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PAL Questions: 3 - Garden Tools: 1
My Meyer lemon has aphids all over it and has lost its leaves! I just brought it inside for the winter. What can I do?
The aphids were more than likely already there, even if not enough for you to notice, and once inside the warm(er) house they multiplied. Aphids do love citrus plants. The blossoms probably fell off due to the temperature change they experienced coming indoors.
The following information was found on p. 278 of the 2001 edition of the Sunset Western Garden Book:
Citrus in containers. Fertilize monthly from midwinter to mid-autumn with high-nitrogen liquid fertilizer, containing chelated zinc, iron, and manganese. Potted citrus ... in cold-winter regions: shelter plants in winter; a cool greenhouse is best, but a basement area or garage with good bright light is satisfactory.
Many of the common products sold in nurseries or garden centers contain the trace elements listed in the Sunset info above. Also, there are specific formulations for citrus available, also carried by many nurseries and garden centers.
...Sunset Western Garden Book continued...Citrus as houseplants. No guarantee of flowering or fruiting indoors, though plants are still appealing. 'Improved Meyer' and 'Ponderosa' lemons [other citrus names omitted] are most likely to produce good fruit. Locate no farther than 6 ft. from a sunny window, away from radiators or other heat sources. Ideal humidity level is 50 percent. Increase moisture by misting tree; also ring tree with pebble-filled trays of water. Water sparingly in winter...
I grow 2 Meyer lemons and find that they do best outside until the temperature goes down into the 20s. They are pretty hardy. The aphid problem is not a problem outside until spring. If you have a sun porch at your house, that might be a great place to put the lemon in winter.
As for the aphids, Colorado State University Extension provides information on insect control using insecticidal soap. You can purchase it or make your own: 1 teaspoon of soap (the mildest you can find) per quart of water, sprayed on both sides of the leaves and on growing surfaces.
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I purchased a small Meyer lemon plant from a nursery in Florence, OR, and it grew, and blossomed very well, and even produced many tiny lemons - all of which have now, at this point, dropped off. The leaves are yellowing, too. It is in a good size container, in full sun. The container sits in a large saucer which does fill with rainwater. This I empty, but the plant remains wet. New blooms are coming on some of the branches, old blooms are shrivelling. No more lemons coming as yet.
My question is, why did the tiny lemons drop off? And, should the plant get overly wet? My nursery person has no information. I would appreciate any information you have.
The following information comes from Citrus (by Lance Walheim, Ironwood Press, 1996).
It sounds as if your container has good drainage, but maybe the plant is getting too much rainwater. That might be causing the leaves to turn yellow. Another cause could be a nitrogen deficiency, which would be most visible in older leaves, which would yellow from the tip to the base.
As far as the plant's water needs, it will need water when the top two to three inches of soil become dry. Frequent watering (or excess rainwater) can leach nutrients from the soil, so the plant will need to be fertilized regularly -- once or twice a month using a liquid, high-nitrogen fertilizer that includes the micronutrients zinc, iron, and manganese.
The small lemons which drop off may not be anything to worry about, as fruit drop occurs normally as the tree varies its fruit load with its carrying capacity. Pea-sized fruit usually drop about one month after bloom. A more noticeable drop occurs in late spring to early summer, when golfball-sized fruit may drop. Other reasons for fruit drop could be conditions which limit tree growth, such as excess heat, lack of soil moisture (not relevant in your case), and fluctuating weather conditions. It is also possible that the fruit drop is due to lack of nitrogen.
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I have a lemon tree that is actually not dead yet, but it's not looking good. I had to bring it in late last year as Florence [Italy] was due to have frost for a few days. Then we had horrendous winds and heavy rains. After a few weeks inside, (on a nice sunny indirect-light window sill) it started to drop everything: leaves, blossoms, tiny lemons, and now it is utterly bare. Maybe this is why? On clearing the leaves off the dirt I noticed little blister-like spots on some of the branches. I scraped them with my fingernail and they peeled off, but left sticky stuff behind. Is this a disease? Can I wash the stems? With what? I trimmed the tips of the tiny branches; they are green inside so not dead. I did fertilize with a high-nitrogen liquid, over the leaves and in the pot, a couple of times a month. I have a feeling that spider mites are doing the mischief. Is there hope?
