Lemons are the most versatile of fruits – both the juice and zest enliven drinks, marinades, dressings, puddings, cakes, biscuits and sorbets – yet gardeners find that lemons give them a pain.
Here Linda explains how to make lemons your favourite squeeze!
At least five hours of sun a day is required for maximum fruiting and a north-facing, warm and sunny position is best. We train our citrus flat against a west-facing fence. The trees don’t encroach into our limited space, provide an evergreen screen to hide the fence, bloom with perfumed flowers each spring and produce copious amounts of fruit in winter. Really, they make the perfect hedge!
Garden grown. Tart and juicy. Photo - photolibrary.com
Sunshine, quick-drained soil, airflow, infrequent deep watering and seasonal feeding are the keys for success. Choose a lemon grafted onto a rootstock suitable for your local environment and soil type. Trifoliata rootstock creates a dwarf tree, cold-tolerant and resistant to collar rot so is ideal for heavy soils and cool areas. Citrange rootstock makes a faster-growing, taller tree, intolerant of poor drainage, hence ideal for coastal areas. Flying Dragon is a dwarfing rootstock that limits the growth of the tree, (but not the fruit) ideal for pots.
In cold climates plant the tree once the soil warms up in spring, in warm areas trees can also be planted in autumn. Good soils improved with well-rotted cow manures, potash, blood and bone and a handful of garden lime every year will produce regular and reliable crops. Plant on a mound to help prevent drainage problems, collar rot and fungal diseases.
Lemons have hungry, shallow feeder roots that need protection with mulching (make sure mulch doesn’t touch the trunk) and feeding with citrus food and organic pellets throughout each season. Mature trees needs 2kg each of complete fertiliser or citrus food applied to the drip line every season- summer, autumn, spring and winter. Start young trees off with 200gms of food and build up.
When grown as a garden tree your lemon should be trained into four main branches. Open up the centre of the plant to increase airflow, and cut back vigorous shoots to a few buds after fruiting. Tip prune young shoots to create bushiness. Lemons can be grown in tubs, trained over arbours, or flat against fences.
Lemons take months to ripen on the tree. Eureka variety fruit throughout the eyar. Photo - photolibrary.com
Pests and Diseases
Yellowing leaves are a sign of iron deficiency, cold temperatures or lack of feeding. Feed with blood and bone, citrus food, iron chelates and sulphur, simultaneously, to combat this problem. Citrus leaf miner is a little insect that makes small tunnels in new leaves. Prevent this, and a range of other insects such as sooty mould, scale and mealy bug, by spraying fortnightly with Eco Oil from spring until autumn. Bronze orange bug starts life as a green nymph in spring. Control is easiest at this time, so keep a look out and use Eco oil or Confidor. Citrus gall wasp lays eggs inside the outer branches, causing a deformed branch lump. Treat by cutting the galls out of the tree.
LISBON produces thick-skinned fruit in winter to early spring on a thorny dense tree. Coastal gardeners might also get a small summer crop. More cold-tolerant than Eureka when grafted onto trifoliata rootstock.
EUREKA produces tangy, rough-skinned lemons on an almost thornless tree all through the year with the heaviest crop in winter. Available on flying dragon rootstock from Engall’s Nursery.
MEYER is the most frost hardy of all lemons. Fruit are smoother, rounder and milder in flavour than Eureka, and turn gold when fully ripe.
LOTS OF LEMONS is a dwarf tree growing to 1.5m, good for large tubs.
LEMONADE was discovered by Engall’s Nursery in the 1980s. It looks like a lemon, but is sweeter and can be eaten like an orange. The tree is an upright grower and the abundant fruit ripens mid-winter.
Smooth skinned Myer lemons are very juicy with a main fruiting season in winter. Photo - photolibrary.com
Tips and Tricks
To save space plant two varieties of lemons in the one hole. You can watch Mark Engall do it at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o0CNm8AjtfM&feature=player_embedded#
Check for collar rot each season, as early detection is the key to success. For more information go to www.gardenclinic.com and search ‘collar rot’.
Common causes of the sudden death of young tree include overwatering, frost or bad drainage; for older trees the usual suspect is collar rot.
Old trees need a renovation prune every five years: remove dead wood, rubbing branches and inward-facing branches, and reduce all other branches by half.