Rough Lemon is one of the hardiest types. It can grow into quite a large tree. The lemons, which ripen in June, are medium-sized, with a thick rough peel.
The lemon tree has a number of attributes that qualify it for inclusion in the modern garden’s list of core plants. When it is laden with fruit it makes an eye-catching tree, especially in a smaller garden, and as it is evergreen, it can do duty as a shade tree all year round. It will grow and produce fruit quite willingly in a large pot, making it ideal even for very small gardens, and for sunny patios. Lemons have been known since the earliest times for their many useful qualities. They were eaten to prevent scurvy and the juice was used as a beauty product to lighten skin and hair. In royal gardens, lemon trees were grown in elegant, wheeled, wooden caskets. In warmer weather the palace gardeners would move the trees outside
for everyone to admire. When the cold weather turned, the trees would be returned to the conservatory. Of course, lemons are also used extensively in cooking and baking, and to make wonderfully refreshing lemonade. In fact, for most food lovers, and almost all good cooks, it is hard to imagine life without lemons.
When do the flowers and fruit appear?
The sweet-scented, waxy blossoms are an attribute the lemon tree shares with all the citrus family. In the case of some lemon varieties these delightful flowers appear practically all year round and it’s not uncommon to see both the blossoms and fruit on the same tree at the same time. However, springtime (especially October) is generally flowering season, and the fruit usually mature in the winter months.
Most suitable climate
Lemon trees prefer a warm, subtropical climate with a high rainfall, but once well-established they will flourish just as well in other climates, including the winter rainfall regions and other colder areas. Some types withstand cold winds and frost better than others, but you would be wise to protect all young trees against frost, or to plant them in pots placed in a sheltered area. Lemon trees will flourish in coastal regions as long as they are protected against salt-laden sea breezes.
What they need
Location: plant lemon trees in full sun about 4 m away from any other large trees and shrubs. Protect against strong winds. In colder gardens, plant the trees against a north-facing, sun-baked wall.
Soil: make the planting hole as large as possible (at least 1 x 1 m). Set aside the quality topsoil in one pile and the subsoil in another pile. Add a liberal quantity of good compost and a handful of bone meal to each pile and mix well. Fill the hole with the topsoil and plant the tree at exactly the same height as it was planted in the nursery bag – planting it too deep can cause root disease and root rot. The subsoil can be used to top up the hole and to build a dam around the tree to direct the water to the roots. Commercial potting soil mixed with a few spades of compost and a large handful of bone meal works well for lemons to be planted in pots (use reasonably big pots). Mulch the root zone with coarse compost or bark pieces and refresh the layer regularly.
Water: trees in the ground need a regular (at least twice a week) good watering during dry spells in the summer. Potted trees need to be watered more frequently during hot weather, possibly even daily. In her book Companion Planting (Briza Publications 2007) Margaret Roberts recommends that you place a long pipe in the corner of the planting hole, forming an irrigation tube. Water poured into the pipe goes directly to the roots, ensuring that the tree always gets a deep watering without any water going to waste.
Fertilizing: lemon trees are greedy plants and need to be fed four times a year with fertilizer rich in nitrogen and potassium. The nitrogen encourages better foliage while the potassium improves the quality of the flowers and fruit. Feed in September, January, April and July, using a slow-release 3:1:5 or 8:1:5 fertilizer, and following the instructions on the packaging. A liquid fertilizer with additional nutrients is also beneficial for leaves, especially saplings and potted lemons. Add a trace element mixture (specifically blended and available at most nurseries) to the fertilizer if the leaves start turning yellow. Fertilizer needs to be applied in the drip zone (away from the trunk). Water the trees before feeding and again after feeding.
Watch out for this
Fruit dropping off: if some of the small fruit start dropping off, the tree is probably shedding them deliberately because there are too many to ripen. Fruit can also fall off in heavy wind or during a drought.
Yellow leaves and poor growth: the most important requirement for growing lemon trees is well-drained soil, so remember that you can improve heavy clay soil by adding organic material and coarse river sand to the planting hole. Soaked roots and excessive watering can cause yellowing of leaves or they may even drop off. A lack of nitrogen or magnesium can also cause paler leaves; correct this by mixing trace elements or Epsom salts with water (use a watering can) and pouring it around the tree.
Deformed fruit and branches full of thorns: this could be an indication that the root stock is beginning to grow from beneath the point where the variety was grafted onto it. If this appears to be the case, remove these stems and branches immediately. Drought and poor drainage can also lead to irregular growth.
Pests: the best protection against pests that commonly attack lemon trees is companion planting. Plant nasturtiums, lavender and marigolds around your trees. Lavender and marigolds deter pests with their strong scents, while nasturtiums attract aphids away from the trees.
Spraying in winter: if scale and aphids become a problem, spray the trees with a canola-oil-based organic spray during the winter months. Aphids can also be sprayed off with a strong jet of water or, in the case of young trees, rubbed off with your fingers.
Control the ants: ants are attracted by the sweet secretion (honeydew) that aphids leave behind on the leaves and stems. If not controlled, the ants will spread the eggs of the aphids to new plants.
Citrus psylla: the adult psyllid, which looks like a winged aphid, lays its eggs on citrus leaves. When the young psyllid, in the form of wingless nymphs, emerge from the eggs they feed on the leaves, causing wart-like galls and leaf malformation. The damage is unsightly but unless the infestation is severe it is unlikely to place the tree in danger. Natural predators, which play a big role in controlling psyllid populations, are also susceptible to the formulations used to control citrus psylla so the most environmentally- friendly cure is to remove the affected leaves (or just
look the other way).
* When you pick lemons, leave a piece of the stem on each as this allows them to last longer. You can also leave the fruit on the tree and only pick when it’s needed.
* Fill tall glass cylinders with water and pop in some sunshine- yellow lemons for elegant table décor.
* Soak lemon (and other citrus) peels in a bucket of water for a few days and use the liquid to water young plants and cuttings. According to seasoned gardeners the pith contains a growth stimulant and rooting hormone.
* Rub lemon leaves on your windowsills to repel flies and mosquitoes.
* Throw citrus peels between the plants where the neighbourhood cats come to scratch – they will go off in search of less lemony-smelling places.
In a nutshell
* Evergreen and generous fruit bearers.
* Easy to cultivate.
* Medium water consumption.
* Ideal for pots and small gardens.