Top 10 Plant Q&A

Top 10 Questions About Lemon Trees

By Amy Grant | June 4, 2017
Image by IvanMikhaylov

Top 10 Questions About Lemon Trees

by Amy Grant June 4, 2017

Top 10 Questions About Lemon Trees

By Amy Grant | June 4, 2017

Need to know how to grow a lemon tree? What about how to treat common issues that pop up along the way? Then you’ve come to the right place. Gardening Know How strives to help avoid these issues, or at the very least amend them, by providing the best information possible…whether it pertains to growing lemon trees or other plants in the garden. And to that end, here are the top 10 questions about lemons and answers for successful cultivation of these commonly planted fruit trees.


1) How to fertilize a lemon tree?

Fertilize young lemon trees once every 1-2 months during their active growing phase and once every 1-3 months during the fall and winter when the tree is dormant. Older trees do not need to be fertilized when they are dormant, but fertilizing lemon trees should be increased during active growth to once every 2-3 months. Select a fertilizer that is high in nitrogen or a balanced NPK fertilizer, optimally one that is specifically made for citrus. If the tree is having issues with flowering, try giving it some phosphorus rich fertilizer, like bone meal. When lacking phosphorus, it will not be able to produce blossoms (which means no fruit.). Fertilize either by foliar spray or spread it out in a ring around the base of the tree. Be sure not to place the fertilizer too close the trunk of the tree.


2) How to prune a lemon tree?

Unlike other fruiting trees, lemon trees don’t need to be pruned on a regular basis. They should have sprouts removed as well as dead or weak limbs or crossing branches. Bigger trees may also benefit from pruning to allow for better light penetration. Prune lemon trees after the fall harvest using sharp shears or a saw, and wear heavy gloves to protect from the thorns. Always make your cuts with the blade towards the tree to avoid damaging the bark. For large branches, use a three-cut system. Start with an angled cut 10-12 inches from the branch union then cut 1/3 through the branch from the other side. Finish by severing the branch a few inches up the length.


3) How to water lemon trees?

Watering citrus trees, like lemon, can be somewhat tricky, as too little or too much water have the same results – possible death. Water container grown lemon trees much as you would a houseplant. Water deeply at intervals and allow the soil to dry between watering. Be wary of giving too much water since citrus don’t do well with wet roots. Be sure the container has adequate drainage holes and place the plant atop a pebble filled saucer. Also important is relative humidity. Run a humidifier during the winter months when the air is cold and dry. Water lemon trees in the ground either manually or via rainfall once a week.


4) Why is lemon tree dropping leaves?

It’s an interesting thing about lemon trees; they hold onto their leaves when the tree is dry and then lose them when they get watered again. It’s important to be consistent with watering citrus in general. Because these trees do not like “wet feet” (roots), overwatering may also cause the tree to lose leaves. Additionally, a lack of fertilization may result in a lemon tree dropping leaves. All three of these cause stress to the tree, and dropping leaves is its reaction to that stress.


5)  Why are leaves turning yellow on lemon tree?

Yellow leaves on lemon trees may be a lack of water. When lemons are water stressed, they hold onto their leaves (until watered again), but the leaves may turn yellow as a last plea for irrigation. Water in-ground lemon trees once a week depending upon rainfall and those in containers as you would a houseplant, when the soil has dried or is lightly damp. Also, add a few inches of mulch to help the soil retain moisture. Other reasons for yellowing leaves may include insect pests or disease.


6) Why does my lemon tree have thorns?

Aromatic, beautiful and with such mouth-watering fruit, it comes as something of a shock to see a lemon tree armed with thorns. Nature has provided the tree with theses spikes for the same reason that animals like porcupines sport quills – protection from predators. Thorns on citrus plants are most often found on tender, young trees and less so on mature trees. Because thorns can be, well a thorn in the side of a harvester, thornless hybrids have been developed and are readily available to gardeners.


7) What causes fruit drop on lemon trees?

Well, one reason a lemon might drop fruit is if it has set more fruit than it can support. This is normal and doesn’t affect the end production. In facts, this is simply nature’s way of thinning itself. If fruit drop on lemon trees is excessive, however, it’s probably due to an environmental factor such as too much or too little water, improper fertilization, excessive pruning, disease or insect predation.


8) Why doesn’t my lemon tree bloom?

If a lime or lemon tree has never bloomed, it might be poor rootstock; otherwise, the culprit is likely either a watering or fertilizing issue. Lemons need consistent irrigation, too much or too little messes with them. They also need a fertilizer for citrus trees that is high in potash and low in nitrogen. Excess nitrogen will give you gorgeous foliage but won’t spur the tree to produce blooms, hence fruit. The addition of phosphorous will also encourage blooming. Also, lemon trees don’t need much pruning, just the removal of spurs and dead or problem branches. Fruit sets on the ends of the branches, so any pruning should be judicious. It’s possible that an overly exuberant pruning is the culprit.


9) How to care for potted lemon trees?

Growing citrus in a container is great for those of us who don’t live in warmer climates. A dwarf variety of lemon is a good candidate for container growing. Be sure that the container has adequate drainage and, because you want to be able to move it around easily, is on wheels. Lemon trees need consistent watering so put it on a schedule and be consistent. Container grown lemons also need to be fertilized regularly. A low nitrogen, slow release fertilizer is a great way to feed the tree, allowing it to absorb needed nutrients over a period of time. Humidity is important to your lemon tree so mist it daily or place it over a pebble tray. Prune out any sucker branches or dead or diseased limbs. Move the tree inside as temperatures begin to drop.


10) How to care for lemon trees in winter?

Lemon trees do best when temps are in the 70’s during the day and down to about 55 F. () at night. When temperatures fall below this, the tree goes dormant and can be killed when temperatures plummet. So, if you live in a cooler region, it’s best to grow a lemon in a container. Be sure the container has wheels so the tree can be easily moved indoors in the winter. Provide the pot with a pebble tray or run a humidifier in the winter to add some humidity into the air. Cut back on fertilization during winter months. Supplement light with fluorescent grow lights. When temperatures warm up, wheel the lemon back outside so it can be pollinated by bees and other insects. Alternatively, you may be able to find a cold hardy citrus variety, depending on your location.


We all have questions now and then, whether long-time gardeners or those just starting out. So if you have a gardening question, get a gardening answer. We’re always here to help.

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    Tim Timanus
    Comment added August 27, 2019Reply

    Hi, I've just planted a Meyer lemon, about 1m tall, outside. There are a number of small flowers on the plant already. As this is it's first? season, it has been suggested that I remove these flowers so that it produces better next season. Is this correct?
    Thankyou, Tim

    Baljit sidhu
    Comment added July 13, 2019Reply

    Dear Sir, I have about 10 years old lemon tree . It bloomed well but now the size of the lemon is very small as compared to previous years. Very small lemons get pale in colour & fall down.

    Kristen Morgan
    Comment added October 12, 2019Reply

    Same here! Very small compared to last year & seems to be slower too

    Comment added July 7, 2019Reply

    something is eating my lemon tree leaves, how do I fix it?

    Comment added August 11, 2019Reply

    It really depends on what type of critter is eating it. If it's worms that look like bird droppings, those are giant swallowtail butterfly caterpillars. Search Google for pest identification in your area should help narrow it down

    Susan Callahan
    Comment added June 2, 2019Reply

    My Meyer lemon tree is in a container. I am on Long Island so I need to bring it inside during the wimter months. I have had 5 or 6 lemons that are just a bit smaller than a baseball since the winter and they are still green. Is this normal? I would like to include a picture but dont know how.

    Comment added August 11, 2019Reply

    Last year my Meyer lemons took between 6 and 9 months to start turning yellow. It was an exercise in patience, but I was rewarded.

    Comment added May 8, 2019Reply

    My lemon tree is about 5 years old, and produced many lemons the first year after I purchased it. The following year, only a few lemons, and last year none. I know last year was the result of the fires, ash, and smoke in Northern CA. I fertilize about every two months. It is in a container, and I re-potted to larger container this past spring. I had tons of blossoms, but they have now dropped, but there doesn't seem to be any lemons forming. Just the stem from the flower. What's up? Help, I'm disappointed.

    Ray Namce
    Comment added May 7, 2019Reply

    I have a potted lemon tree that has been passed around the family for more than a decade, so I have no idea what kind it is. Until this year, it has produced what would consider normal, albeit smallish lemons. This year the fruit is growing to about a half inch in length and turning yellow. Any ideas as to what is wrong?

    Anna Marchesani
    Comment added April 5, 2019Reply

    Thank you for the wonderful tips. I noticed yellow spots on leafs and looks like the leaf is turning yellow.
    I’m growing it indoor and I can water it from bottom don’t know if it’s ok I also noticed mildew when watered from the top!
    l hope you can advise me on what’s
    Best method.
    Thank you!

    Comment added September 19, 2019Reply

    Why do my container lemons get soft before they are ripe

    Sheila Broun
    Comment added March 23, 2019Reply

    Hi - I recently bought a lemon tree and have lost a lot of leaves - but also the thorns have gone half brown - advice please. I bought it in early January and have watered it once a week adding some drops of lemon fertiliser in the water as advised by the garden centre. There are lots of flowers but it is inside so I wonder if I will get any lemons.

