How to grow a lemon tree
The preferred climate depends on the variety of lemon, however most do well in warm climates. They tolerate drought but are sensitive to frost.
Lemon trees require a position in full sunlight that is protected from winds and frost. If you're growing a lemon tree in a cooler climate, plant it close to a brick wall so it can utilise the radiating heat.
Lemon trees can tolerate a range of different soils but they mostly prefer slightly acidic, well-drained soil.
You can plant lemon trees at any time of year in warmer climates, as long as you water regularly. In cold regions plant in spring to protect it from late frosts.
Citrus will thrive in large pots – choose one that is 50cm in diameter or more, with plenty of drainage holes, and fill with a premium quality potting mix. It’s a great idea to stand your pot on a trolley so you can easily move the pot to a sunnier or more protected position with the changing seasons.
If you're planting a lemon tree in the garden, start by digging a hole twice a wide and as deep as the pot your citrus comes in. Remove it from the pot and inspect the roots, untangling any that appear to be circling around or those that are tightly packed into the shape of the pot. Plant so that the original soil level in the pot is level with your garden soil. Backfill the hole with the removed crumbled soil, and work compost or well-rotted cow manure into the top 10cm of soil. Add a mulch of straw to the soil surface, but keep this away from the trunk. Water immediately after planting and from then on keep the soil slightly moist.
Lemons grow best in soils that are moist but not soggy. Water your tree every seven to 10 days during the summer, providing it with 4 to 6 inches of water each month. Allow the soil around mature trees to partially dry between waterings. Overwatered lemon trees may suffer from crown and root rots, while those not watered enough frequently shed blossoms and don't produce as much fruit.
Citrus produce loads of fruit! All that flowering and fruiting is a big consumer of energy so make sure you feed up your lemon tree to ensure further crops. You can tell if your tree is undernourished by poor stunted growth or yellowing leaves. Feed twice a year with citrus food, once in February and again in August. Follow the directions on the packet and water the soil well both before and after applying the fertiliser.
How to prune lemon trees
Pruning lemon trees is important for growing healthier and more plentiful fruit.
It's best to prune your lemon tree from late winter to early spring, right after harvest. Young trees should be pruned to establish a good shape, remove any sprouts or weak limbs so the plant can focus on growing a strong canopy.
When to harvest your lemons
Lemon trees generally take around two to three years to bear fruit and harvesting depends on the variety of plant. Eurekas produce fruit two to three time a year while Lisbons fruit once a year.
Lemons are ready to harvest when they have developed full colour and flavour. Harvest lemons when their peels are yellow or only a green tinge, with a slightly glossy appearance. The longer the fruit stays on the tree the sweeter it will become so some suggest picking and tasting your fruit to determine how the crop is developing.
To pick lemons, use the twist, tilt and snap method. Take the entire fruit in your hand and twist it gently, tilting and pulling away until it breaks free.
How to propagate a lemon tree
To propagate a lemon tree it's best to take a cutting in late spring or early summer. Choose a 15 centimetre piece of a healthy young branch without fruit or flowers and at least two to three nodes at the base. Us a non-serrated, sanitised knife to cut the stem at a 90-degree angle. Wrap cuttings in a moist paper towel to prevent dehydration.
Remove bottom leaves so the cutting has only three or so leaves at the top and dust the bottom with a hormone-based rooting powder. Plant the cutting in a large, well-draining pot with seed starter mix and cover it with a large clear plastic bag to create a warm, humid environment. Use chopsticks, wire or dowel to keep the bag from resting on the cutting. Keep the soil moist.
Once roots develop, remove the plastic covering. After a few days move the cutting outside in a sheltered location. Once the roots of the plant nearly fill its pot its time to plant it in a larger pot or garden.
Pests and disease
Scale insect: Found on stems and leaves, they have a waxy brown shell. Spray these sap-sucking insects with organic eco oil.
Leaf Miner: Tiny burrowing mites causing silvery trails and twisted leaves. They attack only fresh new leaves, so spray the new growth once a fortnight with eco oil until the leaves have matured and turned a dark green colour.
Stink bugs: May appear in large numbers from October. Knock them off the branches and squish them underfoot, but wear protective goggles as then bugs can squirt a painful liquid into your eyes.
Sooty mould: A black crusty coating on the leaves indicating the presence of a sap-sucking insect lurking higher up, such as aphids, scale or mealybugs. Treat the insect above and the sooty mould will clear up by itself. The mould is not harmful, it just looks yucky.
You might also like: