The right care for your lemon tree: tips & tricks

Last updated on October 23rd, 2023 at 08:16 pm

One of the most beautiful plants for the balcony and terrace is the lemon tree. Therefore, take good care of it and pay attention to its needs. If it feels comfortable, you will enjoy it for a long time and can enjoy the delicious smelling flowers and tasty fruits.

1 The suitable location

In this country, the lemon tree can only grow in a pot, as it would not survive our winters and frost outdoors. So all our tips on care refer to a lemon tree in a pot.

The right care for your lemon tree: tips & tricks

The lemon tree needs a sunny, warm and protected location, for example near a southern wall of the house. The more sun and warmth the lemon tree gets, the better. The right temperature is very important, both in summer and winter.

The lemon tree does not feel comfortable in a very windy and cool location. If it is too uncomfortable in the spring, it may not form flowers or drop flowers or fruit set. In summer, however, when temperatures are higher, a little wind is not so tragic, and rain protection is not necessary if the water can drain well from the pot.

 
Lemon tree: care indoors and as a houseplant?

Under good conditions, a lemon tree can also grow indoors in the apartment, but then needs that little extra care.

Especially important: the lemon tree needs a lot of light! Perfectly suited are winter gardens or locations in front of large south-facing windows. You have to keep in mind that window glass filters the light and thus the lemon tree does not get “pure sunlight”. Also, the humidity indoors is usually lower than outdoors. These factors mean that the plant generally doesn’t like it indoors quite as much as it does outdoors, and it becomes more susceptible to disease and pests. So you need to make sure you make its stay indoors as comfortable as possible.

By the way, the lemon tree can also develop fruit indoors. The flowers pollinate themselves, so no bees are needed to harvest delicious lemons.

2 Planting lemon tree correctly

The lemon tree must be planted in a sufficiently large pot – but it should not be too large either. As a rule of thumb, you can remember that a new pot for the lemon should always grow about 2 to 5 cm in diameter. This corresponds to only 1 to 2.5 cm around the root ball and may not sound like much at first, but it is perfectly adequate for the lemon tree.

Citrus trees have special requirements for the soil, which they like rather dry and sandy. You can either mix the soil yourself or use a special citrus soil from the trade. You can find out more about this in our knowledge text on lemon trees.

For perfect care, you should always repot the lemon tree immediately after purchase. This is because it is usually a little too small and also the nutrients from the soil are used up.

The pot for the lemon tree definitely needs drainage holes for excess watering and rainwater. It is also useful to create drainage on the bottom of the pot. This means filling a layer of coarse gravel or expanded clay balls into the pot before the soil goes in. Water can drain much faster this way and the risk of waterlogging is very low.

The right care for your lemon tree: tips & tricks

3 Proper lemon tree care around the year.


Care in summer: watering and fertilizing

How thirsty your lemon tree is depends on the season. In the summer, it needs regular watering, especially when temperatures are high and there is a lot of sun, because a lot of moisture evaporates through the leaves.

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Always water the lemon tree when the soil has already dried out, not only superficially, but also a few centimeters deep. As a rule of thumb, before the next watering, the top 4 – 5 cm of the soil should be dry. Since this cannot be seen at first glance, it is helpful to simply stick a finger into the soil and check.

It is ideal to simulate natural dry periods and heavy rain showers: Water the tree infrequently, but thoroughly. Let the water drain out of the pot and repeat the process. In this way, the water does not simply rush through the dry soil, but can also be stored by it.

By the way, it is no problem at all to water the lemon tree with tap water. It also tolerates calciferous water – you can find more information in this article.

The lemon tree doesn’t need as many nutrients as other plants, but unfortunately it can’t live on air and love (and some water) alone. When fertilizing the lemon tree, the motto is “as much as necessary, as little as possible”. It is practical to mix a slow-release fertilizer or well-rotted compost into the soil directly when planting or repotting. This way, the little tree is well supplied during the growing season in summer.

Mineral fertilizers, i.e. artificial fertilizers, are only recommended if your lemon tree suffers from an acute nutrient deficiency. They are usually administered in liquid form and act very quickly. But beware: the risk of overfertilization is great, be sure to follow the instructions on the packaging.

You can find even more information about watering and fertilizing the lemon here.

 
Lemon tree care: autumn as a transitional period

As the days get shorter and cooler, the lemon tree slowly stops growing and prepares to rest for the winter. You’ll probably notice that you need to water it less and less often.

If you have given the lemon tree a slow-release fertilizer, you do not need to pay attention to anything else now. If, on the other hand, you regularly use a liquid fertilizer, you should take another look at the package. In the fall, fertilizer applications are reduced or the intervals between them are increased until you can completely stop fertilizing from mid-September or early October, depending on the weather.

Although winter is slowly approaching, there may still be warm, sunny autumn days in October. If so, leave it outside longer rather than putting it into winter quarters unnecessarily early. Keep a close eye on the weather forecasts. As soon as it cools down to 5 degrees or less at night and doesn’t get very warm during the day either, you shouldn’t hesitate any longer.

 
Lemon tree care in winter

In winter, the lemon tree likes to take a rest. It then stops growing and gathers strength for the next summer. However, it only goes into this “hibernation” when it reaches a certain temperature. You should overwinter it at less than 15 degrees, ideal are temperatures between 3 and 12 degrees. The winter quarters must be very bright, otherwise there is a risk of leaf loss and pest infestation. The warmer the location in winter (so at about 12 – 15 degrees), the brighter it must be! The relationship between temperature and light, we explain again in this article in detail.

Ideal places for wintering are unheated winter gardens, slightly heated greenhouses, very bright and cool stairwells or hallways.

Drafts and dry heated air should be avoided at all costs. If the air is very dry, you can spray the plant with a little water from time to time or place a bowl of water for evaporation. Do not forget to water the tree regularly during the winter. As soon as the top 5-10 cm of the soil has dried out, you need to water it.

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If the conditions in the winter quarters are not right, it will stress and weaken the lemon tree. It then becomes susceptible to pest infestation. Especially mealybugs and scale insects, but also spider mites are often a problem. We show you here how to combat these pests.

By the way: The lemons only get their yellow color from a cold stimulus. If you overwinter your lemon tree in a cool place, you can soon look forward to yellow lemons.

4 Repot lemon tree regularly.

The lemon tree needs to be repotted, because after some time all the nutrients from the soil are used up. In addition, the tree grows yes, both above ground and in the root area. The roots will eventually need more space.

A young lemon tree should be moved to a slightly larger pot every year or so for the first five years. It depends on how fast your tree grows and how quickly the substrate is rooted. It may therefore be possible to wait two years before repotting.

With older trees, repotting is then sufficient about every three years, later the tree is repotted even less frequently. The best time for repotting is early spring, before the tree sprouts. From February to April you can get to work. The lemon tree can then directly access fresh nutrients when its growth phase begins.

5 Pruning lemon tree

In order for the lemon tree to grow healthy and produce lots of flowers and fruit, you’ll need to regularly reach for your scissors and prune it back a bit. There are a few things to keep in mind, but don’t worry: the lemon and its relatives are not fans of heavy pruning. So as far as pruning goes, you won’t have much work to do when caring for your lemon tree.

The lemon tree grows a little messy by nature. If you want to get an even, round crown, you’ll have to go slowly and never cut too much off. The lemon tree grows slowly and gaps in the crown will only grow out over time.

An important task is to cut off so-called water shoots or water buds. These are vertically growing branches that grow very quickly. They “shoot” upwards, so to speak. Unfortunately, they do not bear flowers and fruit and only cost the tree unnecessary energy. So, cut them with sharp pruning shears close to the branch on which they stand vertically.

Also, keep your eyes open for dead branches or branches that are too close together. The crown of the lemon tree should always be nice and airy, so that the leaves can dry off quickly after a rain shower and plenty of light gets inside. This will help prevent disease and pest infestation.

You can cut off dead branches and shoots throughout the year, this procedure is also called maintenance pruning. You can recognize dead branches by the fact that they look brown and woody. It is important to cut them back to where they are still green so the tree can close the cut.

To keep your tree’s crown in shape or to help young plants develop a beautiful crown, you can reach for your shears in late winter or early spring from February to March. Shorten branches that have become too long and slowly work your way up to a crown shape that you like.

6 Diseases and pests of the lemon tree

The lemon tree is very hardy in the face of disease, but pests can take a toll on it if nothing is done about them. Of course, the best thing to do is to prevent them from settling on the lemon tree in the first place. If you follow all of our tips for proper care, chances are very good that your lemon tree will grow so healthy and strong that it will be able to defend itself against pests.

But don’t worry if you do discover pests. If you know what pests they are and what to do about them, you’re sure to get rid of them quickly. The most common pests on lemon trees in winter quarters are mealybugs, scale insects and spider mites. They often appear when the air is dry and when it is too dark. Aphids are more likely to be found on your lemon tree outdoors in the summer.

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7 Lemon tree care: correctly interpret yellow leaves.

If your lemon tree gets yellow leaves, it can have several causes. In any case, you should understand yellow leaves as a warning sign: Your lemon tree is showing you that something is wrong with it.

A common cause of yellow leaves on lemon trees is waterlogging. This occurs when the water or rainwater cannot drain (well) from the pot and the soil remains permanently moist. This damages the roots, which as a result can no longer absorb nutrients. So the signs of waterlogging are often the same as for a lack of nutrients.

Always check the soil for waterlogging first if leaves turn yellow, but also if leaves are lost. If damage to the roots has already occurred, the only solution is to repot the plant in fresh, dry soil.

If there is no waterlogging, a nutrient deficiency can also occur if you have fertilized too little or if the lemon tree has not been repotted for a long time.

Does your lemon tree have yellow leaves in the lower part of the crown? If mainly older leaves are affected, while younger leaves in the upper part of the crown still remain green, this indicates a nitrogen deficiency. You can also recognize the deficiency by the fact that the leaf veins turn yellow first and only then the rest of the leaf. Another sign of nitrogen deficiency is when your lemon tree drops its fruit.

If the lemon tree lacks the nutrient iron, the yellowing occurs mainly on younger leaves. They first get yellow edges before the discoloration later affects the inside of the leaves. The leaf veins remain green. Incidentally, the reason for iron deficiency in most cases is not that fertilizer is not applied properly. Rather, iron is present but cannot be absorbed by the roots – either due to waterlogging or because the pH of the soil is not optimal. It should be between 5 and 7.5, i.e. in the slightly acidic range.

Often lemon trees get yellow leaves in winter. They are a sign that the tree does not like the climate in its location. Perhaps it is too dark or too warm – or in the worst case both.

If your lemon tree is already old and only some of the lower leaves turn yellow from time to time, you don’t have to worry, because it is just a sign of old age. By shedding the old foliage, the trees have more energy for the new shoots.

Author

  • James Jones

    Meet James Jones, a passionate gardening writer whose words bloom with the wisdom of an experienced horticulturist. With a deep-rooted love for all things green, James has dedicated his life to sharing the art and science of gardening with the world. James's words have found their way into countless publications, and his gardening insights have inspired a new generation of green thumbs. His commitment to sustainability and environmental stewardship shines through in every article he crafts.

    https://www.linkedin.com/in/james-jones-436784297/ gardeninguru@outlook.com Jones James
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