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Growing lemon trees in pots and containers
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If you are growing lemon trees in the UK, growing them in pots is really the most successful way. There are, however, some provisions to follow when choosing and planting your lemon trees as well as some easy to follow care advice to follow.
Recommended citrus lemon varieties
Dwarf Meyer Lemon tree
There are ample varieties of lemon trees, but not all are created equally. Some dwarf varieties will do better when grown in containers. The Dwarf Meyer Lemon tree, for example, is a great container option with its medium-sized, slightly sweet fruit and fragrant flowers. Now, the taste won’t be exactly the same as lemons from the local supermarket because this variety is a cross between orange and lemon plants. Still, it is self-pollinating which means you only need one and it is the hardiest variety around. It is very resistant to insects, as well as extreme cold or heat. In terms of spacing requirements, it needs no more than a medium-size pot, as it will reach just over one meter in full height in a larger pot. Being one of the fastest-growing trees you can enjoy fruit within one or two years, the lemons taking between 6 and 9 months to fully ripen.
Lisbon Lemon Tree
Another option is the Lisbon Lemon Tree, an heirloom variety much closer to what you would find at the local fruit and veg stand. The fruit has a much tangier taste but it is slightly larger than the dwarf variety reaching just over two metres in full height although growth will be restricted in a pot. It is disease resistant and heat resistant but not as cold-resistant as the dwarf variety so those residing in the Northern parts of the country would be better off with the dwarf variety while those in the southern parts could make do with the Lisbon Lemon Tree. In either case, it is a self-pollinating tree so you need only one.
Dwarf Ponderosa lemon tree
The dwarf Ponderosa lemon tree is known for having the best fruit, producing overly sized grapefruit style lemons that can weigh about 1 kilogram. They are particularly sweet and handle the cold very well but they are not as disease-resistant or heat-resistant as the other two so they’re better off for indoor situations or patio grew lemons that get full sun exposure. They produce fruit within one or two years and are self-pollinating.
We recommend keeping all lemon trees indoors over winter
We will mention that in the Uk, we recommend keeping all lemon trees indoors over winter and then placing them outdoors over summer.
Choosing the Right Container
The right container is essential to successfully grow any of these varieties. The pot you choose must have sufficient drainage or your lemon tree will be susceptible to root rot. A rule of thumb is to get a pot that is between 25% and 50% larger than the root ball of the lemon tree.
Ceramic pots are one of the best materials because they are highly durable and finely textured which means they allow for more effective drainage. The downside is of course if they are the heaviest option so it’s important that you find a final resting place for your lemon tree without any hope of moving it thereafter if you have a very big pot which usually means growing it indoors permanently. For most this will not be a problem as it takes many years for a Lemon tree to reach this size.
Terracotta & clay pots
Clay pots are similar option readily available in almost any garden centre you visit. The unglazed pots are slightly more durable than ceramic and they dry out faster. This will help to prevent root rot.
The lightest option is a plastic container. plastic containers are suitable for indoors or outdoors and they are the easiest to move back and forth because of how light they are. The downside is that they are less durable and they won’t drain as effectively but you can very easily drill extra holes into the bottom to help with drainage.
Wooden containers are also an option, middle of the road in terms of weight. They are less likely to crack and very slow to dry out. The most effective material against root rot is cedar or Redwood. If you pick a wooden container it should be one that you use outside.
Tip: Be careful not to make the pot too heavy. While this won’t impact the growth of the lemons, it will certainly make it harder for you to move it at any point in the future.
It’s also worth noting that if you buy a standard lemon tree like the one pictured below, they can become top-heavy and a heavier pot in this situation can be better.
Planting a lemon tree in a pot
Compost and mixing your own
Lemon trees can grow in just about any type of soil so long as there is good drainage. A sandy, loam-based soil is recommended but if you can’t find that, any type of potting mix that has a lot of vermiculite, perlite or horticultural grit mixed in that will do just fine.
More important is the pH level. You want to make sure the pH level remains between 5.5 and 6.5. You can get a garden soil test kits to intermittently test the pH levels and make adjustments as necessary. Our favourite compost mixture for citrus trees in general is John Innes Potting compost mixed with 25% horticultural grit. This ensure the soil retains moisture but is also free draining. You can also buy citrus compost ready mixed.
- This is a specialist blend that can be used by anybody who wants a strong and healthier plant that is provided with optimum water and nutrient availability.
- The added SERAMIS granules do a fantastic job at regulating the plants water intake to ensure optimum water and nutrient availability.
- This mix is loam rich to retain nutrients and for fruit development.
- This 8L bag will fill a 28cm Pot.
