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Cultivation of lemons

Cultivation of lemons

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Question: Cultivation of lemons

Good morning
My name is Nadia and they gave me a lemon plant, the kind that gives fruit three times a year. I live in an apartment with a sunny balcony in the morning and in the shade in the afternoon. I have the chance to have a corner always in the shade.
Can you advise me with regards to accommodation, watering, pruning and fertilizing?
I live in Emilia Romagna.
Thanks. With best regards

Answer: Cultivation of lemons

Dear Nadia,
Thank you for contacting us about the cultivation of potted lemons through the expert's section of.
The lemon, like other citrus fruits in general, tolerates well the cultivation in pots because they are in nature low-sized trees and have a vigorous but slow growth.
Their cultivation does not pose major problems in pots except for their poor tolerance to winter temperatures and the nutrition that must be balanced in nutrients and regular as evergreens in constant vegetation and production.
To answer you directly to the questions asked, we specify:
· The vessel must be of such dimensions that the crown must be contained within the diameter of the vessel or at least one third less.
Repotting should be done every 2 years and the recommended period is in March, being careful not to spoil the earthen bread.
· The type of substrate must be organic and draining porous and to facilitate draining from the bottom of the pot it is recommended to use on the bottom appropriate material for at least 4 cm
· During winter shelter the position must be sunny or very bright and the minimum temperature must remain above 13 ° C.
It is always recommended to proceed gradually in order not to create acclimatization stress such as from warm interiors to cold exteriors and vice versa.
· Among the main pests we highlight the cochineals, the aleurodids and the mites against which there are specific insecticides.
Yours sincerely.

Family and gender
Rutaceae, citrus x lemon
Type of plant Evergreen tree
Exposure Up to -6
Rustic Up to -6
Ground Light, rich, well-drained
Irrigation regular
Composting About every 3 months
Flowering All the year

Lemon cultivation

The word lemon has an uncertain etymology, but probably comes from the Chinese or the Arabic. In these languages, in fact, there are very similar terms and on the other hand it is quite probable that the plant itself has oriental origins.
The lemon tree has an irregular and bushy shape and can reach 6 meters in height although, in cultivation, it generally measures about 3. The foliage is persistent and shiny, (from 6 to 11 cm in length) and larger. wide than that of orange and a lighter green. The leaves have small glands filled with essential oil. If they are rubbed, in fact, they release a pleasant fragrance. The branches can be more or less spiny and the flowers, ranging from white to rosé, are very fragrant. Normally after flowering many corollas fall out: normally only 1% of the flowers then develop a fruit. These have shapes that go from the round to the oblong with a protuberance at the two ends. The peel can be more or less thick and also has glands full of essential oil, so that the fruit is ripe, it is necessary to wait about a year.
The particularity of this tree lies in its characteristic of fructifying several times a year, especially some varieties called "four seasons".
For the home cultivation (especially in the areas of the Center-North) the "Meyer" cutivar is particularly recommended, characterized by its marked rusticity (it can withstand even -9 ° C, especially if not grafted). The minimum tolerated temperature on the other hand is normally at maximum -6 ° C, which must be kept for a short time in order not to cause damage.

Exposure and climate

Almost all the worldwide production of lemons takes place between the 40th parallel North and South, therefore in rather hot areas. Hybridizations and acclimatization have however allowed the insertion of this tree even in temperate areas and thus it has become quite common throughout the Mediterranean basin, especially along the coasts or on the lakes. They are particularly good where there are particularly mild winters and very hot and dry summers.
In Italy the cultivation in open ground is common on the Ligurian Riviera, on Lake Maggiore and on Lake Garda as well as in the whole Center-South.
Breeding is still possible elsewhere if they are placed in large containers to be protected in a cold greenhouse during the winter. However, you should never go below -5 ° C if you do not want the deeper tissues to be seriously damaged.
Clearly the exposure they prefer, in all seasons, is the full sun.

Planting and land

Usually we proceed in the spring so that the tree has time to overcome the trauma and root well before the arrival of the cold season.
The lemon particularly appreciates a rich and deep soil, but is also aerated. Moderately sandy ones or lightened by lava stones like pumice are preferred.
Instead, the clayey and too compact soils, which will instead be lightened, shun.
In any case the ideal composition of the soil is: 10% clay, 20% silt, 20% fine sand and 50% coarse sand.
Care must always be taken at the time of planting in order not to bury the grafting point. This in contact with the ground could develop rot.
In pot: on the market you can find special compounds for citrus fruits. If you do not want to use it, you can prepare a compound as indicated above. It is very important to create a draining layer on the bottom, often with gravel, expanded clay or pumice. The drain holes must always remain free and then cover them with overturned pieces before proceeding with the other materials.
We immediately try to choose a rather large container. We will avoid having to repot too frequently. Furthermore, the large amount of soil protects the roots from sudden frosts.


Lemons must be irrigated continuously from spring to autumn. If our interventions were only sporadic we could run the risk of the plant going into dormancy with consequent damage for the winter harvest.
In the first years of planting in the ground the ideal is to leave a depression in the ground around the trunk. In this way the irrigation water will not flow away and we will be sure that it reaches the roots.
Some rootstocks react badly to the presence of chlorine in the water. In that case it will be good to use only rainwater or at least let the liquid stand for a few hours so that that element can evaporate.


If we grow a lemon in the open ground we will have to commit ourselves to distributing a product with high nitrogen content and good potassium and phosphorus content in the months of March, June and September. The first one helps the growth, the others will give more fragrance and taste to the fruits. The granules must be distributed in a circle in the area occupied by the exterior of the crown. On the market there are products specifically designed for citrus fruits.
For the subjects in the container it is better to distribute a very nitrogenous fertilizer only once a year, in spring, assisted by phosphorus and potassium based granules.
We can then once a month give a small amount of granular slow release fertilizer, balanced, from March to October. In any case, for the pot you can freely choose between products in granules or liquids. Ground lupins are also excellent for all citrus fruits.


Repotting should be done, in spring, when roots are seen poking out of the drain holes. It is important to choose a container that is not excessively larger (at most one or two more sizes) than the previous one. The lemon, in fact, tends to occupy first all the space available for the roots and then begin to bloom and produce fruit.
If you have large specimens now impossible to extract, simply add fertilizer and soil to the surface (which usually becomes more and more uncovered) so that with irrigation it is assimilated and the level of the ground is normal.

Winter period

The lemons grown in a container must be withdrawn to the cold greenhouse throughout the winter in the whole north-central area, apart from the coasts. The temperatures so that no damage can occur must range from a minimum of -4 ° C to 8 ° C. The environment must be very bright and direct heat sources must be avoided.
If we do not have a suitable room to repair citrus fruits, it will be good to cover both the foliage and the vase with a double layer of appropriate protective cover. The container can also be insulated with various types of insulating material. Let's put them also in an area sheltered from the winds and possibly placed next to a warm wall to the south.
If we live in a warm area, remember that above 13 degrees the plant will not be in vegetative rest and therefore will need normal care such as irrigation and fertilization.


To make the first prunings it is certainly necessary to wait until the first three years have passed since the planting.
We proceed to the end of winter, when we are sure that the last frosts have passed.
You will have to select 3 or 4 branches of equal strength and going in different directions. During the entire growing season it is necessary to continue cutting in such a way as to stimulate the production of secondary shoots. These will carry a large amount of leaves and will consequently increase the surface area of ​​exposure to the sun.
Naturally, at the same time the specimen must be cleaned from dead wood, which is not vigorous or damaged.

Multiplication of the lemon

The lemon can be multiplied, mainly, by seed or by grafting.
- Fresh seeds should be used, to be placed in the ground or in small pots in greenhouses. In the first case there will be a more vigorous rooting and the plant can also be used as a rootstock.
- The plants reach over 30 cm in one year. The twigs will be trimmed and the plants will have to be transferred to a permanent dwelling or in a 3-liter container.
- The bud must be taken during the rest period and from branches at least two years old. It should then be kept until spring, at a temperature of about 10 degrees.
- Around March-April, as a good temperature and high humidity, a shield engraving will be made 20 cm from the root of the rootstock and the bud will be inserted. You will have to tighten with raffia. After a few days, some mastic can also be added.
The most used rootstocks are Citrus aurantium and Citrus trifoliata. The first has the advantage of not transmitting various diseases to the plant, but is instead sensitive to excess water in the soil and to many other diseases. On the other hand the second is much more resistant to cold, but it bears little calcium and chlorine and therefore often causes leaf chlorosis. It is particularly resistant to gummy.

Lemon diseases

Lemons are sensitive, especially when grown in greenhouses, to scale insects. We then periodically check the branches and the back of the leaves.
A specific mite can cause fruit drop or deformed growth.
Aphids feed on the sap and can weaken the plant as well as curl the leaves.
Dry Mal is a specific fungal disease of citrus fruits. All affected branches should be eliminated immediately and a specific anti-cryptogamic agent should be distributed frequently.
The gummy is caused by the phytophtora fungus: to avoid it, it is necessary to irrigate only the bare essentials and to avoid putting the graft point too close to the ground.
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