When Life Gives You Lemons … Move it Inside

From the When Life Gives You Lemons… Series.

Part 4 – When Life Gives You Lemons … Move it Inside

or How to Move Your Impossibly Heavy Lemon Tree.

So, one of my biggest challenges is how to move my potted lemon tree into the garage when it starts to cool down.  My patient hubby tends to lose patience when I ask him to move it as it is awkward and heavy and no fun.  And then he starts to procrastinate ‘coz he doesn’t really want to do it, which in turn makes me anxious about the coming frost and whether my lemon will survive another night outside…. And it all turns in to a big mess.  This year I had had enough of dependency and I decided to figure out a way to do it myself.  Or at least with only the help of my 9 and 6 year old minions.

Long I searched for practical solutions.  We already had some furniture movers, just planks on wheels really, which made moving the pots over long, smooth, distances a breeze, but the pots get placed in to a garden bed each year and must be lifted over a ledge to get them in and out each time.  How to lift an incredibly heavy pot without some serious braun to help?

But then I came across potlifters.  Have you heard of these things?

This one is from Amazon and costs about $30.

This one is from Amazon and costs about $30.

Looks easy to lift such a heavy pot, right?

Looks easy to lift such a heavy pot, right?

Eureka!  A solution.  I totally would have raced out and bought one but there weren’t any locally, only online.  So I hemmed and hawed trying to judge shipping time vs impending frost, whether it would actually work given the short stature of my participating minion, and frankly, I didn’t really want to spend an extra $30 for something that might or might not work and that I would only use twice a year.  Hmmm … maybe there was another way.

And you know what I found?  An Instructable (such an amazing resource) for How to Make Your Own Hawler/Pot Lifter.  Would take 15 mins and cost $3.

DIY potlifter at work - from the Instructibles page.

DIY potlifter at work – from the Instructibles page.

Bazinga!

Someone had been reading my mind!  This would be perfect.  The instructions were straight forward and clear and you only needed 3 things:

  1. rope
  2. 2x bicycle inner tubes
  3. some PVC pipe for handles.
Materials for potlifter - these are from the instructions, not the ones I used although mine looked much the same.

Materials for potlifter – these are from the instructions, not the ones I used although mine looked much the same.

I had the rope and PVC pipe on hand but no spare inner tubes.  Fortunately, I happen to live not far from a bike repair place so I wandered over and asked if they had any old punctured inner tubes lying around.  You know what, they did!  And they were happy for me to take them off their hands since they would otherwise just be thrown away.  So we were recycling/upcycling too!  Doesn’t get better than that.

You do have to learn a new knot, a Blake’s Hitch, which takes a little practice but before long I had it all put together and ready to try it out.

Shimmy the lifter over the pot so the pot is sitting in the middle of the square. Snug up the knots and lift using the handles. Perfect! (again, pic from Instructibles page, not mine)

Shimmy the lifter over the pot so the pot is sitting in the middle of the square. Snug up the knots and lift using the handles. Perfect! (again, pic from Instructibles page, not mine)

The way it works is that the inner tubes form a square through which the ropes are threaded.  You put the square around the pot you want to lift, snug up the knots so that it is tight around the pot, then lift using the PVC handles.  Very very clever.

I admit to feeling nervous as to whether my minion would be tall enough to help, and whether it would be safe since he’s so little and I would have hated for it to fail and fall on a toe, but we figured it out and got the job done with all toes, limbs and eyes intact.  And not a daddy to be seen.  Whoo hoo!

Very very pleased with this Instructible and the solution it provided me.  With the weather warming up I’ll be able to move the pots around as I need to which is nice.  The other great thing about this design is that it is adjustible, so I could use it on my lime tree pot too. Yay!

How do you move heavy pots around?  Have you tried a potlifter like this?

NEXT UP: When Life Gives You Lemons … Make Limoncello

When Life Gives You Lemons … Take Care of Your Lemon Tree

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:

Gorgeous potted lemon tree.

Gorgeous potted lemon tree. (pic from whiteonricecouple.com)

1.  Watering

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.

Love this brand.  Seems to keep my fruit trees healthy without being too powerful or toxic.

Love this brand. Seems to keep my fruit trees healthy without being too powerful or toxic.

