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Growing Lemons

Lemons growing on a tree.

If you live in a warm climate, you may be able to grow a lemon tree. Being able to pick your lemons when you need them ensures they are as fresh as possible. This is a guide abut growing lemons.

     

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Article: How to Grow Lemons

Lemons growing on a tree.If you garden in a warm climate, you may want to consider growing a lemon tree. Even if you live in a cool climate, there are several dwarf varieties available that grow well indoors. The fruits are a phenomenal source of vitamin C and can used in a variety of ways in the kitchen. If you don't care much for lemons, the trees alone are beautiful enough to justify the effort.

Selecting a Variety

Lemon trees are generally hardy to the warmer parts of the country (to zone 7), and each growing zone has specific varieties best suited to the local growing conditions. Before selecting a variety, contact a local nursery or your state's Cooperative Extension Agency to get advice from experts on which varieties grow best for where you live. Agricultural commerce among various "citrus regions" is strictly regulated in order to avoid transmission of disease. This means you will generally buy your plants locally anyway, unless you are planning to grow them indoors.

Site and Soil Requirements

All citrus trees, including lemons, like plenty of sun and heat, so if you live in the cooler edge of a variety's hardiness range, make sure to plant it in the sunniest, warmest, most protected part of the yard possible. If your area is very hot, some relief from the sun will be appreciate, especially at during the afternoon. If drying winds are a problem, consider protecting your tree with a windbreak.

Like other citrus trees, lemon trees prefer a soil pH that is lightly acidic-between 5.5 and 6.2. Many parts of the country feature alkaline soil, so unless you're growing trees indoors, it's wise to start with a soil test so you can make any necessary corrections well ahead of planting. Lemon trees can tolerate heavier soils, as long as they are well drained. They need ample amounts of moisture for growth, but they won't tolerate standing in water.

Planting

Because they bloom and produce all year round, lemon trees can be planted at any time of the year. Because the trees are almost always grafted, it's usually necessary to plant them a bit higher than they were growing in the nursery-ideally so that the graft union (usually seen as a diagonal scar near the base of the trunk) is between 4 to 8 inches above soil level. Water new trees thoroughly and keep a careful eye on moisture levels throughout the tree's first season.

Supermarket lemon trees: It's possible to grow lemon trees from the lemons you buy at the supermarket, but if the seeds are from a hybrid variety, they may not produce lemons, or the lemons may end up tasting quite different than the original. Some seeds will actually grow into productive trees, however, so it's worth a try! To plant the seeds you have saved from a supermarket lemon, follow these 6 easy steps:

  • Wash the seeds immediately with plain tap water-don't let them dry out!
  • Place them 1/2 in. deep in a peat pot filled with damp, sterile potting soil and cover the pot with plastic to keep it moist.
  • Place the pot in a sunny window until it germinates (a couple of weeks).
  • Remove the plastic from the pot, and continue to keep the seedlings moist, and in a warm, sunny location. When the seedlings reach two inches tall, thin to the strongest seedling by snipping the others off at soil level using a scissors.
  • When the remaining seedling starts to outgrow its pot, transplant it to a pot twice the original size and continue to treat it like a houseplant.
  • Be patient. Lemon trees grown from seed have a long juvenile period. Plan to wait 8 years or more before you start to see any fruits!

Care and Feeding

Watering: Lemon trees planted in the ground have shallow roots that extend well beyond the drip line. Although they need ample moisture to maintain growth, it's okay to let the top 4 to 6 inches of soil to dry out a bit between watering. Too much water can be just bad as too little. Constantly saturated soil may stunt growth, encourage disease and affect the taste quality of the fruits.

Feeding: Citrus trees need a good supply of nitrogen. Trees growing in lighter soils will benefit from a top-dressing of compost and well-rotted manure several times a year. Container plants should be fed a liquid organic fertilizer that is higher in nitrogen than phosphorus or potassium (3-1-1, or 2-1-1). Apply according to label directions.

