Our young lemon tree grown from seed.
By guest author Avery Bartlett-Golden
Cultivated for the last millennium, the lemon has fascinated people since its beginning as a hybrid between a citron and a sour orange. Thought to have originated in East Asia or India, the lemon made its way west and may have been a novel plant in Roman gardens. The first written records of cultivation come from Arabic texts in the tenth century. Lemon trees are an important part of traditional Arabic and Mediterranean gardens, where the lemon fruit is valued for its scent, oil, and juice.
In Spanish the word azahar or flor de azahar refers to the citrus blossom and is derived from the Arabic word for flower. In Andalusia, Murcia, Valencia and southern Spain in general, the scent of oranges and lemons wafting on the breeze are a cherished part of early spring both in the countryside and cities where citrus are planted as street trees.
In North Carolina and most parts of the United States, we sadly can't grow acres of lemons, but we can grow lemons in pots. A couple years ago our plant loving neighbors up the street gave me a small lemon tree, around two feet tall, planted from the seed of a grocery store lemon. This year my tree began flowering at the end of July but lemon trees can flower anytime during the year. Since I first got it, my plant has continued to grow and this year it produced eight lemons! Two are ripe now and the others will be soon.
Lemons ripening on the young potted lemon tree at the beginning of the month.
The easiest way to propagate lemons is from seed. If you use seeds from a regular store lemon, the chances are that it is a “Eureka” cultivar. Like most oranges, lemons will be true enough to seed (except for the Meyer lemon). Plant lemon seeds in good potting soil and keep the soil moist. It is best to consider lemon trees a patio plant and to be prepared to move them outside once the frost risk has passed.
Outdoors, lemon plants prefer a very sunny site protected from wind and lots of water. During the hot summer, lemons in Spain are perfectly happy in blazing squares and courtyards. Lemons also require lots of nitrogen in the summer. I prefer to use blood meal since it is easy to apply, decently long lasting, and has low risk of burning leaves. In the fall, special care should be taken to bring in the lemon plants before the temperature drops to 45°F since they suffer greatly at temperatures below that.
Although fruiting takes time, usually 2-5 years, lemons are still very handsome decorative plants. In time, lemon trees will grow rather large, but they can be kept a manageable size, and still maintain their beauty, with careful pruning. It is also good to know that while young lemon plants from seed, like mine, have a few thin thorns, they gradually diminish with age. Finally, if you happen to get bored with your lemon tree you can always graft other types of citrus onto it for an orangerie in a pot!
Guest author Avery Bartlett-Golden is a Horticulture Science major at North Carolina State University. He is currently studying abroad in Valencia, Spain.
Annette Bartlett-Golden paints a wide range of subjects from landscapes to animals and makes abstract works with paper. Using vibrant colors, she imparts a sense of immediacy, vivacity and optimism to her paintings and paper collages.