Lemon Fruit Tree
Meyer Lemon Tree
How to Grow a Lemon Tree
Lemon trees are a beautiful tree to grow in the home garden or indoors as a potted plant. They are fairly easy keepers provided that you follow some basic guidelines for growing citrus trees.
If you live in USDA Agricultural zones 8-11, you can successfully grow lemon trees outdoors. Two common and wonderful outdoor varieties are the Eureka lemon and the Meyer lemon:
The Eureka lemon is a standard juicing lemon with few seeds and a thick rind. When fresh, the skin literally bursts with moisture when sliced or peeled. It is perhaps the most versatile lemon, excellent for making lemonade and pies, or to flavor seafood. The tree is available in a dwarf size, making it perfect for the backyard (or frontyard) garden.
The Meyer lemon is an "improved" lemon, a cross between a standard lemon and an orange, developed to be cold-hardy and resistent to citrus viruses. It has a thin skin and a sweet tasting fruit, making is somewhat less desirable for cooking, though many would disagree. When cooking with Meyer lemons, you must be more mindful of added sugars, as the lemon is sweeter than expected, and the lemon taste is easily overpowered by too much sugar. In the garden, the Meyer is available as a dwarf tree, and several together in a row makes a wonderful and fruitful hedge. The tree will fruit over many months, seemingly having some ripe fruit on the branch for most of the year.
Planting a Lemon Tree
If you only have room for a single lemon tree in the garden, strongly consider planting a Eureka in the garden and potting up a Meyer for indoors. Otherwise, try to make room for both trees in the garden. They each have their strengths, and the fragrant blooms attract many beneficial insects to the garden.
Before planting, keep in mind the fundamentals of lemon tree growing:
- Slightly acidic conditions
- Well-timed nutrition
- Excellent drainage
Step 1. Dig a planting hole that is at least twice as wide in diameter and twice as deep as the root ball of the tree. If you are planting in a pot, choose a pot that is about twice as wide and deep as the root ball.
Step 2. To maintain acidic conditions, mix in dampened peat moss and used coffee grounds into the soil in the planting hole and to the backfill soil. Drainage can be enhanced by adding perlite or sand to the planting hole as well. Check that the soil is well-prepared by squeezing a fistful of soil in one hand. You want the soil to fall nicely apart. If it makes a firm ball of mud, you will need to add more peat moss to break it up.
A word about sand: If you live in an area of clay soil, adding sand can be risky. The wrong type of sand, such as playground sand, can bind with clay soil to make somethat that resembles cement. Look for coarse sand or garden sand, or simply avoid it all-together and use peat moss and perlite to lighten your soil.
A word about peat moss: If you are growing a lemon tree in a pot, you may have better luck using more perlite or vermiculite than peat moss in your growing mix. Perlite or vermiculite will keep the soil light without retaining too much water. Pot grown lemon trees are sensitive to wet soil, and so it is better to have a light soil that dries out more frequently.
If you are planting between March and September, add some timed-release citrus fertilizer to your planting mix, otherwise, you can skip fertilizing until March.
Step 3. If you are planting in a pot, make a layer of stones on the bottom of the pot to help with drainage. For pot or garden planting, open up the rootball slightly (you may have to use a shovel to help) and position it in the planting hole. You want the crown of the root ball to be level with the soil - neither above nor below the soil-line. Backfill with amended soil and press firmly.
Step 4. If you've planted in the garden, make a watering well by building up a soil ring around the leaf-line of the tree. Water the tree well, making sure that the soil settings in around the root ball nicely.
Eureka Lemon Tree
Lemon Tree Care
- Lemon trees require surprisingly little care once they are established, but they are heavy feeders and so must be attended to. Feed with a timed-release citrus food, like Miracle Grow for Citrus, from March until September. Timed-release citrus food works especially well for lemon trees grown indoors, as they are less likely to cause root burn.
- Lemon trees that are grown in pots may get a white crust on the soil, indicating a build-up of salts. If this happens, take the pot outdoors and run water so that it drains through the soil, flushing out the accumulated salts.
- You might notice that your tree produces a flurry of blooms but that very little fruit seems to set. This could be caused by a number of things, the first being that it is fairly common for lemon trees to set only a few fruits per large number of blossoms. Or, it could be caused by a lack of nitrogen. Be sure to keep up with the nutrition schedule, remembering that lemon trees are heavy feeders.
- California growers may be plagued by leafminers, characterized by the white tunneling lines that the moth makes on the undersides of new leaves. You can try controlling them by using sticky pheromone traps, but they often don't work to the level that you might wish. The best thing is to do nothing, because once the new leaves have a chance to grow and mature, the leafminer can't damage the leaves and either die off or are attacked by beneficial insects.
World's Largest Lemon
Lemon Grove, California
Home of the world's largest lemon.
How to Prune a Lemon Tree
Because leafminers are such pests and cause the leaves of the lemon tree to become so unsightly, the backyard gardener has to keep in mind that pruning the tree encourages it to push out new leaves, and therefore encourages the leafminer to stick around and flourish. So, it's best to prune lemon trees once a year, if possible during the winter months when the pest population is low.
- To prune your lemon tree, begin by tackling any deadwood. Trim flush to branches without leaving little knobs.
- Cut, to the ground, any suckers that might be growing up from around the tree trunk.
- Cut suckers that grow from the center of the tree. These suckers usually look long and gangly, and often have a different appearance than the other tree branches. For example, on a Eureka, suckers can be distinguished by their thorny appearance.
- Trim out any criss-crossing branches, to let light into the center of the tree.
- Finally, cut any branch ends that touch the ground, or that bend to touch the ground when loaded with fruit.
Step back to take a look at what you are trimming from time to time, to ensure that you are keeping a good shape to the tree. And try to resist the urge to continually prune your lemon tree throughout the year. Part of the beauty of the lemon tree is its easy-going appearance from which a bountiful harvest grows.
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