They say when life gives you lemons, make lemonade, but you really should do a whole lot more than that. This little citrus fruit not only offers a multitude of health benefits, they’re one of the most alkaline forming foods on Earth, which makes them great for balancing an acidic body.
Lemons were first created as a cross between a lime and a citron. It was the Arabs that first introduced them to the Europeans, and Christopher Columbus himself brought them to the New World during his second voyage in the late 15th century. A few centuries later during the California Gold Rush, lemons were commonly eaten by the miners to protect themselves against scurvy, a disease that results from a lack of vitamin C.
While lemons are well known for their high level of vitamin C, they also contain riboflavin, thiamin, iron, magnesium, pantothenic acid, fiber, vitamin B6, potassium, copper, calcium, and folate.
- An organic lemon. If you have space restrictions and/or live in a cool climate, Meyer lemons are the best as they’re more suitable for growing in an indoor container. Otherwise, any type of organic lemon will do. Don’t try and save money by going conventional, however, as non-organic lemons often contain seeds that are incapable of germinating.
- Potting soil. Citrus does best in potting soil that contains a blend of peat, perlite, vermiculite and organic fertilizer. Be sure that the soil is light enough to drain water well. If it’s too heavy, you can add hardwood bark chips to the mix, which increases the amount of air spaces.
- A container. Start out with a small container as it will be easier to maintain the right soil moisture than in a larger one. If the soil stays too wet in a big container, a young tree, with its small root system, is likely to rot and dry. Beginning with an 8-inch diameter container is recommended, and then once your tree is two or three years old, you can move it to a 10- to 12-inch container. As it continues to grow, you may need to upgrade one more time. Choose one that’s made of wood, terra cotta or plastic, and be sure that it has adequate drainage holes. While glazed terra cotta containers look more attractive for growing a tree indoors, plastic containers are the lightest weight, which makes them a lot easier to move around, especially if you’ll be moving it in and outdoors with the seasons.
- Light. Lemon trees need a lot of light, whether it’s sun or artificial light, particularly when sprouting, as they require 10 to 14 hours of it every day. If possible, set it up where it can get full sun from a southern exposure. If that’s not an option, you can supplement sunlight by installing 40-watt fluorescent shop lights above the plant. It’s not that expensive and will more than pay off in the long run.
- Moisture. It’s important to keep the soil evenly moist. If you’ll be growing indoors, as most interiors tend to be dry, you’ll need to mist your growing tree on a daily basis. Citrus prefers infrequent, deep water as opposed to more frequent shallow watering when growing outdoors. You’ll want to water when the soil is dry to 6 inches deep – if the leaves begin to yellow and don’t perk up after you water, then you’ve been overwatering. If they’re wilting and begin to perk up after watering, then you waited too long between watering. Generally, watering once or twice a week works well, but you may need to adjust that depending on the time of year and weather.
Caring for your growing tree
Now the fun part, you get to nurture it and watch it grow. The following tips will help ensure that it grows healthy and strong, and produces plenty of lemons that you’ll be able to use for many years to come.
- A growing tree also needs nutrients in order to stay healthy. Feeding it an organic fertilizer like vermicompost or compost once it’s developed a set of leaves is a great way to do that. You only need to feed it once or twice a year, by digging a small trench around its base and then filling it with the compost and watering it well. Never over fertilize – less is best. If you aren’t sure how long it’s been since you’ve fed your tree, it’s better to wait a bit longer and be safe.
- Be sure that the soil is moist at all times, especially when the tree is young. Never let it sit in a puddle of stagnant water – that’s why you purchased a container with drainage holes, and they’re there for good reason.
- Make sure it gets plenty of sunlight. When growing indoors, it should be somewhere that it will get at least eight (and preferably 10) hours of direct sunshine every day – of course, as mentioned, you can supplement some of that sun by using artificial lights.
- Many swear that paying attention to the tree, talking to it, gently feeling it and observing its growth, helps it to become an especially strong, healthy adult tree. Of course, spending time with it will also make it easier for you to notice if any problems develop, such as browning leaves or pests.
The true lemon tree reaches 10 to 20 ft (3-6 m) in height and usually has sharp thorns on the twigs. The alternate leaves, reddish when young, become dark-green above, light-green below; are oblong, elliptic or long-ovate, 2 1/2 to 4 1/2 in (6.25-11.25 cm) long, finely toothed, with slender wings on the petioles. The mildly fragrant flowers may be solitary or there may be 2 or more clustered in the leaf axils. Buds are reddish; the opened flowers have 4 or 5 petals 3/4 in (2 cm) long, white on the upper surface (inside), purplish beneath (outside), and 20-40 more or less united stamens with yellow anthers. The fruit is oval with a nipple-like protuberance at the apex; 2 3/4 to 4 3/4 in (7 -12 cm) long; the peel is usually light-yellow though some lemons are variegated with longitudinal stripes of green and yellow or white; it is aromatic, dotted with oil glands; 1/4 to 3/8 in (6-10 mm) thick; pulp is pale-yellow, in 8 to 10 segments, juicy, acid. Some fruits are seedless, most have a few seeds, elliptic or ovate, pointed, smooth, 3/8 in (9.5 mm) long, white inside.the meantime, Arizona had developed lemon orchards, though on a smaller scale than California. In the 1956-57 season, California produced 11 million gallons (42 million liters) of frozen lemon concentrate while Florida’s output was still very small. California and Arizona became the leading sources of lemons in the western hemisphere. In recent years, California has produced nearly double the crop that can be profitably marketed fresh or processed. Foreign competition has increased and many California growers have destroyed their lemon groves or top worked the trees to oranges, but new cultural techniques making summer production possible may reverse the trend.Guatemala has in the past 2 decades developed commercial lemon culture, primarily to produce the peel oil for its essential oil industry and secondarily for the purpose of dehydrating the fruit and preparing a powder for reconstituting into juice. Southern Mexico, too, is now a major grower of lemons, also primarily for lemon peel oil. Lemons are rarely grown for the fresh fruit market in Latin America. In South America, Argentina leads in lemon culture with Chile a distant second. Among the world’s leading lemon growers and exporters are Italy, Spain, Greece, Turkey, Cyprus, Lebanon, South Africa and Australia. Lemons can be grown only at medium and high elevations in the Philippines.