Have you ever found yourself in a garden center walking past tall, leafy trees, and you spot ... lemons?! There's something so exciting about that moment when you see full-grown and baby lemons or limes growing on those trees, and you think, "I'd love to have a lemon tree in my backyard!" You envision all the things you'll do with your lemons: vibrant yellow slices placed on top of salmon you'll cook on the grill, fresh lemon slices floating in a pitcher of refreshing ice water or adorning your cocktails, homemade lemon hummus, a burst of lime tang in your homemade guacamole, even just a bright bowl of lemons on your kitchen counter for a fresh and natural decor element.
While it doesn't cost a fortune to buy lemons in the supermarket for these things, you can't beat the smell and taste of a straight-from-the-tree lemon or other citrus fruit, and you can't beat the prettiness of a bountiful citrus tree in your yard. And the health benefits and nutrients of citrus fruit with their vitamin C and antioxidants cannot be beaten, either.
So to help you plan the addition of citrus trees to your garden, or in planters by your pool as five-star hotels like the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills do, here are some tips for growing citrus trees:
--Choose your citrus varieties. In addition to the "basics" of lemons and limes, you also can grow unique varieties of other citrus fruits. For instance, in the orange family, you might grow Cara Cara oranges, blood oranges or clementines, tangelos, pomelos, grapefruit and more. Your garden center will stock the types of citrus trees that will thrive in your region, and your garden-center plant experts can advise you on the many different types of lemons and limes, as well, such as Key limes, Persian limes and Meyer lemons. The experts at Sunkist.com say, "Meyer lemons are known as 'backyard lemons' because they are not widely sold commercially," and "oranges are one of the few fruits that will not overripen if left on the tree!"
--Assess your growing areas for citrus tree sizes. According to The Old Farmer's Almanac, full-sized orange and grapefruit trees can grow 18 to 22 feet tall, while dwarf varieties of citrus trees might grow to be 8 to 12 feet tall. If you plant citrus trees in planters, plan on their growth and on not being able to move those planters after a certain amount of time.
--Decide on your number of trees. Almanac experts say that most citrus trees are self-fertile, so you likely will need only one tree. If you'd like to mix up your citrus tree types, designate your zones for the full sun that citrus trees need, and situate your citrus trees throughout your yard accordingly. Keep in mind that some smaller citrus plants can be moved indoors during winter, perhaps to your sunroom, which gives you options for year-round citrus picking.
--Decide whether you'll plant your citrus trees in your garden soil or in planters. Both options require placement in sunny, wind-protected areas. And while ground-grown citrus trees can be planted at any time, container-grown citrus trees do best when planted in spring.
--Space your citrus trees far enough apart. Almanac experts say that full-size citrus trees should be planted 12 to 25 feet apart, and dwarf trees should be set 6 to 10 feet apart. "The exact distance depends on the variety," so follow the instructions on your citrus tree labels. The general rule of thumb is that the bigger the fruit the more space you'll need between trees. And be sure to plant trees a good distance from walls, fences and paved surfaces, and well away from septic systems.
--Plan to plant your citrus trees in a spot that has good water drainage, because these trees should not become waterlogged. To help container trees enjoy adequate water, place a small amount of pea gravel in the container before adding soil and the tree to aid in runoff. Plastic, metal and ceramic containers will retain moisture longer than porous clay or wood containers.
--Test your soil's pH level before planting. The experts at Brighter Blooms Nursery (brighterbloomsnursery.com) say that soil pH should be between 6 and 8 and not high in salt. Get your soil tested at your garden center, and follow their instructions for correcting your soil's conditions for citrus growing.
--Plant your citrus tree so that it sits high in its planting space, with the crown an inch higher than the lawn to provide good water runoff in wet weather.
--Build a water retention ring around the base of the plant to capture adequate water for its roots to grow.
--When feeding your tree according to its variety's instructions, scatter tree food at least a foot away from the trunk so that it soaks down to the growing root system.
--When weather begins to cool, bring smaller container-planted trees indoors.
For all care instructions, check your citrus tree care labels and the website for your tree's company. And if you have concerns about your tree's development, take smartphone photos of your tree's details to show an expert at your garden center.