The humble lemon is the one fruit we could not live without. We use it for everything – from a detoxing hot water and lemon juice first thing in the morning, to cleaning naturally and cooking with the juice, rind and zest, it truly is multi-use. With the price of lemons fluctuating widely (we saw some for $3 each the other day!) we prefer to grow our own to ensure we have a regular, organic supply.
We also love the look of lemon trees in the garden, there is something about the bright yellow fruit and delicious citrus-y smell that transports us away to warmer weather and exotic locations.
While lemons traditionally grow better in warmer climates there are some varieties such as Meyer and Lisbon that are frost and drought tolerant and will grow in harsher climates. The Eureka variety is best grown in milder environments. Here are a few of our tips and tricks for growing the perfect lemon at home.
1. Location, location, location – lemon trees need a sheltered, sunny location away from harsh winds. They thrive in full sun, making a sunny courtyard an ideal spot for them. If you life in a cold climate and have a brick wall in your garden, place the lemon tree close to it to protect it from weather and take advantage of the radiating heat.
2. Plant at the right time – if you are planting a new lemon tree wait until spring once the last frost or harsh weather has passed. We like to plant our lemon trees in large pots which can be moved around the garden depending on the time of year (try putting them on wheels to make it easier to move) and in very harsh winter spells we will move them into a glass enclosed patio area to protect from the worst of the frost and take advantage of the captured sunlight.
3. Water and nutrition – lemon trees don’t like to be over watered, so minimise watering to every 6 to 8 days in summer. As the trees will be producing an abundance of fruit they will need feeding with a good citrus food at least twice a year, preferably at the end of summer and again after winter.
4. Pruning and harvest – lemon trees need to be pruned to keep them in peak fruit-bearing condition. Remove weak or damaged branches after harvest to keep the core strong and prune any low hanging branches that restrict air flow to the tree. Lemons are ready to be picked once they have turned yellow and are about 3 inches in size, the longer you leave them on the tree the sweeter they will become. To pick, twist, tilt and snap the fruit – ripe lemons will come away from the stem easily.
If you are in a colder climate the trees will usually produce blossom in spring and take up to nine months for the fruit to fully mature to be ready to pick, in warmer areas the trees can flower and fruit all year round.
5. To pee or not to pee? Peeing on a lemon tree is a common practice and also a hotly debated argument, and while there is no doubt that the nitrogen in urine can benefit the soil, we still struggle with thinking our lovely fresh lemons have been fueled by pee! This is probably an individual choice but we would love to hear your thoughts on the subject. Note that dog pee can burn the plant so we would suggest not letting your fury friends pee on your lemon tree with any regularity.
6. Companion planting – Marigold makes a great companion plant next to a lemon tree as it helps to keep away pesky insects that are attracted to the fruit both above ground and hidden in the soil. We also love to plant other sun-loving herbs such as rosemary and thyme that can be used in cooking alongside lemon.
Once you have grown the perfect lemon, you can sit back and enjoy the delicious fruits of your labour. One of our all-time favourite recipes that showcases this juicy fruit is our Italian Olive Oil and Lemon Cake with Flowering Rosemary, it is a total crowd pleaser and never fails to remind us of travelling through Italy and living La Dolce Vita.