A few weeks ago the baby green fruit on my lemons were so well-camouflaged I feared the harvest would be a dud. But they have now fattened up and are starting to weigh down the branches with promise of lemons through to summer.
I grow ‘Dwarf Meyer’ in pots. The meyer is thought to be a cross between a lemon and one of the Chinese oranges. Frank Meyer, who worked for the US Department of Agriculture, found it on a visit China in 1908, and naturally he named it after himself. The parentage explains its deliciously sweet flavour and beautiful smooth skin.
Its good looks and fine flavour are reason enough to grow it, and there are practical considerations too. A dwarf meyer, grafted on to ‘Flying dragon’ rootstock, gets to just 1.5 metres, which means the fruit is always easy to reach. I considered a dwarf version of the ‘Eureka’ lemon, which has the benefit of year-round fruit, but it gets to 3m, which is not dwarf enough.
To grow lemons successfully in containers, go large. Forty centimeters in diameter is the minimum, but bigger is better. Use a quality potting mix and choose a spot with at least six hours of sun a day. Water regularly, but don’t let the roots get sodden. Ditch the pot saucer or anything else that would prevent water draining from the pot. Feed often. Lemons are called gross feeders, which is the horticultural term for ‘must be fed like a sumo wrestler’. Use something organic like Dynamic Lifter Plus Fruit Food every two or three months. The lemon’s hungry habit means that gardeners should resist the temptation to underplant with a fringe of blue lobelia looping over the pot, or a blast of freesias mixing scents with the lemon blossom in spring. Gorgeous, but, trust me on this, they will diminish the health and vigour of the lemon.
It’s not necessary to prune lemons to promote fruiting, so the only pruning needed is to tidy the plant, trim it to shape, or remove dead growth.
A warning: there will be pests. Green or black sap-sucking aphids may attack new growth through the warm weather and citrus leaf miner will put silvery trails through leaves in summer and autumn. Squish the aphids and control leafminer with sprays of Eco-oil or Pest Oil. Scale might get a hold if the tree gets water-stressed, and this can cause a cascade of problems. The scale produces honeydew, which in turn causes sooty black mould and attracts ants. The ants protect their honeydew feast by protecting the scale against predators. To avoid all this keep the tree sun-drenched and regularly watered and fed. If scale attacks, Eco-oil or Pest Oil will deal with all but a major infestation, and if ants are a problem, smear a barrier of Vaseline around the trunk. But don’t get fixated on potential problems. The minimal effort demanded is more than compensated for by the pleasure of sunshiny lemons all through winter.