A lemon tree is one of the easiest and most versatile fruit trees you can grow in your backyard.
Not only will it add to your space visually with its glossy green foliage and fragrant blooms, lemon tress can also be planted in small or large outdoor spaces. If you nurture your lemon tree, it will be incredibly productive supplying you with an ample supply of delicious, zesty fruit.
Here are our tips on how to grow a lemon tree that thrives.
Choose your stock wisely
There are many varieties of lemon trees that will survive in most climates around Australia, except in those areas with severe frost. The most popular tend to be Meyer, Eureka and Lisbon.
Whatever variety you choose, it’s important to select one with good rootstock. Rather than growing your lemon tree from seed, select a grafted variety. These will produce a crop much earlier and tend to offer more reliable results. If you’re limited on space or want to plant the tree in a pot, select a ‘dwarf’ variety grafted on dwarf rootstock.
Look for the right position
Citrus trees love the sun and need maximum exposure to grow fruit. Look for a spot that gets at least 6 hours of direct sun per day. If you’re located in a cooler climate, growing the lemon tree against a wall can be a solution or transporting the pots indoors at times of frost.
Whether you choose to espalier, plant in a container or directly into the garden bed, ensure there is ample room for the trees to spread. This is typically up to 2 metres depending on the variety.
Avoid planting your tree in an area of your garden that’s exposed to strong winds. This can cause the plant to stress and disrupt the growth of the fruit.
Improve your soil quality
Lemon trees require well-drained, sandy soil of a pH between 6-7.5 to thrive. Poorly drained soil can cause damaging root disease and inhibit growth.
If you have heavy soil you can improve it by mixing in a quality compost and gypsum. If your soil is acidic, add lime to achieve the preferred pH. Mounding the soil can help to improve the drainage and reduce the risk of root and fungal infection.
For more tips on improving your soil quality click here.
If you’re planting a young citrus tree, wait until the severe frost has passed and the soil has warmed up. Spring is ideal. More advanced stock can be planted in spring, summer, and autumn. Avoid planting at the end of summer because the root growth of the tree will stop due to the cooling temperatures.
Whether you are planting your lemon tree in a pot or into the ground, soak the tree well by sticking it a bucket of water before you plant.
Then, lightly tease the roots and place it into a hole about twice the width of the container. Gently backfill around the tree with soil but avoid piling it on so as not to damage the root system.
Water the tree thoroughly and mulch around the tree to conserve the moisture and protect the roots. Keep the mulch away from the trunk to protect the stem from rot. Avoid planting ground cover around the base as lemon trees don’t like competition.
Feed your lemon with quality well-balanced citrus fertiliser monthly throughout each season, adjusting the quality to suit the maturity of the tree. You can use an organic composted chicken manure or liquid seaweed to boost the activity of the soil.
Look for signs when watering
Your lemon tree will tell you when it needs more water. If the leaves are glossy, firm and cool to touch, then your plant is well watered. If you’re noticing a change in the leaves or the fruit is suddenly dropping, water it!
Depending on the weather, a good guide is to water the tree deeply once a week in its first year. Once established, you can back this off to once every two to three weeks.
Shape, don’t prune
Lemon trees typically don’t need much pruning, but shaping the tree will encourage more growth. Use shears to shape the top of your tree to the preferred size. It’s best to limit your tree growth to two metres otherwise your lemon yield may slow.
Most grafted lemon varieties will start to produce a crop in their second or third year. You’ll be able to tell when the fruit is ready to harvest as it will have developed the full colour and flavour. Don’t leave the fruit on the tree for too long as it will deteriorate. Gently remove the fruit so as not to damage the tree and enjoy the fruits of your labour!