How to Grow a Lemon Tree
The lemon tree is a small evergreen tree, commonly grown in home gardens as decorative plant and for aromatic fruits - lemons. The lemon tree is native to Asia and it is grown all around the world.
Lemons are rich in certain vitamins, minerals and antioxidants and are used for preparing refreshing drinks and in various meals.
One of the best things about lemon trees is that they are grow easily with minimum care. For home gardens, the best varieties are those that bear fruits year long, like 'Eureka' or similar. Such varieties can be grown even in the larger pots and containers and when winter arrives, they are moved inside - of course, during winter, if no windows are open, one has to pollinate flowers manually.
Lemon Tree Soil Mix
Lemon tree is not very picky about soil and it will tolerate a wide range of soil mixes. However, when grown in right conditions, it will grow strong and bear plenty of healthy fruits.
If the plant is grown on its own roots or the plant is grafted to a true genus Citrus rootstock, pH of 5.5 - 7.0 is acceptable, while pH of 6.0 - 6.5 is the best.
If pH is above these values, lemon tree will start to be deficient in minerals like iron, zinc, manganese and similar. In that case, one has to acidify the soil (add organic matter like compost or humus, or if the pH is very high, add sulfur or some sulfur compound) a little bit.
If the pH goes below these values, the lemon tree will look healthy, but won't grow new leaves and flowers and produce new fruits. In that case, one has to alkaline the soil (few tablespoons of limestone worked into the soil) to achieve desired pH level.
If the lemon tree is grafted, correct pH depends on the plant used for grafting. If you are not sure about it, keep pH around 6.0.
In order to be sure about pH of the soil, test it using Soil Test Kit (Amazon link, link opens in the new window).
When planted in the garden, lemon tree requires at least 20-24 inches (50-60 cm) of soil, with good drainage. If your soil is less than 20 inches deep, you can grow smaller varieties, or grow lemon trees in elevated beds of adequate width and depth, or you can grow lemon trees in larger containers, or grow them directly where you want, just protect them from strong winds and water and fertilize them more often.
If you have heavy soil, with bad drainage, the best thing to do is to dig out a larger hole (for example 1x1x1 yard) and mix the soil with the sand and organic matter (humus, compost, aged manure etc). Then, put a layer of gravel on the bottom of the hole and fill the hole with the soil mix - be sure that the new soil level is at least 4-6 inches (10-15 cm) higher than before, since some soil settling will occur. If you plan on planting lemon trees early in the spring, the best time to prepare the soil is autumn.
Lemon Tree Planting Position
For optimal growth and fruit production, the lemon trees need full sun - depending on the variety, space them at least 10-12 feet (3-3.5 m) in the rows and away from buildings and other trees. Lemon trees are sensitive to cold and especially cold winds, so plant them on south positions (or north positions, if you live 'down under') protected from strong winds.
If you grow your lemon tree in the container, when colder days arrive, be sure to move the lemon tree inside, before first frost. Frost can damage the leaves - lemon tree can lose all the leaves (so much about 'evergreen' lemon tree), which will grow back in the spring, but stronger frost can kill the lemon tree.
Fertilizing the Lemon Tree
To grow properly, lemon trees require broad range of micro- and macro-elements to be present in the soil. For home gardens, the best option is to use fertilizers in the form of aged manure, dried manure, compost and humus and to dig it into the soil once or twice per year around the lemon trees. NPK fertilizers can be used several times per year in similar fashion - adding them more often (in lower amounts) will keep nutrients level more constant, without spikes which can even damage the plants.
Liquid fertilizers can be used before each watering or can be even added to water.
In the case of problems with the lemon trees, check pH of the soil and add balanced citrus food which may correct the mineral deficiencies in the soil.
Watering the Lemon Tree
The lemon trees require constant water in order to grow and bloom. During summer, water the lemon trees with 4-6 inches (10-15 cm) of water per month. Watering should be done on the weekly basis (10 days, at most). This of course depends on the local conditions - amount of rainfall, sandy soil, winds, temperature and similar.
Add mulch around lemon trees - mulch can decrease moisture evaporation and decrease the soil temperature around the lemons. Also, it prevents weeds from growing (up to the point, of course) around the trees and thus, decreases the competition for nutrients and water.
Note: lemon trees don't like soggy soil - it can lead to root rot and can cause other issues which can decrease the crops and even kill the plants.
Lemon Tree Growing Temperature
Lemon trees prefer warmer climate with acceptable temperature range being between 70 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit (21 to 38°C) with the best temperature around 85 degrees Fahrenheit (29-30°C). Above 105 degrees (40°C) lemon tree will stop to grow, while below 50 degrees (10°C) lemon tree will go into the dormancy. Temperatures below 30 degrees Fahrenheit (-1°C) can cause plant to drop the leaves, while prolonged exposure to such low temperatures will damage the fruits and the tree, killing it in the end.