Weeding: Keep the area around the base of your lemon tree free of weeds. The roots of the trees are shallow and may not compete well with other plants-even grass. Use mulch to suppress weeds and conserve moisture, just keep the area within 6 inches of the trunk mulch-free. If gophers or rodents are a problem in your area, avoid using mulch as it gives them a good place to hide.

Pruning: Your lemon trees will not need much pruning. In fact, a good scaffold of branches and ample foliage will protect the fruit and lead to greater yields. As lemon trees mature they may need some light pruning to keep their form round and compact. Always remove any dead, damaged, or diseased wood as soon as you notice it. Container-grown trees may need to be root-pruned every few years to control growth.

Pests and Diseases

Aphids, mealy bugs, and red spider mites can all attack lemon trees. They can be controlled to some extent by spraying with a strong stream of water or by using an organic, insecticidal soap. Fungal disease problems are much more prevalent in humid areas than they are in drier regions. Good cultural practices are the best way to prevent these diseases. Start with disease resistant root stock planted in quality soil with good drainage. Keep your landscape clean by destroying all plant debris and cutting off suckers as they emerge from the roots.

Harvesting

Lemons can be harvested year round, but like all citrus trees, they must be fully ripe on the tree before you pick them. It is sometimes hard to tell if lemons are ripe, but they should look bright yellow and smell lemony. If you have to work too hard to remove a lemon from the tree, it's probably not ripe yet. Lemons will keep quite a long time hanging in the tree, so there's no urgent need to pick them until you're ready to use them.

Container Trees

Lemon trees make fine container plants, especially in cooler climates. Grow them as small trees in containers on your patio in the summer, and move them to a sunny spot indoors to spend the winter. Their growing needs are the same as lemon trees grown in the ground-plenty of sun, the proper amount of moisture, and good drainage. Plants growing in pots should be put on a fertilizing schedule to ensure that they get consistent nutrients.

Containers should be as deep and wide as you have room for (bigger is better), and should be placed on castors to make moving heavy pots outdoors as easy as possible. In spring, move them into partial shade first before exposing them to bright outdoor sun. In fall, do the reverse. Give them a bit of shade before moving them back inside to minimize the shock. Indoor air can be dry in the winter, so keep plants on a pebble tray or mist them regularly to maintain some humidity.

Lemon trees grown in containers are much more susceptible to cold and drought, so keep an eye on temperatures and moisture. Because these trees are almost always grafted, the main root stock may eventually send up suckers to try to overtake the tree. If you see suckers coming up from the base of the trunk, remove them with a clean pruning shears as soon as possible. Popular indoor varieties include, Meyer Improved Dwarf, Lisbon, and Ponderosa Dwarf.

By Ellen Brown

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Questions

Here are questions related to Growing Lemons.

Question: Lemon Tree Seedlings Have No Branches

Why do my seedlings grow tall with large leaves, but none have branches? Should I cut them back and inch or 2?

Thank you.

By Karen

Question: Growing Lemon Trees from Seeds

Lemon tree seedlings.I planted some lemon pips in November last year, and they grew to about 4cm tall, and it seems as if they aren't growing anymore. They have been the same size since December, and they have now turned a very light yellow. I can't think that this is normal. Are they supposed to take so long to grow? What did I do wrong to make them go yellow? :-/
I have added a photo of what they look like now.

Could anyone please guide me in any way? Anything would be helpful.

Thank you so much!

By Lauren


Most Recent Answer

By Priscilla B.11/11/2013

Hi! Looks like you have 3 beautiful variegated seedlings. This kind of plant can be very beautiful but is lacking chlorophyll--especially yours because they do not have a lot of green at all.The chlorophyll protects them. Keep them in indirect light; they will scorch and die in direct sunlight. They are a pretty yellow and if some green is mixed with them to help them live they will probably be very beautiful. Have fun!

Question: Potted Meyer Lemon Tree Dropping Fruit

Lemon tree in half barrel.3 months ago I planted, in a large tub, a Meyer lemon which thrived and has set a lot of fruit. Today I found four tiny fruit, size of a small marble, on the soil. I fed it citrus food last month and have watered only when the soil feels dry about 3 inches down. What have I done wrong? Please help!

