Pucker Up, People — Grow Your Own Lemons!
By Paul James
In everyday speech, the word lemon often has a negative connotation — something that’s bad or broken — as in, “the last used car I bought was a lemon.” But to me, the word lemon screams flavor, and I typically use three or four a week in everything from vinaigrettes to chicken, fish, and veggie dishes to pasta and homemade ricotta. Oh, and cocktails too! That’s why I’ve decided to grow my own, which is easier than you might think.
Lemons are evergreen, self-pollinating (more on that in a moment), and capable of producing fruit year round. As a bonus, the fragrance of their flowers is absolutely intoxicating. They’re hardy in Zones 9 to 11, which means if you want to grow them here, you gotta plant them in pots and overwinter them indoors as houseplants during the winter months.
But throughout much of spring, summer, and fall, lemons love being outdoors. They can handle surprisingly cool, even cold temperatures, although it’s best to bring them in before temps drop below 50 degrees. And they love the heat and humidity of our summers.
They also love light. Lots of light. That’s one of the challenges of growing them indoors, but a south- or east-facing window is often sunny enough. And of course you can always grow them under artificial light.
Humidity can be an issue as well, since lemons prefer levels around 80%. But if you fill a large saucer with small stones, fill the saucer with water, and place your potted lemon plant on the saucer, that should do the trick. And frequent misting will help as well.
Watering is pretty straightforward, but critical. Lemons need fairly constant moisture, so water when the top two inches of soil is dry to the touch. And because they don’t go dormant and will flower and set fruit throughout the year, it’s best to fertilize them once a month.
As I mentioned earlier, lemons are self-pollinating, meaning you only need one plant to get fruit. Outdoors, wind, bees, and other insects pollinate the flowers, but indoors you’ll need to assume that responsibility. Using a small artist’s brush, just gather some pollen from one flower and transfer it to another. I know it sounds rather tedious, but it’s actually fun to do.
At the end of the day, it’s no secret that lemon trees would rather be outdoors, as would pretty much every houseplant. But like houseplants, they can be grown successfully indoors. And the rewards are well worth the effort, especially when you harvest the fruits of your labor.
Happy gardening, ya’ll.
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