Food and Water
When growing in a container, be sure to water the tree about 2 to 3 times per week, or possibly more if it is outside in warm weather, remember the wind can also dry them out. You want the soil to always be moist and dark, but you don’t want to overwater. Like most plants, lemons don’t like being waterlogged, as it can lead to root rot.
With regard to food, don’t fertilise a new lemon tree in a container. During the first year of growth, in fact, you shouldn’t be fertilising at all. Thereafter you should only do it every other month during the Spring and Summer and then once per quarter in winter.
If you notice the tree looking healthy, lush, and producing fruit, don’t fertilise.
Recommended citrus feed
- Balanced nutrient solution for all citrus plants
- Ideal for all citrus trees (oranges, lemons, mandarins and tangerines) in containers, in the greenhouse or conservatory
- High levels of humic and fulvic acids designed to increase and maintain soil fertility
- Specially balanced formulation
- Simply add 10ml of Citrus Focus in every litre of clean water, weekly.
Keep the soil moist
Whichever of the hybrids you choose, rest assured that lemon trees are incredibly easy to care for. Some of the most important factors are how much you water. If you keep it indoors you should water about twice per week until the soil is moist. You want the soil to remain wet but if it feels dry to the touch that’s a telltale sign that you need to increase your waterings. If you’re keeping your tree outdoors you should water it every other day, more if it’s particularly warm.
Humidity matters. Lemon trees grow best when there’s 50% humidity. Now you certainly can’t control this but you can spray with a mister now and again or place the lemon tree on a saucer filled with pebbles and keep it topped up with water.
Position for 6 hours of sun a day
Equally critical is the sunlight your tree gets. Most need 6 hours of direct sunlight so if you have them outside make sure that they get exposure for at least half of the day. For this reason, placing them against your house or on a patio in an ideal location. The hotter it is, the more frequently your plant will need water but aside from this heat is not really a problem in this position. In the warmer months, too much sun can cause root burn. Root burn will manifest in the tree drying out or dying entirely. This is usually only a risk if your plant gets more than 12 hours of direct sunlight but its usually not a problem with pot-grown lemons.
Unfortunately, frost and freezing conditions are a significant problem. To that end, as the weather turns it is certainly best to move your lemon trees inside for the winter. If you have them indoors they still need 6 hours of sunlight so make sure that you have them near a window. If this isn’t possible and there’s no space in your home with direct access to at least six hours of sunlight, a LED grow light can help you get the job done.
Whatever you do, keep the plant away from incredibly cold weather. If the weather forecast shows that frost is pending, move the tree inside or if you must leave it outside, wrap it with horticultural fleece and wrap the pot in lagging. Similarly, you want to keep it away from strong wind. If you have an enclosed patio or some other protected area that can be its permanent home or temporary home, this will prove best. Ideally, you just want to move it indoors when the weather starts getting cooler at night.
Pruning and training
Pruning is important in terms of helping the yield. You shouldn’t have to prune excessively given the limited size of container-grown lemon trees. In most cases, you would prune if the plant is starting to develop early on and it’s far too leggy, or if you see water shoots coming out of the main branch.
They should be removed immediately. If you want to encourage a bushy or character as opposed to a taller central stem you can always cut off the top of the main stem which will force the plant to focus its energy on the lateral shoots. Incidentally, if you are training it around a trellis or up against any structure this lateral growth will prove most beneficial early on.
Realistically if you follow the recommended times for sunlight exposure and watering you shouldn’t have to prune often if at all. You will get an ample supply as long as you follow the advice for food and watering and sunlight. However, it is very useful in controlling the size or promoting additional fruit grows if you absolutely need it.
Pest & Diseases
Be careful to look out for diseases and pests. When growing lemons in pots, the simplest measures you can employ to protect against this include washing all tools before you trim anything on the plant and moving the container away from any other plant that is diseased. The most common pests are spider mites, scale insects, all of which are hard to see until they have taken over, so be on the lookout throughout the growing season.
On average you will need to repot the plant every three or four years. The best time to do this is in the spring. Again, the new container needs to be between 25% and 50% larger than the root ball. The night before you transplant, make sure to water the soil so that’s it moist. Depending on the size and the variety you might need someone to help you tip the pots downwards and pull the tree out sideways.
You can grab the tree by its trunk and rock it back and forth until it is free of the container and then place it in the new container, backfilling the surrounding area around the root ball. Right after transplantation, you can add fertilizer and water for a full minute to help it adjust to the shock of moving. Sometimes it can be easier to break the pot with a hammer, you can always use the broken crockery as drainage in the bottom of the new pot.
Remember, care is easy if you follow these simple steps. By following all of these steps you will be well on your way to cultivating a successful lemon tree with fresh fruit readily available throughout the growing season.
Image credits – Shutterstock.com
Last update on 2020-03-30 at 01:40 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API