From the When Life Gives You Lemons… Series
Part 3: When Life Gives You Lemons … Take Care of Your Lemon Tree
or How to Care for Your Potted Lemon Tree
Now that you have successfully chosen and installed your beautiful new lemon tree it is important to treat it kindly to get it to produce to its best. Here is what you do:
All citrus do best with infrequent, deep waterings as opposed to more frequent but shallow waterings. A good rule of thumb is to stick your finger in to the soil up to your second knuckle. If your finger feels dry it is time to water well. If it is still moist then leave it another day or two. Another tip: If the leaves start to wilt but perk up after watering then you left it too long between drinks. If the leaves are yellowing and curling and don’t improve after watering then you are over-watering.
I have mine on a drip irrigation system which, frankly, is not ideal as it tends towards the more-frequent-less-deep method of watering which does not make lemons happy. Still, although I am a keen urban gardener I admit to being a lazy urban gardener and we all have to make compromises in places. This is where I make mine. It still seems to work ok.
2. Fertilizing and Pruning
Lemon trees tend to be heavy feeders and do best with monthly applications of fertilizer during the growing season. I like this organic brand, E.B. Stone Citrus and Fruit Tree Food. Look for a NPK formulation with twice as much nitrogen as phosphorus and potassium. This one is 7-3-3 and is just right.
I toss a handful around the base of my fruit trees when I remember, so probably not as regularly as is recommended. It is important to water the fertilizer in well after application.
Most lemon trees you buy will have been grafted on to some other kind of root stock and you may find shoots starting to grow from below the graft join. These shoots should be removed immediately as they will not grow true to the variety you bought and just suck energy away from the plant.
Pruning should only be done to maintain shape and balance in the early spring. Look to remove any crossing or rubbing branches as these can lead to wounds and infections.
My lemon tree tends to get aphids. These little insects suck the sap from the leaves causing them to twist and deform. If left untreated they can cause leaf drop and finally limb death (yikes!). Best to tackle aphids early on. You can use a commercial insecticidal soap for a serious infestation but for smaller problems I find a quick blast of water from the hose will knock them right off. Alternatively, I might try a simple soap spray of 2tsp liquid dish soap in a gallon of water and a small slug of vegetable oil. Spray all over the leaves paying particular attention to the undersides to get them all. The dishsoap and oil suffocates the little beasts so be liberal in your application.
4. Winter Care
As previously described, I bring my citrus inside for the winter. I normally think about moving them in when the night time temps consistently get to about 40*F. They will certainly suffer, maybe even die, if caught in a frost so I move them in proactively. I find my citrus are happiest in an unheated storeroom off the garage with a South West aspect. In fact, they are so happy here they bloom all winter instead of sleeping. I try to make the most of the early lemon friskiness by hand pollinating the blossoms myself, blogged about here.
Do you grow citrus in non-citrus friendly areas? How do you protect them from the damaging frosts? I’ve head in more milder climates people will wrap them in Christmas fairy lights to ward off the cold. I bet that looks pretty too. Any other ideas and solutions?
NEXT UP: When Life Gives You Lemons … Move it Inside