lemon cultivation

Lemon: the plant and its cultivation

The lemon plant, Citrus limon, is native to India and Indochina, is an evergreen plant like the other citrus fruits of the Rutaceae family, and has a certain ornamental value.

According to some, it is not a real species but a hybrid between cedar (Citrus medica) and Lime (Citrus aurantifolia), and this hypothesis is quite plausible given the high capacity that citrus fruits have to hybridize with each other and to change. This attitude has contributed to their diffusion in the world, diversifying them and making them adaptable to different conditions.

Unlike other fruit trees, this species is re-flowering and produces several times during the year, thus giving more yields. We all know the lemon fruit: botanically it is a hesperidium, has an elliptical shape, is yellow in color, and has a tip called “umbo”. The peel is thick and is rich in glands that contain very fragrant essential oils. The lemon tree can reach a maximum height of 6 meters, has branches with somewhat irregular and thorny growth and despite some climatic constraints, it can also be grown organically with relative simplicity.

Climate and terrain indicated

Climate is necessary for cultivation. Lemons are very sensitive to low temperatures, even more so than other citrus fruits such as orange. At -4 ° C it defoliates, and with even lower and prolonged temperatures damage is caused to the wood up to the death of the plant. Consequently, it can only be grown outdoors in areas with a mild climate, where winters are not too harsh. In fact, the lemon offers the best of itself in the areas of the south and of the islands, where it thrives and produces abundant juicy fruits. Even the particular microclimates of the great northern lakes are favorable to citrus groves, while in the center its cultivation also depends a lot on exposure, which must be sunny and sheltered. If you really want to cultivate it also in the north, you have to think about covering the plant in winter with non-woven fabric sheets and keeping it in sheltered positions, consequently, the best solution in these cases is cultivation in pots, which also allows it to be moved.

The ideal terrain. As for the nature of the soil, the lemon is quite adaptable but prefers soils with a slightly acidic pH and rich in organic matter. Strongly clayey soils, as well as those that are too calcareous or saline, should be avoided.

Plant the tree

Rootstock. Lemon plants can be bought already grafted and it is useful to know on which rootstock, to understand the future aptitudes of the plant. The rootstock is in fact the lower part of the tree and its rooting, vigor, and adaptation to different types of soil depend on it.

Pollination. No more specimens are needed as pollinators for lemon fruiting, and even a single plant can produce independently.

How to plant lemon

At the time of transplanting, it is necessary to have good compost or ripe manure, to be mixed with the earth excavated from the hole. The hole must be deep, to ensure the roots of the plant have a certain volume of loose and soft earth, so dimensions of about 70 x 70 x 70 cm are optimal. The hole is usually done manually with picks and spades, but if the soil is too tenacious and if you plant several specimens of lemon, it is useful to use a motor drill. The best time for planting is in spring is when the plants can take root well.

Planting layouts. In professional lemon cultivation, the plants are kept about 5 x 5 meters apart, or even less, but adequate sixths allow good solar lighting, so it is preferable not to thicken the plants. Ideally, grassing the inter-rows is the best solution, but this practice finds a strong limitation in the lemon growing areas in drought.

Cultivation in detail


Indicatively, the water requirement of the lemon is high, of about 20-60 cubic meters for each plant during the season. Since lemons are grown mainly in hot and dry areas, they are always accompanied by irrigation, a practice that must therefore also be implemented for the cultivation of a single plant or a few, especially if in pots. The most delicate phase, the one in which water must not be lacking, is between flowering and setting, and since the lemon blooms several times a year, we will have to pay attention often.


Mulching, like any other species, is very useful especially in the first years of the plant’s life, because it avoids the growth of spontaneous grass that can compete with lemon for water and nutrients. Furthermore, for this species, mulching is particularly useful for protecting the root system from the winter cold, especially if it is grown in climatic areas at the limit. Then you can spread a nice layer of straw or bark, under which you can put handfuls of natural fertilizer.

Reproduce lemons with layering

A simple and particularly effective technique for reproducing lemon plants starting from the mother plant is the “layering” technique which consists in choosing a one or two-year-old branch and making a ring incision on it. Under the cut, a polyethylene bag is tied, filled with earth, and also tied at the upper end: the branch is thus wrapped in a sleeve of the earth around the cut, and slowly at that point roots are born, which once well-formed will allow to cut the branch from the mother plant. The best time to do this is spring. We can learn more about the topic in the article on how to make lemon layering.

How to prune lemons

Plant shape. Lemons are grown mainly in the globe, a form in which the plant is left free to develop naturally, making fruit-bearing branches also at the bottom.

Pruning work. The lemon does not require systematic pruning, and therefore the cuts are usually linked to special needs, such as the elimination of parts affected by diseases and to aerate particularly dense foliage.