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.

3. Pests.

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

When Life Gives You Lemons … Grow More Lemons

From the When Life Gives You Lemons…  Series.

Part 2: When Life Gives You Lemons … Grow More Lemons

or How to Pot Up a Lemon Tree

1. Pick what kind of lemon tree you want to grow.

Since we’ll be growing our lemon tree in a pot we’ll need to pick a small-er growing lemon variety.  Some lemon tree varieties that do well in pots are:

  1. Improved Meyer Lemon
  2. Lisbon
  3. Eureka

Of these three my favourite is the Improved Meyer Lemon.  If you have ever tasted a Meyer Lemon you wouldn’t have to ask me why.  The fruit is much sweeter than the lemons you buy at the store, still with a classically fresh lemon tartness but with none of the bitterness.  You can almost (almost) eat them like an orange they are so good.  They skins are thinner, too, I find, and are great for zesting.  There is very little pith to worry about.  The pith is where much of the bitterness of the lemon is found.

Potted Meyer Lemon tree.  So pretty.

Potted Meyer Lemon tree. So pretty. (pic from homeanddecor.ca)

I have found that with a little TLC my Meyer Lemon will produce heavily.  The picture of the tree above doesn’t surprise me although I know it doesn’t look real.  In my first year my Meyer lemon tree gave me 14 lemons. 14!  Not bad for a baby, huh?  Now, the second year I got zero (I grumble about that here) but moving forward I expect my lemon tree to produce beautifully just like in the picture.  TIme will tell.

You may also have a choice in the shape of the tree you buy.  I bought a standard tree, which means it had been trained to look like a ball on a tall stick.  I think it looks more elegant although it will take more upkeep to maintain the standard shape.

2. Choose your pot.

A full grown lemon tree can grow 6′-10′ tall although they will likely be smaller when kept in a pot.  But still, a fairly sizable pot is needed, maybe 15-20 gallon pot to start.  Lemons need good drainage so make sure there are plenty of drain holes in the bottom.  As you’ll be moving it around pay heed to how heavy the pot is.  And pick a blue one.

3. Choose Your Growing Medium

I know it seems strange to talk about the growing medium but I promise you that a little time and research now will pay big dividends later.  You can buy a ready made citrus potting mix with different additives such as peat moss, perlite or vermiculite, just ensure the soil is light enough to drain the water well.  If you are like me you might want to just make your own.  I like a recipe I found on a citrus growing forum long ago and wrote down:

Citrus Potting Mix Recipe

  • 1/3 MiracleGro Vegetable Mix
  • 1/3 small bark chips
  • 1/3 perlite (although I use vermiculite as that is what I had on hand).

4. Potting Up the Tree

When transplanting a lemon tree I like to shake off most of the old potting soil before replanting, just because I know what is in my potting medium recipe and I know it works for my environment.  Your lemon tree may also come bare-rooted like this one from William Sonoma.  The sawdust is just to try to keep the roots moist during transit.  You will shake them all off before you plant this tree.

Bare root meyer lemon tree sold by Williams Sonoma

Bare root meyer lemon tree sold by Williams Sonoma

Before planting examine the roots.  Cut off any that are damaged or broken, or are circling around and look root bound.  Also trim off any broken or dead branches you might see.

Place the bare root tree in your pot, gently packing in the soil around the roots.  It is important to get the height right.  Plant so the roots are just below the surface but that the crown is just above it.  Water in well to remove any air spaces and to settle the plant in nicely.

NEXT UP: When Life Gives You Lemons … Take Care of Your Lemons

When Life Gives You Lemons … Drink Limoncello: A Series

or How to Fall in Love with Lemons in Capri, Then Grow your Own Lemons to Make Your Own Limoncello in an Effort to Pretend You are Back In Capri.

But first, a note to my Dear Reader:  My When Life Gives You Lemons … Drink Limoncello post turned out to be quite the tome, what with all the who, what, when and why, so I have broken it in to manageable chunks.  A series, if you will, in 5 parts.

  1. When Life Gives You Lemons … Go to Capri
  2. When Life Gives You Lemons … Grow More Lemons
  3. When Life Gives You Lemons … Take Care of Your Lemons
  4. When Life Gives You Lemons … Move it Inside
  5. When Life Gives You Lemons … Make Limoncello

I hope you’ll forgive my self-indulgence and stick with me through this series.

