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Growing Lemons: Citrus limon

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A member of the Citrus family, lemons, according to genetic analysis, are complex hybrids arising from mandarin and citron ancestors, refined by thousands of years of cultivation. Citrus limon, the true lemon, is widely grown commercially.


Form: Shrub or small tree.
Lifespan: 50-100 years.
Leaf retention: Evergreen.
Growth rate: Moderate.
Mature Size: 10-20' high and 7-15' wide.
Flowers: White on top, five petals, fragrant.
Bloom: In mild winter regions, possibly all year.
Self-fruitful: All lemon cultivars self-pollinate.
Years before fruiting: 3. Discard any small fruits started in the first three years so plant can put more energy into growth.
Fruit: Depends on cultivar. Oval, some cultivars with pointed ends. Green skin turning to yellow, acidic yellow flesh. Seedless or with seeds. Aromatic rind. Entire fruit edible except seeds.
Months for fruit to ripen: 6-9. Ripe when skin is entirely yellow. Will not ripen further after being picked, so do not pick early. Do not allow fruit to remain on tree more than two weeks when ripe, or fruit will become dry and tasteless.
Storage after harvest: Lemons last about a week at room temperature and four weeks sealed in a plastic bag in the refrigerator.
Leaves: Glossy dark green, broadly lance-shaped.
Stems: Twigs may have sharp thorns.
Roots: Usually grafted onto a hardier rootstock.
Cultivars of Note:
'Eureka' blooms fall and spring and bears year-round, has few seeds, slightly less cold-hardy and less thorny, less resistant to insect infestation and neglect, shorter lived than 'Lisbon'.
'Pink Variegated Eureka' has green and yellow striped fruit ripening to all yellow, pink flesh, blooms and fruits nearly year-round, has few seeds, variegated leaves, less vigorous than typical 'Eureka'.
'Lisbon' thorny, blooms in spring, bears most of year, oblong fruit with prominent nipple, vigorous and productive, widely grown commercially.
'Improved Meyer' is a cross between the true lemon and either mandarin or orange, withstands a wider range of heat and cold, has a different taste – sweeter and less acidic, thin rind has little lemon oil flavor, making grated rind useless in recipes, bears year-round, many seeds.
Wildlife: Attracts bees.
Toxic / Danger: Not to humans. Toxic to pets.
Origin: Southeast Asia.

Cultivation and Uses

USDA hardiness zones: 9b-11. Flowers and young fruit damaged at 29°F, nearly mature fruit damaged below 28°F, defoliates at 22-24°F, wood damage at 20°F. Needs protection from wind.
Chill hours: None.
Heat tolerant: Yes.
Sun: Full sun.
Drought tolerant: Depends on rootstock. Drought will damage crop.
Water after becoming established: Deeply, monthly in winter to weekly in summer, from the trunk to just beyond the canopy. Lemon trees require 20% more water than orange trees of the same size. Young trees need watering more often than older trees even though older trees consume more water. A sign of insufficient water is leaves turning dull and curling inward from the edges.
Soil: Well drained, native soil, pH 6.1-7.8 (slightly acidic to slightly alkaline), low in salt.
Fertilize: Do not fertilize the first two years. Apply an organic fertilizer every month from mid-February to early October. Apply a citrus micronutrient solution three times a year in February, May and August. Do not fertilize after October to keep the plant from producing new growth that will be harmed by early frost.
Mulch: Use no more than 3" of aged compost under the canopy and keep one foot away from trunk. Place a rodent gnaw guard around the trunk at the bottom.
Planting: Can be grown in containers.
Prune: Not necessary. If you prune up from the bottom to expose the trunk, you must paint the trunk with a white tree trunk paint to avoid sunscald.
Litter: Low.
Propagation: Cuttings grafted onto rootstock. Seed may not grow true or may be sterile.
Pests: Giant Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillar. This larvae resembles bird poop and has white and black and/or brown splotches. On a large plant it will cause no harm. On a small plant, relocate it to a large citrus.
See Citrus: Diseases and Disorders
Uses: Ornamental, edible fruit.

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Lemon: Citrus x limon meyer - flowers

Lemon: Citrus x limon meyer - fruit
Citrus x limon: 'Improved Meyer' flowers and fruit.

Lemon: Citrus limon - fruit
Citrus limon: 'Lisbon'.

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