outdoors, follow the same instructions as you would when planting a lemon tree indoors. Make sure to leave the crown of the roots above the soil, and always water the plant right after planting it.
How Often to Water
Overwatering lemon trees is one of the most common problems of lemon tree care. Little do people know that lemon trees only need watered once a week. With that being said, that doesn't mean that you should sprinkle just a few drops of water on the plant. Because the tree will be going without water for a full week, when you water it again you should give it a deep watering. Some trees, such as Meyer lemon trees, may not need watered for two weeks. Check what kind of lemon tree you have before watering, so that you know how much water to give it. A good rule of thumb is to water the plant only when it feels dry. To check, stick your finger about two inches into the soil, and see if it feels dry. If so, water it until water drips out of the bottom of the pot (or count for 20 seconds).
When your once healthy lemon tree starts getting yellow leaves and broken branches, it is a sign that your lemon tree is dying. Whether it a disease that took over it, or a maintenance mistake you made, it can be a disappointment when you find out that your tree may die. Thankfully, there are a few ways to fix these problems that occur in your lemon tree. I'll also go over proper lemon tree care for your plant so that these problems do not appear.
This is a very common problem in the lemon tree world. A lot of people do not realize that lemon trees only need watered once a week. As I mentioned earlier, too much watering will cause your plant to become sick, and slowly it will die. A good way to test if your plant is watered well is to stick your finger in the soil. If the soil feels moist, do not water it.
Citrus Canker Disease
This disease is a bacterial infection, and does not come from any poor maintenance that you may have done. It is highly contagious. Signs that your plant has citrus canker are yellow lesions on the fruit, leaves, and twigs of lemon trees. If you do not do anything about it, the lemon tree will loose leaves, drop fruit, and slowly die. To prevent the citrus canker disease from reaching your plant, spry your lemon tree with liquid fungicide. If your tree is already infected, there is no treatment.
If your lemon tree has phytophthora fungus, you will notice hard, dark, brown patches on the trunk of the tree. If the disease is allowed to continue, it will cause the patches to dry, crack, and die, which leaves a dark, sunken area. The fruit may also become affected with brown spots. This fungus lives in the soil, especially wet soil. When this fungus is in wet soil, it reaches your tree when the soil is splashed onto the tree during a heavy rain. To treat your plant once it gets this terrible fungus, remove all of the infected leaves and dropped fruit from the ground. Prune the lower branches of the tree, so that there are no branches 2 feet off of the ground. Once you have done this, spray with a fungicide. Agri-Fos or Captan will work well.
Know When to Pick Your Lemons
Okay, this problem has nothing to do with a disease or other natural damaging. Picking your lemons too early will result in unripe lemons. This isn't necessarily a problem that will hurt your lemon tree, but more so a problem if you have been waiting for the fruit to come in, only to realize that you harvested them too early. This is especially important for Meyer lemons. It is a common question to ask when to pick meyer lemons. The answer is once the skin turns dark yellow. Don't assume that the skin will be green like a lime. Wait until it turns from green to yellow, and then harvest them.
Lemon trees can be shaped as desired, and will look fuller when you prune them often. Keep in mind that pruning can be done anytime of the year except winter. Make sure to prune away any branch that is irregular, or crossing another branch. Once your prune a branch, a different fruitful branch will grow in its place. If you continue to prune your plant, your lemon tree will be less prone to branch breakage, and it will yield more fruit.
Tips to Produce a Lot of Fruit
Give Your Lemon Tree the Right Amount of Water
This means no overwatering your plant or skimping on water. If you are growing lemons for lemonade, or whatever recipe you want to make, then you will need to give your plant the perfect amount of water. For more information, read what I wrote earlier about this topic.
Pollinate Your Lemon Tree
Once lemon tree blossoms appear on your plant, you will need to pollinate them. You can let the bees and insects do the job for you, or you can do it buy hand. Simply grab and brush, and gently run it over the flowers on your plant. Always be gentle when pollianting your lemon tree.
Prune Your Lemon Tree
Pruning your lemon tree allows branches that don't bear fruit to come off, and fruit-bearing branches to grow in its place. Make sure to prune any branches that may be blocking the tree from sunlight, since light helps your tree grow lots of fruit.
