The Q&A Archives: Lemon Tree

Question: I have had a small lemon tree for about two weeks. How do I take care of it?
No tag on it and am lost. I bought a $100 of rose bushes and 2 rose trees from Home Depot and now I am a customer forever. These roses are wonderful, beautiful and healthy.

Answer: Wow! Glad you like the roses! I think you'll also learn to love your new lemon tree. Citrus trees are actually evergreen shrubs; retaining the majority of their leaves year-round and should be hedged accordingly. They grow best in frost-free regions. In Arizona, this is mainly the Phoenix-Tucson-Yuma triangle. Citrus trees never go dormant like deciduous trees. Instead, there is a dramatic slow down of growth during the winter months in the Salt River Valley. Growth begins in February as the weather warms, slowing again as the hot, dry summer progresses. A second flush appearing in mid-August through October.

Planting your citrus tree at the proper depth is the most important factor. Plant the tree too low and the trunk will stay wet. This practice encourages bark diseases. Plant them too high and the rootball will dry out too quickly. Thus, not enough moisture will get to the tree.

All trees need 1-2 years to recover from transplanting. Your tree will need one to two gallons of water per week in its youth.

After your citrus trees have been in place at least two to three years, citrus trees do best when they are flooded then allowed to dry out before re-watering. The soil composition, the drainage of the soil, the amount of rainfall you receive, and the time of year all determine how often you need to water your citrus trees. Within the Salt River Valley, soil conditions can vary. A good beginning watering schedule during the summer months (Apr - Sep) is to water the trees every 7 to 10 days. During the winter months (Nov - Feb) water the trees every 3 to 4 weeks. Over watering can be just as much of a problem as not watering enough. Obviously a wilted tree may mean a lack of moisture. Then again, too much moisture leads to root decay, with the symptoms showing a wilted appearance. This sometimes leads to a dilemma--too much or too little.

One way to check if your watering schedule is correct is to dig down 6 inches, about mid-way between the trunk and the drip-line. If the soil sample sticks together after squeezing in your hand, then you do not need to water for another week. This check will help you in establishing the correct watering schedule for your trees.

Your tree will need to be fed after it is established. Use a specialized citrus food (available at the garden center) and apply as recommended on the label.

Best wishes with your new plants.

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