Lemons growing on a lemon tree in garden at Thailand

After a visit to Sorrento Italy in April of 2000, we were immediately smitten with all the wonderful lemon trees adorning the Italian coastline. All throughout Amalfi and Sorrento we saw gorgeous scenes of Sorrento lemon trees in terra cotta pots adorning house fronts, store fronts and cobblestone alley ways.

We knew right there and then we wanted something equally picturesque in our backyard. So, we planted a lemon tree in a container!

We really wanted to bring back a Sorrento lemon tree to the USA, but because we didn’t feel like smuggling anything into the country, we opted for the next best option possible – a Eureka lemon tree. This Eureka is studded with fruit and it’s extremely happy with its home in the urn shaped container. In winter, when the cool weather beckons the fruit to ripen, the lemon tree is an absolutely gorgeous scene to the garden.

This little lemon tree is our reminder of our trip to Italy and we’re happy to have it on our garden family.

Drying Out in the Pot: Growing this lemon tree has a few challenges because the heat of the Summer season can quickly dry out the pot. If the tree is older and root bound, they’ll definitely dry out quicker, especially in the rustic looking terra cotta pots.   They frequently will sweat out water which a glazed pot will retain. We’ve since transplanted it into the glazed pot seen in these photos and it is much happier. It takes consistent watering during hot weeks to make sure that the tree stays hydrated and happy. Unfortunately there were a few occasions when we forgot to water our little lemon and the fruits became soft and dehydrated. The glazed pot helps but it can’t amend for neglect.

Watering: To keep it consistently watered, we added a drip irrigation line to the pot. Now the lemon tree is in full fruiting cycle again because it’s getting the consistent water it needs to stay healthy. Another added step we’ve found to help keep in the hydration is to mulch the top of the pot.  We use about 2″ of leaves which were left over from trimming our hedges. If you don’t have a way to put an automatic drip on the pot, then you have to be consistent in hand watering. What ever you do, make sure the lemon gets consistent water.

A word of warning on pot selection: if you ever think you may transplant out of the pot you are choosing, do not get a pot which tapers in at the rim like the one our Eureka lemon tree is in. It will be very difficult to take the plant out without damaging its roots. Luckily this pot is large enough to be our Eureka’s permanent home.

Feeding: Make sure to feed your lemon tree with a good organic fertilizer. Think of all the baby lemons the tree need to nurture, so make sure to give your tree great food and nutrients. Citrus need nutrients and  since there is nowhere for the roots to go outside the pot, it is even more important in citrus planted in pots.

One key feeding tidbit we’ve found, citrus can’t absorb zinc and phosphate at the same time. We were getting yellowing in between the veins of the leaves, usually a sign of nutrient deficiency (commonly either zinc or manganese in our area). Most fertilizers didn’t seem to help until we found this knowledge from a university’s research. After checking labels and finding a fertilizer which didn’t have phosphate but did have zinc and manganese, the tree almost immediately starting looking better. They still do need some phosphorus (phosphorus is the element – phosphate is a salt containing phosphorus – you’ll see them both used in labeling), but we’ll make sure to vary the feedings at least 6 weeks apart.

Full Sun or Part-Full Sun?:  We found that placing the lemon in full Southern California sun all day long, especially in Summer, is too much. Our citrus we have planted in the ground can handle the full day sun, but it was too much for this potted lemon tree. The heat is intense and stresses it out. So we moved it to a section of the garden that gets sun for about 2/3 of the day, then remains in shade. This combination worked best because the tree still was able to get great morning and afternoon sun until 2pm, but was able to avoid the intense late afternoon sun.

!! Check with Your Local Nursery. Can you even grow citrus in your area?: The best advice we can give you is to consult with your local nursery. Every growing region is different and growing zones can change rapidly even within 10 miles of each other. So head to your local nursery and check to see what variety of lemon tree grows well and ask for their advice on how you can best grow it for your area.