Part 1: When Life Gives You Lemons … Go to Capri

I love Capri.  And I love lemons.  In fact, I love lemons because I went to, and fell in love with, Capri.  True story.

Some years ago now my sweet husband and I found ourselves on the beautiful Isle of Capri.  Capri, Sorrento and the whole Amalfi Coast are like something from a fairytale.  Every vista is breathtakingly beautiful, without exception.  The greens are exceptionally vivid and lush.  The azure blue of the sky and water so azure-y and blue-y.  The food, incredible.  The people, deeply content.  It is as though it really isn’t real and yet … it is!  So amazing.  If you ever get the chance to see that part of the world don’t think twice – Just Go!

By the waterfront in Capri (swoon)

By the waterfront in Capri (swoon)

One things you’ll see all through the Region of Campania is lemon trees.  They were everywhere and thriving like nothing I’d seen before.  The scent of citrus wafting in the breeze was quite intoxicating.  Heavenly.  Right then and there I fell in love with Capri and with lemon trees.

Lemon trees are everywhere in Capri.

Lemon trees are everywhere in Capri. Look at this fella peeking his head over the side of the wall to see who is walking past (too anthropomorphism-y? My apologies).

My favourite lemon trees were the potted ones planted in the most gorgeous, brilliant blue pots.  I vividly remember the contrast between the deep green of the waxy leaves, the deep golden yellow of the fruit, and the brilliant, shiny blue of the ceramic pots.  Magical.  Optical poetry.  Or so I thought…

You see, I wanted to show you, Dear Readers, what I mean.  Show you my original inspiration.  But as I search through my photos of Capri and the Bay of Naples I can’t find any pictures of Caprian lemon trees in blue pots.  Wait.  What?  I know.  I’ve been looking now for longer than I care to admit, at home and on the interwebz, and yet there are no lemon trees in blue pots at all.   At least not genuine Italian ones.  There are plenty of blue sky and water behind lemon trees, which may or may not be potted in terracotta pots.  See …..

Lemon tree by the harbour at Capri

Lemon tree by the harbour at Capri (pic from Agnes Borowik at dragonfruitphotographyblog.com)

And yet I vividly remember the yellow and blue!  So visually stunning.  So inspiring and yet … non-existant it appears.

What??!!  My whole story here has been built on a lie, one I’ve been living since coming back from Italy and buying a lemon tree and a blue pot!  I am having a moment here, people.  Oh. Em. Gee.

But I’m telling you, gorgeous lemon trees in blue pots are stunning.  And yet so simple!  And thusly inspired by my trip to Capri I wanted to recreate/fabricate the same feel here at home.

The only hiccup is that I don’t live in Capri (sadly).  I live in Charlotte, NC, USDA Zone 7b which is not citrus friendly.  Our winters get too cold and citrus trees will not survive the freezes we get.  Gah!  Why??  Why???? (shakes fist at the sky).  There had to be a way.

Well there is!  But you have to commit to the process, and kinda accept that your ever patient spouse is gonna think you’re a little coo-coo for coco-puffs.  You see, in order to grow citrus north of Florida you must grow your fabulous lemon trees in a pot (blue, of course) which has to be brought inside in late Fall to over-winter protected from the cold and frosts.  I don’t think it is a big deal at all to have such a gorgeous plant AND grow lemons in my own yard, but in all honesty, my husband thinks I’m a little nuts for having to baby my lemon tree and to move it in and out twice a year despite it’s considerable heft.  And additionally, for the few months temps are too cold for it outside when we park our cars in the garage we have to navigate around toys, bikes AND citrus to get inside the house.  I can see his point.  But it makes me happy and reminds me of our fabulous trip to Capri.  (Swoon)

Have you been to Capri?  On my bloggy travels I came across Kelly and Dan and their fabulous blog, Foodie Lawyer, who tell the same story as me: That they went to Capri and fell in love with the lemons and decided to grow them back home.  Love their story and love the Lemon Veal they make with their Meyer Lemons.  Totally going to try that one soon.

NEXT UP: When Life Gives You Lemons … Grow More Lemons