Lemon Tree, Very Pretty June 02, 2015 12:45
After years of wanting one, I finally bought myself a Meyer Lemon tree last spring. I love the idea of having fresh lemon juice and peel without having to use fruit shipped from halfway across the world, and the smell of lemon blossoms is absolutely amazing. Of course, there's a reason we don't have lemon groves here. Winter isn't exactly the balmy sort that they get in Florida. As October came around, I started getting a little concerned about how my new baby was going to make it til Spring, and when the frosts started I knew it was time to act. A lot of people suggest bringing your citrus trees indoors for the winter and placing them near a sunny window until Spring temperatures arrive, but I live in a tiny basement suite with no natural light to speak of. Since Meyer Lemons like to have 6-8 hours of sunlight per day, and my single sort-of sunny window only gets 2-3 hours per day, I decided the tree was better off staying outside. A few hours of research brought me to this cozy winter lemon setup!
The tree (well, more of a shrub really - it was still a baby) was in a plastic pot. Plastic doesn't "store" cold the way terracotta or clay will, which helps to keep the roots warmer. I then placed the pot inside a wooden box which had been lined with straw, to provide a good cushion of insulation. The outside of the wooden box had plastic sheeting wrapped around it as an additional barrier. I also put some straw mulch over the potting soil, leaving a small area clear so I could water the tree without soaking the straw. I placed this whole box setup against the south facing wall of the house, and then wrapped incandescent christmas lights around the branches and trunk of the tree. It's getting harder to find non-LED christmas lights meant for outdoor use, but they do exist, and it's important to get that particular type. LED strings don't give off enough heat, which is the whole point of this exercise! Finally, I wrapped the whole tree in a cloche. This helps to keep warm air against the plant without blocking sun or stifling the gas exchanges the plant needs. I finished this whole setup in perfect time because less than a week later it snowed!
I kept a close eye on it through the winter, occasionally removing the cloche on warmer days to let it have the full benefit of the sunlight, and keeping the soil nice and damp as a protection against cold. One cold snap caught me off guard when I'd forgotten to turn the lights on, and I lost a couple of leaves, but otherwise things seemed to be going well! The tree had come complete with two half grown lemons, and just before winter I removed the smaller one to prevent the tree from using too many resources on it. I kept the larger one, partly just cause I wanted to see what would happen! I'd read that Meyer's will only fully ripen when it gets cold enough, so all winter I watched this stubbornly green fruit until finally...
February 28th! I grew a lemon! I am so proud of myself. Anyway, the lemon tree (I named it Paul, after Peter, Paul & Mary. What, you don't name your plants?) has continued to do beautifully. I finally removed all the protective winter gear and aside from a small slug incident (oh, I killed that guy...it was war), Paul looks fantastic.
In fact, last week Paul made some flowers. The cycle begins again!