Gardening: Oranges and lemons

Zahrah Nasir on how best to care for fruits and vegetables

Q: My efforts at gardening were limited to seasonal flowers for 15 years but five years back I began growing citrus in pots — California limes, grapefruit, oranges and kinoo. The limes have been doing well and fruiting for four years. Last December the other trees fruited for the first time. All trees were fed with well-rotted natural fertiliser in December but this spring only one of the grapefruit and one orange tree is fruiting. The limes are fruiting but some of the trees have half-yellow leaves. The leaves of the other trees are okay but no fruit. We are a society of 11 senior citizens and are all having the same problem. What should we do?

A: It is highly possible that there are two distinct problems: 1. You may have overfed the trees in which case they will produce lots of new, healthy growth but forget to fruit. Nothing can be done about this now and they will recover in time but please go easy on feeding them in future.

The yellowed leaves indicate mineral/trace element deficiencies which can be remedied by burying a handful of iron, not stainless steel, nails in the soil close to the tree trunks, plus, dissolve a soupspoon full of Epsom salts in a litre of water and feed this same mixture to each tree. The combination of iron nails and Epsom salts will, in time, rectify the matter.
Q: I have a lemon tree in a pot which has been growing well, producing new leaves and flowers. Two months back it produced a lot of flowers but none of them changed into lemons, they all fell off. The same happened a month ago when it again produced flowers but no lemons. I am puzzled.

A: It sounds like your watering regimen may be at fault. Allowing the soil to dry out in between watering and then giving a copious amount of water will cause the blossom to drop without setting fruit. The same applies if you are over-watering all the time. Water little and often and do not allow the soil to completely dry out at any time. Spreading a mulch of organic matter around, but not touching the trunk, will help conserve soil moisture and reduce the need to water.

Q: I am new to gardening and recently began growing things in pots and in the ground in my Karachi home. Recently I found white pests gathering underneath the leaves of some plants and I don’t know how to treat them. Can I use normal insect killer or is this dangerous for the plants? Also, there are signs of fungus under some other leaves. I reduced watering but the leaves have started drying up. What should I do?

A: Do not use insect killer of any kind please. The easiest way is to spray underneath the leaves with warm, soapy water and then wipe off the pests with a soft sponge. Repeat as necessary, each evening, until no signs of infestation remain. The fungus you mention is probably aphids and can be dealt with in the same way. Reducing the water will simply, as you have noticed, kill your plants.

Q: I want to know how to keep my freshly planted Dieffenbachia healthy during summer in Rawalpindi. I have put the pots in my porch so they do not get direct sun. They do get angled sun after 4pm though. Should I water them daily?

A: The location is fine but daily watering should not be needed. Three times a week in the summer should be adequate. Please handle these plants with care as the white sap they contain is poisonous.

Q: We have a few papaya trees in our Karachi garden. They are a seedless, Thai variety and the flesh of the fruit is very dark orange in colour. Recently the shape of the fruit has changed from the outside and the inside is different too: this happened after we gave them normal fertiliser. How can we protect our trees and what kind of fertiliser to use?

A: The type of fertiliser used will not have any effect on the shape or inside of the fruit. If there are other papaya trees growing in the vicinity they could have cross-pollinated with your own and the altered fruit is the result. Unless you resort to the tedious task of hand pollinating the flowers at the perfect time, there isn’t really anything to be done about this — just enjoy whatever fruit you get. Papayas need very little in the way of fertiliser but a decent feed of organic compost every six months may be beneficial.

Q: I grew some tomato plants in pots. I took the seeds from an ordinary tomato. The plants were doing well and I picked some tomatoes but now the leaves are turning yellow and the stems going brown. They are all in the same pot but I had no problem before. How can I save them?

A: Tomato plants have a limited lifespan and may have reached the end of their growing season but, growing them all in one pot was a mistake. One tomato plant per 10-inch pot is recommended. By overcrowding them they will be weak as they have had to compete for light, space, nutrients and water. I suggest that you start off your next crop as soon as possible and follow the one plant per pot routine for healthy, productive plants.


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