Sorry to hear of your bare lemon tree! The loss of leaves could have been a reaction to the wind, and once the leaves are gone, the tree can become susceptible to waterlogging, pests, and diseases. It is good that you moved it inside, and that it has good light. The blister-like spots on the branches sound like a kind of scale insect, to which Meyer lemons can be prone: California red scale (Aonidiella aurantii). I do not think it would be spider mites, because they would cause stippled, yellowed leaves, and might leave telltale webs. Scale can defoliate and kill a tree. There are beneficial Aphytus wasps that can be used to control scale, but they have to released regularly to be effective and, of course, you would not do this while your tree is indoors. A good reference about scale insects and how to manage them is Pests of the Garden and Small Farm by Mary Louise Flint (University of California Division of Agriculture, 1990)
Here are two recommended books on growing citrus:
Citrus: Complete Guide to Selecting & Growing More than 100 Varieties by Lance Walheim (Ironwood Press, 1996)
Success with Citrus Fruit by Sigrid Hansen-Catania (Merehurst Ltd., London: 1998)
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Lemon: A Global History by Toby Sonneman (Reaktion Books, 2012
I've always wondered about the warty etrog (citron, or Citrus medica) used as part of the Jewish observance of Sukkot (etrog represents one of The Four Species mentioned in the Biblical description of this festival; the others are palm, myrtle, and willow): what purpose did the fruit serve beyond the ritual, and how was this odd-looking fruit related to lemon? The answers to these and many other citrus-related questions may be found in Toby Sonneman's Lemon: A Global History, a volume in the Edible series from Reaktion Books (2012). It was a surprise to discover the important role of the citron (probably a wild species from northeast India) in the development of a 'citrus culture' that eventually gave rise to the lemon we use for its flavor. Citron, thick-skinned and inedible, was valued for its fragrance (mentioned in a Hindu text from before 800 B.C.E.). Its centuries-old use in Jewish ritual would eventually lead to cultivation in different parts of the world after the fall of Jerusalem in the year 70 C.E., when so many Jews dispersed across North Africa, into the Aegean, Spain, and Italy.
The lemon was probably an ancient natural hybrid, and its route to the Mediterranean is difficult to trace because of the confusion in written and visual depictions: lemons and citrons are hard to distinguish, and common names can be unreliable. Lemons hold an important place in Arab culture, and were also prized in Persia. Because of the lemon's need for water, farmers developed ingenious irrigation canals with stone tiles to regulate and direct water flow, these methods were widely adopted.
The first recipes using lemon appeared in a 12th century Egyptian treatise called On Lemon: Its Drinking and Use by Ibn Jumay, a Jewish physician in the court of Saladin. He devised a way of preserving lemons with salt, and mentions the fruit's medicinal uses for a wide range of conditions. Ibn Jumay's writing was translated, and lemon's culinary and medicinal fame spread.
Other points of interest:
- Lemons were scarce and costly, and therefore a status symbol, in Northern Europe. You will find them in many 17th century Dutch still life paintings.
- Cosimo III de'Medici grew 116 varieties of citrus in his gardens. The name Medici is possibly related to the name for citron, Median apple (Media being the Greek name for ancient Persia).
- It took a long time for sea voyagers to figure it out, but lemons were an essential preventive against scurvy. (If you think about the term 'ascorbic' acid--something which is found in lemons and other citrus--you can see that it is anti-scurvy!) British English does not use 'lemon' in the pejorative sense of American English, perhaps a bow to the fruit's life-saving properties.
- Harvesting lemons is a thorny business but the Meyer lemon has fewer thorns.
This pocket history reaches from antiquity to the present time, and is packed with colorful details and illustrations. You may also want to try making Ibn Jumay's preserved lemons, included along with several other more recent recipes.
Dates: A Global History by Nawal Nasrallah is another title in the Edible series from Reaktion Books. An unusual aspect of the fruit (technically a berry) of the date palm tree is that it may be harvested at three different stages of ripeness--the ultrasweet dates one usually finds for sale in groceries are at the final stage, when they have sun-dried on the tree and the skin has begun to wrinkle and darken. Dates have been used as a food staple for centuries. Once called 'bread of the desert' and 'cake for the poor,' dates are still considered of vital importance in combatting world hunger.
Other aspects of the date palm:
- Once a full crown of leaves has developed, the trunk does not widen with age; there are no annual growth rings if one cuts a cross-section. Leaves which die off protect the trunk with their bases that remain attached. The tree's roots are fibrous, and secondary roots grow out of the bottom of the trunk. Both a male and female tree are needed to produce fruit. Trees must be hand-pollinated in spring (this has been common knowledge since the days of Mesopotamian agriculture!).
- Even in the days of Pliny the Elder, there were numerous varieties of dates. The ones American consumers will probably recognize are medjool and deglet noor, but there are nightingale's eggs (beidh il-bilbil), khalasa (quintessence), and even an Obama date named for our president.
- Although we mainly think of date palms for their edible uses, the hollowed trunks were made into aqueduct pipes for irrigation, and were used in building (the first mosque in Medina, built in about 630 C.E., was reportedly made of palm trunks, thatched with palm leaves, with prayer mats of woven leaves).
- Indio in Southern California is the date capital of the U.S., and holds an annual date festival.
The book ends with several tempting recipes (sweet ones such as a 13th-century recipe for date syrup, and a personal favorite: a filled cookie called ma'moul, as well as savory uses).
Like the other books in this series, this title includes footnotes, bibliography, and index.
Review by Plant Answer Line librarian Rebecca Alexander
Season: All Season
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January 13 2017 10:35:53