By Joy

Question: Growing a Lemon Tree for Seed in a Container

Has anyone out there ever grown a lemon tree from seed? I have heard it is done in Siberia. If they can do it, surely we can. Will supermarket lemons give good seed? Should I just buy a started tree? I now have a nice, sunny window and have wanted to give this a try since forever!

By Coreen from Rupert, ID


Most Recent Answer

By Robyn Fed12/11/2011

Hi, I have sent lots of links chock full of information on planting lemon seeds.

Remember if you want to clean your own potting soil, heat it to 160 degrees in the oven and keep it that way for 30 minutes once the soil is heated to that degree. Or you could just buy potting soil. You can have good results with paper towels and a baggie.

I love to plant seeds. Here are some ways to plant lemon pits and grow them.

First you wash the seed, very well, very well washing the seed (notice how I wrote that two times...) NOT letting it get dried out. Lemon seeds will not tolerate being dried out....like being left in your purse on the way home from the fast food joint.Other seeds can can be dried, not so with lemon seeds.

You might choose to plant the lemon seed in soil a half inch deep in a styrofoam cup of potting soil with holes a plenty punched in the bottom for drainage, or place immediately in between two folded paper towels and keep moist.

You can put them in a baggie or on a plate in a warm spot like the top of a refrigerator but not too warm where it would dry out. If they dry out they are done for. Did I mention how a lemon seed will not sprout if it is allowed to dry out?

You don't need to have light until the seed sprouts.

Of course, if there is any sugar on the seed and you plant it in the soil the sugar will cause a problem and kill the plant.

Keep the lemon seed moist at all times, but remember the cup and soil must have drainage holes at the bottom. This is a good way to recycle styrofoam cups into something useful.

Without drainage holes in the cup, the seed would be attacked by fungus which would kill the seedling when it sprouted or before.

Once they do sprout give them several hours of bright light, or direct light each day. It does not have to be direct light.

They need to be replanted into soil once they sprout if you are using the baggie method.

I have also included some links to online nurseries with information on planting lemons from pits. It takes about 15 years to grow fruit from seeds which you plant yourself.

I like to have homemade plants too. I enjoy planting pits of avocados, and such.

Some of the seeds from fruit require a cooling off period if I am correct, but I have not found the need to do that for lemons. Someone can correct me if I am wrong.

Check out the links below for fun things like drawing a face on a recycled styrofoam cup, poking holes in the bottom, and putting potting soil in it and planting grass seed. You can give this little " plant person" a hair cut as the grass grows....Is that not the cutest idea?

Also, you can plant the tops of carrots between two toothpicks in a glass of water. The bottom part without the leaves goes in the water.

(This is the same way to peel an avocado seed and put three toothpicks in it and sprout it also. I sometimes do not peel mine. It helps to peel them though. On avocado seeds there is a paper like covering around it once it is dry you can peel it off.)

I used to order plants all the time from a different nursery, but I forget which one it was.

The link below to the online nursery is a great place, too. Have fun researching all these links! Here they are below, I have looked at them all:

Info from a college on planting lemon seeds:
http://aces.nmsu.edu/ces/yard/2000/040800.html

Article on planting a seed from a lemon:
http://www.ehow.com/how_2083536_grow-lemon-tree-from-seed.html

Main page for Greenwood Nursery:http://www.greenwoodnursery.com/

Fun things to plant from Greenwood Nursery and other planting info:
http://www.greenwoodnursery.com/sea ... B%3A1&ie=UTF-8&q=lemon+trees

http://www.greenwoodnursery.com/page.cfm/21381

Have fun!
And remember do not let your lemon seeds dry from the time they come from the lemon to the time you wash and plant them or put them in paper towels and a baggie or they won't grow at all.

Blessings, Robyn

Question: Lemon Tree Scale

How do I cure scale on my lemon tree?The branches have a green slime and a fungal scale 30mils in diameter on average is present on the branches.

By Colin


Most Recent Answer

By Elaine S.11/13/2011

Frugal is correct. The extension service will give you the best advice. I have had scale on a few plants and it is very difficult to eradicate. But they will give you the best advice.