Indoor and Outdoor Lemon Tree Care
The lemon tree care instructions will be slightly different if you decide to grow your lemon tree outdoors instead of indoors, or vice versa. That's why I'm going to go over the lemon tree care instructions for both indoor and outdoor lemon trees. Keep in mind that these lemon tree care tips are the same for lime tree care.
How to Care for an Outdoor Lemon Tree
Outdoor lemon tree care is much different from other citrus tree care. Unlike other citrus trees, lemon trees are more cold-sensitive. Because of this cold sensitivity, your lemon tree should be planted near the south side of your home. If the tree is near the house, it should be protected from frost. Make sure the lemon tree can get full sunlight. Although lemon trees can tolerate almost any soil, including poor soil, the best fertilizer for lemon trees is to be inwell-drained, slightly acidic soil. Your lemon tree should be set slightly higher than the ground. To do this, dig a hole shallower than the length of the lemon tree's root. Set the lemon tree into the soil, and tamp it firmly into the ground. You should add some mulch so that it will retain moisture. Your lemon tree will require a deep watering once a week. You may also need to prune the lemon tree so that it maintains its shape and height. I've listed the instructions earlier in this article for how to prune a lemon tree.
How to Care for an Indoor Lemon Tree
If you are looking for a beautiful, fruit-bearing plant for inside your home, look no further than the lemon tree. Not only will this plant add a bright look to your house, but it will also bear you plenty of delicious lemons. However, just because you are growing the lemon tree indoors doesn't mean that the citrus tree maintenance will be any easier. You will still need to provide good water, soil, and room to grow. Most indoor lemon trees should grow to about 3 to 5 feet tall. The best soil for citrus trees in pots is well-draining, slightly acidic soil, just as you would with an outdoor lemon tree.
If you will be planting your lemon tree in a container indoors, read what I wrote earlier about growing lemon trees in pots. Keep the soil evenly moist, and fertilize as needed. Make sure to keep your house at a normal temperature, which would be about 70 F in the dat and 55 F at night. Your lemon tree will need lots of light, so make sure you put it next to a window that has lots of light. During the winter, you may need to use fluorescent grow lights. Also keep in mind that because the bees won't be able to pollinate your lemon tree, you will need to pollinate the tree yourself. You could also simply place your potted lemon tree outdoors during the summer so that bees and other insects can pollinate it.
Common Lemon Tree Questions
Even after this lemon tree guide, you may still be left with some questions. For example, I talked about how a dwarf lemon tree works well in containers, but I never answered the question for how to grow a dwarf lemon tree in a pot. Because you may still have some unanswered questions, I've included below a list of common lemon tree questions.
Is a potted orange tree similar to a potted lemon tree?
Yes, potted lemon trees are very similar to potted orange trees. After all, they are both citrus fruits. However, lemon trees are the most sensitive to cold, even more than orange trees. That's why it is important to bring your lemon tree in during the winter, or at least plant it near your house.
Is growing grapefruit in containers similar to growing lemon trees in containers?
Yes, potted grapefruits are very similar to lemon trees. Just like lemon trees, your grapefruit will need to move to a bigger container at some point. Basically, all citrus trees in pots may need to be replanted into a larger container.
When will my lemon tree bear fruit?
Most lemon trees will not start bearing fruit until they are about 3 to 5 years old. Once your lemon tree reaches the age when it will bear fruit, the main season for harvesting lemons is winter through early spring.
What are the different lemon tree types, and do they require different maintenance?
There are many different types of lemon trees, and some may require slightly different care. Let's start with the Meyer lemon tree. The Meyer lemon tree care would be to give it plenty of light, water it every once to two weeks, and prune its leaves. Meyer lemon tree pruning is similar to pruning any citrus tree. Another type of lemon tree is the Mexican lemon tree. Don't mistake this lemon tree for the Mexican lime tree. Mexican lemon trees are very similar to other lemon trees, and require the same amount of care. The Eureka lemon tree is a good lemon tree to grow, since it will produce lemons year-round. Ponderosa lemons are also good. For more information on types of lemons, search the internet or ask the person you purchased your lemon tree from.
I've gone over all that you need to know about lemon tree care and how to plant, water, and nurture it. I've also addressed common problems with growing your own. Try not to be intimidated and instead dive right in and buy a lemon tree. They really are not hard care for, if you supply the tree the basics of what it needs. The rewards will be a beautiful and unique plant to look at, and a glass of lemonade or lemon tea somewhere down the road.
Image Source: Rudy and Marta