Taking Care of Lemon Trees and Other Citrus Trees

Lemon tree leaf showing soil deficiencyListen to any radio gardening talk-back program particularly in the U.S. and Australia, at any time of the year, and you will undoubtedly hear a question about a lemon tree, orange tree, lime tree, mandarin tree, grapefruit tree or any other variety of citrus tree. Citrus trees, especially lemon trees, have become a national obsession in Australia and the U.S.  information on how to successfully grow and care for them is always welcome.

Taking care of citrus trees involves staking, mulching, fertilising, watering, pruning and identifying and fixing pest and disease problems as follows:

In windy exposed sites, some staking will be needed to stop your citrus tree moving excessively. Insert two stakes, one each side about 8 inches (20 cm) from the trunk. Place a flat band of material (or old hosiery) around the stake and stakes in a figure 8. This will allow some flexibility while the tree root system establishes during the first 2 to 3 years.

Mulching the soil can add nutrients, deter weeds, conserve moisture, help to spread and retain water and protect the roots of your lemon tree.
Mulch from a couple inches beyond the canopy to a few inches from the trunk. Do not mulch right up to the trunk—give it a little room to breathe! Cover the area under the canopy with 3 to 4 inches (8 to 10 cm) of mulch. Under normal circumstances you should need to re-mulch every six months, but if your washes or blows away in stormy weather, go ahead and re-mulch right away. Do not use pine bark nuggets as they can attract ants, and do not use any inorganic material for mulch.

Citrus trees need high-quality compost plus a number of trace elements to meet their specific nutritional needs. Citrus trees in containers are susceptible to malnutrition even when planted in good compost, as every time you water some of the nutrients leak out, and they can only be replaced by you. You can recognise plants with poor nutrition by stunted growth, yellow leaves, and low or no fruit production. Happily, nutritional deficiencies can be easily addressed with soil amendments.

Careful watering is of the utmost importance when it comes to lemon trees. Citrus trees need lots of water. They need a minimum of 3 to 4 cm (1 – 1.5 inches) per week from spring until fall/autumn. The way to see whether you’re watering correctly is simply to use a cup, turn on a sprinkler and see how long it takes to get 3 to 4 cm of water in the cup.

Lemon trees and other citrus trees don’t need as much pruning as other fruit trees do. While your trees are first getting established, limit pruning to just removing crossing or damaged branches. Because citrus fruits are so heavy, you’ll need to encourage strong branches that can hold them. In the spring, the main branches can be cut back to an outward-facing bud if you wish.

Pests and Diseases
One of the difficulties of growing citrus trees is that there are many insect or animal pests, various diseases affecting the plant, stem, leaves or fruit, and disorders such as split fruit skins and nutritional deficiencies shown when a mineral deficiency is present in the soil.

You will find full details about caring for your lemon trees, orange trees, lime trees, grapefruit trees, mandarin trees and other citrus trees and great advice and photos on recognising and correcting nutrient deficiencies in Grow Citrus: The Insiders Secrets to Growing Great Citrus

All about lemon, lime, orange & mandarin trees

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Growing Citrus in Containers or Pots

Kumquat Tree in terracotta potCitrus trees grow well in terracotta pots or containers. Terracotta is porous, which allows roots to breathe. It also reduces the risk of the citrus tree becoming waterlogged. Terracotta can help you gauge the amount of moisture in the pot—tap a wet pot, then a dry pot, and listed to the difference in sounds that they make. You may also notice a darker color to the terracotta of the wet pot. These are your clues as to whether your plant needs watering or not.

Always choose a pot without an inside lip—you never know when you might need to re-pot, and inner lips make it that much harder to get your root ball out in one piece. Container-planted citrus trees can be vulnerable to damage in high winds, especially if they have a lot of foliage.

If your tree is knocked down, terracotta pots tend to crack. To minimize the possibility of this happening, fill the pot most of the way with soil and compost, then top-dress it with a generous inch of horticultural grit. This grit will do double-duty for you: first, it will prevent weed growth in the pot; second, it will weigh it down considerably and help prevent blow-overs. (Of course, this will also make it more difficult to move—although you have the option of removing the grit, moving the pot, then replacing it.

Regardless of the type of pot you use for your citrus tree, make sure it has a large, central drainage hole in the bottom. To improve drainage in your pots, arrange small, broken pieces of terra cotta in the bottom before filling with soil and compost.

One of the most common mistakes people make when potting citrus trees is over potting. Using too-large a pot won’t make your tree grow faster! It will just cause additional, unnecessary work for you.
Large containers used for trees should be at least 30 inches (75 cm) high and 40 inches (100 cm) across. Larger is better, but they should not be so tall that they become unstable in wind. It is also good practice to move permanent container plants of borderline hardiness into sheltered spaces in winter, and move very tender specimens indoors.

You will find full details about how to grow citrus trees in containers and pots in Grow Citrus: The Insiders Secrets to Growing Great Citrus

All about lemon, lime, orange & mandarin trees

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