    Mary RN
    Comment added January 9, 2019Reply

    I can’t see the responses to the questions. Help?!

    Ron hawk
    Comment added January 6, 2019Reply

    in paragraph 1 you suggest high in nitrogen yet paragraph 8 says high in potash and low in nitrogen

    Comment added October 28, 2018Reply

    My potted Myers lemon tree produced about 15 small lemons that did not fully grow and stayed green. I have moved the tree in doors for the winter now. Should I prune these lemons now?

    Comment added November 5, 2018Reply

    No, I lived in Michigan until recently and have harvested lemons from my Myers in March. In fact they were the highest quality lemons I've ever seen. Blemish free and delicious. I put them next to a sliding door with a southern exposure. The tree will abort any fruit it can't support.

    Comment added September 16, 2018Reply

    Is it safe to grow my lime and lemon tree near pine trees? If so, how far away should I plant them?

    Scott Conti
    Comment added September 5, 2018Reply

    I grew a lemon tree from a seed 5 years ago. It is in large pot, keep it outside in the summer I live in Ohio. I know Ohio sucks. Well anyway the tree is huge 8ft tall,hundred leaves. No flowers. Help!

    Comment added June 26, 2019Reply

    hi! Im from philippines and i have a 2 yr. Old lemon tree on my front yard. And this is my first time i'll be harvesting the fruits in 2yrs.May i ask if the fruit turns yellow should i harvest them immediately or should i wait until it became soft? If only i could send the picture for you to look at..and another thing, there are some small holes on it.

    Comment added July 19, 2018Reply

    Do lemon trees need full sun

    rony skaria
    Comment added February 8, 2019Reply

    Absolutely! That is the most crucial element after watering because citrus trees are tropical plants. If you don't have at least 6 hours of direct sunlight a day I definitely would recommend that you use a grow light!

    We have a detailed chart listing out light requirements below!

    Mina mcGuigan
    Comment added June 8, 2018Reply

    We've had a lemon tree in the conservatory for a good number of years and it is in fruit. While we were away for a few days our waterer failed completely to water it. Most of the leaves are dry and ready to drop and some lemons have been compromised.
    Is there anything we can do to resuscitate it?

    Nancy Urbano
    Comment added January 24, 2019Reply

    Can I use miracle grow spikes for citrus on my indoor potted meyer lemon tree. I am afraid they k

    Jessica Saul
    Comment added May 28, 2018Reply

    I grew a lemon tree from a pit about four years ago. It's potted, gets humidity, water, drainage and sits in the center of 5 windows so sun all day. I'm in NJ, it's going back outside tomorrow. The leaves smell heavenly. Never have had a flower or fruit. I do feed it which has it at 7'. Any suggestions? Oh and huge thorns.

    Judy Wallace
    Comment added May 12, 2018Reply

    I have 2 huge lemon trees that produce loads of lemons but have a really bad taste!!! Is there something that I need to fertilize them with that would help the flavor. I also have a Navel Orange tree that produces loads of fruit but also has a terrible taste.

    Paul Palmer
    Comment added December 16, 2018Reply

    Just a guess in case you're out of ideas. I would look for a metal that is contaminating the soil. Could it be copper? (easy to test for - put some soil in ammmonia and a bright blue color is a giveaway). Or have a lab do a metals test. Depending on the history of your soil usage, lead is a possibility. Or mercury. These are poisons, so you want to know.

    Mary Bothos
    Comment added May 11, 2018Reply

    I have a lemon tree in the pot. It has grown about a foot and a half. No lemons yet. How much should I prune?

    donna kergis
    Comment added April 14, 2018Reply

    hi my lemon tree,,,,bush ,,,is around 10 years old, the bottom foot, maybe 18 inches up,,has a bark on it,then it sprouts out like a rose bush,,5-7 foot long branches, but the branches are green, have no bark and are long and thin, just like a rose bush, it has never flowered, but it looks very healthy. lots of 2-3 inch thorns.should i cut it back to the bottom bark part?
    thank you ,,,,,,truly donna marie

    Charles Browne
    Comment added May 5, 2018Reply

    looks like lack of phosporous

    Mary Champ
    Comment added March 24, 2018Reply

    I have brown blotches on the leaves back and front of my potted lemon tree, lots of fruit, which are unblemished at present, the leaf margins are lime yellow on new and established leaves.It was perfect when I brought it home . I water it with Adelaide tap water, and feed it with citrus food as per instructions.

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