Diseases of lemon

There are some diseases that affect citrus fruits in general and others that mainly affect lemon. There are solutions with low environmental impact and in organic cultivation, those are chosen, always starting from appropriate preventive practices, such as adequate nutrition, without excesses, the lightening of the foliage if too thick and irrigation only under the foliage, which does not wet the aerial part.

The dry sore

It is a fungal disease that affects the internal conducting vessels leading to the desiccation of the plant or even just a part. Defending this disease from lemon sores, even chemicals has always been difficult, so much so that the only real solution is genetic resistance, and therefore the choice of resistant or tolerant varieties.


The bacterial attack can be recognized because it creates depressed red-brown spots on the branches, from which a rubbery exudate comes out and rounded spots can also form on the fruits. This pathology must be prevented with normal precautions, such as adequate pruning and balanced nutrition, while in the event of a strong attack it can be treated with green copper.

The Tristeza

Tristeza is a virus that appeared in recent years, the subject of a mandatory control decree. Since it caused a lot of damage to citrus groves, the institutions intervened by allocating funds. First of all, the nurseries that sell lemon seedlings must be able to guarantee that these are healthy, then if the disease occurs, and it is noticed by the progressive deterioration and defoliation of the plant, all the specimens involved must be eliminated and burned, then disinfecting the tools used. The virus is transmitted by aphids and therefore the real fight against the disease starts with the control of these insects.

Harmful insects

Even the defense against harmful insects can be carried out with ecological but at the same time effective methods.


There are various species of scale insects that specialize in attacking citrus fruits in particular, such as the Planococcus citri, which settles mainly around the petiole of the fruit and removes lymph by dirtying it with honeydew and the typical floury substance; in addition, there are the Icerya (Icerya purchasi) which attacks above all the underside of the leaves, the cochineal half peppercorn, the gray cochineal, and the red cochineal.

While on large areas it makes sense to carry out the real biological fight, that is with the launch of antagonistic insects, for a few plants it is possible to treat with mineral oils, also allowed in organic farming, and by spraying fern macerates.


Aphids also affect the lemon, leaving sticky honeydew and leaves crumpled and then subject to smokiness. It is necessary to eradicate them with Marseille soap diluted in water, but before this, it is possible to prevent their presence with nettle extracts and garlic or hot pepper macerates.

Serpentine miner

The insect spoils the leaves, digging very thin tunnels. Spinosad or pyrethrum can be used for effective and low environmental impact treatments.

Cultivation in pots

The cultivation of lemons in large pots is quite common and there are some well-known lemon houses in greenhouses, such as the historic one in the garden of the Palace of Versailles, in France.

The capacity of the container must allow the roots that minimum development such as to guarantee a fair expansion of the aerial part. In pots, irrigations must be more frequent, the soil must be topped up every now and then, and pelleted manure or an organic fertilizer based on ground lupins, excellent for citrus fruits, must be added several times a year.

Collection and variety of lemons

Since the lemon is remontant, the fruit is also produced at different times of the year.

The main flowering periods are spring, with the consequent production of winter lemons, and September, from which the so-called Verdelli lemons are generated, destined to ripen in the following summer.

Variety of lemon

In the south of Italy, mostly native varieties are grown, more resistant or tolerant to dry disease: Feminello Comune and other Femminello cultivars which have all been healed from viruses using the micrograft technique.

Other known varieties are the Monachello, not very re-flowering, which produces especially in winter, characterized by smooth and very thick-skinned fruits.

The “pseudo lemons”

In addition to the lemon itself (Citrus limon), there are citrus species that can be considered quite similar in use.

We mention for example:

  • Citrus jambiri, the “wrinkled lemon”.
  • Citrus meyer, known as lemon meyer, which is possibly a hybrid of lemon and sweet orange;
  • Citrus limetta, the sweet lime with round and yellow fruits, a very ornamental tree; karna lemon,
  • Citrus karna, the karna lemon, which also recalls bitter orange and which produces once a year,

There are many others still, in great biodiversity in the genus Citrus.

How to consume lemons

Contrary to what one might think, lemons do not create the inconvenience of stomach acid which instead can be caused by high consumption of oranges: on the contrary, they have a balsamic effect on the stomach and are very healthy. They are also very rich in vitamin C, which, in addition to preventing the flu, helps in the assimilation of iron.

Lemons are also used extensively in cosmetics and perfumery, as well as in the preparation of the well-known limoncello liqueur, which can also be made at home (see the excellent recipes of limoncello cream and rosemary and lemon liqueur). The lemon marmalade is also absolutely worth trying, especially if it is also made using peels. Growing lemons on their own.

Recipes with lemon

Lemon ricotta cake recipe/ Lemon cod recipe/ lemon cookies recipe/ Vodka caipirinha with lemon drink/ Italian lemon granita recipe.

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