Question: Meyer Lemon Tree Dropped Leaves, Blooms, and Fruit

I have a Meyer lemon tree planted in a container that I keep outdoors. It has bloomed and produced plenty of lemons for the last 4 years. Earlier this year it bloomed and small fruit started to appear. We have experienced extremely hot weather, but I made sure the tree was properly watered. Eventually, the majority of the leaves, blooms, and small fruit fell off the tree. It did recover and is fully covered with beautiful green leaves but no fruit. What happened and what should I do?

By Willie B.


Most Recent Answer

By gbk10/05/2011

I live in south georgia and I own a meyer dwarf lemon and the lady is correct on the too wet. Be sure you have good drainage and I planted mine in decomposed pinebark mulch and potting soil. I placed it in the sun and it got water each day or so but the bark held too much water so I repotted the plant got it right and it started to grow leaves now you can start to feed it and it keeps blooming and bearing year round if you don't freeze where you are. If too cold it will drop fruit, if you over feed it will drop fruit, too wet of soil, and otherwise it will bear year round. I place mine in a window in the winter sun shines in and it keeps on bearing. In winter less water is the key, only when dry or almost dry. The same in summer.

Question: Lemons Falling Off the Tree

This semi-dwarf Meyer lemon tree is losing the fruit. Can anyone tell me why? It had hundreds of blooms. It set many lemons, and now more than 3/4ths of them have fallen off. There are still several larger fruit hanging on. small lemon tree with several green fruit

Next to it is a "Pink Lemonade" tree that has been in the ground for 6-8 years, and it has never set a fruit. It also has many blooms, but all of them fall off. I would appreciate any information about this. Thanks

Small lemon tree against block fence

By Great Granny Vi from Moorpark, CA

Question: Lemons Are Less Juicy and Have Brown Patch at Stem End

Why are my lemons from the lemon tree getting less juicy and are getting a brown round patch on the stem end? I always have very juicy, large, and seedless limes/lemons. I don't know what happened this year!

Hardiness Zone: 10a

By Vidya from Irvine, Orange county, CA

Question: Lemon Tree Dropped All of Its Flowers

I love this group. I planted a lemon tree 2 years ago that's just bushed out and bloomed beautifully, but all my blossoms fell off. Why? Thanks so much.

Hardiness Zone: 9a

By TX from Conroe

Question: Curling Leaves on a Lemon Tree

curled lemon leavesMy lemon tree is having problems with it's leaves curling. Anyone have any ideas what is causing this and what to use to eliminate it?

What is the best stage to pick the lemons? Often the fruit looks ripe but the inside is dry and even brownish. Could this be due to picking too late or could it be part of the above problem?

A photo of the leaf problem is attached.

Hardiness Zone: 9a

Donna from Rancho Cucamonga, CA


Most Recent Answer

By JEANNE (Guest Post)05/11/2007

I live in Florida and that looks very much like a citrus leaf problem that suddenly appeared here just after Hurricane Andrew blew through (it may have come all the way from Africa). If it is the same thing, there should be an insect larva inside the curl with some webby stuff holding the leaf in the curled position. I think some kind of moth may develop. I generally take the leaves off and seal them up tight in a plastic bag before disposing of them and then spray the tree with a good general purpose citrus pest spray. It does not seem to hurt the fruit as long as there are enough healthy leaves to keep the tree well fed and sunned. I have noticed that my newer trees don't seem as bothered by the problem as some of the older ones although they still seem to get some curled leaves. I just deal with each tree as they need it. I find it helps to keep them cut back and fairly small. I don't know what caused dry brownish fruit. It also may help that my lemons are Myers lemons, a native citrus that is so hardy that it does not require grafting.

Photos

Garden: Flowering Meyer Lemon

We brought our small Meyer lemon indoors because it was getting colder out. It seems to think it's spring because it started flowering right away. A white Meyer lemon in flower.

By Jess from Hillsboro, OR Meyer lemon with fruit and flower A white Meyer lemon in flower.

Meyer lemon with fruit and flower