Lemon Tree

jacintoJuly 4, 2011


I just purchased my first house and am trying to start getting some fruit trees and vegetable plants growing in my backyard. I just got a lime tree and a bunch of cucumber and tomato plants but wanted to try my hand at something a bit bigger such as a lemon tree. I have looked around the forum but cant really seem to find the answer to my questions as I am a newbie. Also I would like to get an avocado tree same questions apply if anyone knows. I live in los angeles

What type of lemon tree should I plant?

How much space do I need?

What do I have to do to keep the plant healthy?

When should I plant?

Any good books that tackle issues such as this?

What size should I buy it at...Should I get one in 3, 5 gallon?

Thanks for the help!

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hoosierquilt USDA 10A Sunset 23 Vista CA(10b Sunset 23)

Consider an Improved Meyer lemon for your first lemon tree. They are very forgiving, and also are big producers. You can purchase just about any citrus on dwarfing rootstock, which will help to keep your tree a little smaller, if size is an issue. Pruning can too, but know it will also cause a reduced harvest, at least for a season, maybe two. Avocados tend to be large trees, so consider a smaller, more compact variety, such as Littlecado (Wurtz) or Holiday, unless you have a fairly large area to dedicate to an avocado. If you can purchase in 5 gal containers, you'll get an established tree that will produce next season for you. Avocados do better with a cross-pollinator. They are divided into A and B types, so it can help if you have one of each, unless you have other avocados nearby that can provide cross pollination for you.

Both avos and citrus like good drainage and lots of sun, plus a fair amount of wataer - avocados even more so than citrus. A good long watering once a week, or twice a week if the temps soar is the best way to water. No grass underneath your trees, just a nice large well as big around as the tree's drip line, well mulched with compost and bark to retain moisture here in our drier S. Calif. weather, taking care not to pile the compost or mulch around the tree trunk, as that can cause the bark to get too moist and can lead to rot.

Also, for your young citrus and avo trees, paint their trunks and exposed branches with plain old flat white latex house paint, diluted in 1/2 with water. NOT oil-based paint, but water-based flat latex paint to protect their tender trunks. This will also protect your trees from boring insects as well.

Be sure to protect them from snails and slugs (both of which love to munch on citrus leaves, and will cause extensive damage and introduce other diseases.) If you have an option to plant both on a south-facing slope, you'll make them very happy :-) You'll want to check your soil drainage first, before planting. Dig a hole twice as wide as the tree root ball, and as deep as the top of the root ball. Fill the hole with water. If it drains in 24 hours, you've got enough drainage to plant both. If not, you may need to plant your trees so that the top of the root ball is a couple of inches above the soil level (if you're in clay). You can also top with worm castings with the compost. Both help to acidify our somewhat alkaline soil, which helps both trees take up micronutrients better. Your avocado will drop its leaves, but it is very important to leave them under the tree as mulch.

Avos do NOT like their roots disturbed, so when you plant your avocado, take care to very carefully plant it without disturbing the root ball. Don't lift it by the trunk. Turn it on its side to loosen it up from the pot, and gently slide the pot off. Then, carefully place it in the hole. Backfill with your native soil. Then top dress with the worm castings and compost, then top with bark mulch. Be sure to create a nice big well so the water will collect in a ring around the drip line of the tree, and soak down to the feeder roots.

Fertilize your new trees every 2 months with a good citrus/avocado fertilizer. Citrus like as close to a 5:1:3 NPK ratio. Avos are a little more forgiving. If you see aphids, just blast them off with a forceful water spray. Put out ant bait to keep the ants out of the tree and from farming the aphids.

It's better to plant in the fall when temps are lower, or in early spring. Summers here are really awfully hot to be planting young trees. You can chance it, but I'd suggest providing temporary shade, and a LOT of water.

And, there are so many good books out there. Here are just a few:

The Sunset Western Garden Book - this is THE essential gardening book for anyone living in California
Sunset Western Garden Book of Edibles
Growing Citrus: The Essential Gardener's Guide
Citrus: Complete Guide to Selecting & Growing More Than 100 Varieties for California, Arizona Texas, the Gulf Coast and Florida
The Biology of Citrus by Pinhas Spiegel-Roy& Eliezer E. Goldschmidt

The University of California Agricultural & Natural Resources (UC ANR) has a number of very good articles & books as well, here's their web site: http://anrcatalog.ucdavis.edu/

And, UC Davis has a great California Backyard Orchard web site. I've included the main link, but here are links for avocados and for citrus:


Lastly, you might want to consider joining your local California Rare Fruit Growers (CRFG) group in your area. They have a very well organized organization, and there are some real experts that belong to the group who can mentor and assist you in learning how to grow fruit trees in California. Their main web site is: http://www.crfg.org/

Patty S.

Here is a link that might be useful: UC Davis: The California Backyard Orchard

    Bookmark   July 4, 2011 at 11:12PM
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Wow great answer!

Congrats for your new home by the way!

    Bookmark   July 5, 2011 at 1:36AM
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Thanks so much that was a great answer! Just one more question. Is it a good time to plant now or should I wait?

    Bookmark   July 7, 2011 at 12:04PM
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hoosierquilt USDA 10A Sunset 23 Vista CA(10b Sunset 23)

Well, depends on how hot you are where you're located. You don't say exactly where in Los Angeles you are. If you're close to the ocean, you'd be fine planting now. If you're more inland, you might want to wait until October, after the majority of the heat has passed. If you plant now, be sure to water very well (check drainage, or course). And a 1/2 diluted fertilizer application would be the safe way to go.

Patty S.

    Bookmark   July 7, 2011 at 2:41PM
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I am by the ocean. Would it be ok to plant the avocado tree now too? Someone was telling me I shouldn't plant it in the summer

    Bookmark   July 8, 2011 at 1:10AM
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hoosierquilt USDA 10A Sunset 23 Vista CA(10b Sunset 23)

You can, but with avos, they REALLY need water to establish well. And the least amount of disturbance to the rootball. They are very sensitive to rootball disturbance during planting and in the ground as well. And, they are even less tolerant that citrus with wet feet, so make sure they have proper drainage. My avos are planted on a south-facing slope, in DG and are doing well. If you plant your avo, again, paint their trunks with 1/2 strength flat latex paint to protect the trunk. If you need to, provide some temporary shade to protect from sunburn. And deep water twice a week. You can also fertilize with 1/2 strength avo/citrus fertilizer about 2 weeks or so after planting. Water well, first, then fertilize and water in. Never apply fertilizer to a dry well in a newly established tree, especially during the summer. Too hard on the feeder roots that are trying to get themselves established. You should be fine! I'm putting in a variegated pink Eureka lemon this weekend, but it's in a spot that gets afternoon shade, and is in the coolest part of my yard, so I know it will do fine being planted now, instead of 3 months ago.

Patty S.

    Bookmark   July 8, 2011 at 11:20AM
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