Growing lemon trees in pots is a great way to enjoy your own fresh home grown lemons without taking up too much room. It can be a great option if you have a small garden, or no garden space at all. For your potted lemon tree to reward you with healthy leaves and fresh lemons, it needs proper care and watering. How often should you water your potted lemon? The answer is “it depends”, but we have some tips to help you tell when your potted lemon tree is thirsty.
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What can change how much water your lemon tree needs?
If you search for online advice about when to water your potted lemon tree, it can be confusing. Some people say definitively once a week. Others say “when it is thirsty”, which is probably accurate, but not very helpful!
Things that can influence how much water your potted lemon tree needs to include:
- if your lemon tree is kept inside or outside;
- for inside trees, whether you run heating or air-conditioning and the amount of light;
- for outside trees, the locate climate and weather;
- the age and size of your potted lemon tree;
- how big the pot is;
- the type of pot (terracotta will dry out more quickly than glazed or plastic pots);
- the quality of the soil and if you have added any water holding materials; and
- whether your lemon tree is flowering or bearing fruit.
I have a dwarf Meyer lemon tree in a smallish ceramic pot on my balcony. We live in a climate with cold but mild winter weather without a lot of frost and no snow. The lemon thrives over with just rain water and very little watering. During autumn and spring it needs at least weekly watering. Over summer the soil dries out quickly, particularly in hot windy weather, and I need to water it at least 3-4 times a week if not daily.
Given all these variables, it’s hard to give a definitive rule for watering lemon trees in pots. The best thing to do is to pay close attention to your lemon tree’s overall health and the moisture in the soil.
General guide for watering lemon trees in pots
Never let the soil in your lemon tree pot dry out completely.
Established indoor lemon trees or pots outside that are not exposed to rainfall need watering 2-3 times a week.
For outdoor lemon trees, you may need to water daily in very hot and windy weather.
If you have a young or small lemon tree you need to water it more often (every 1 to 2 days) while it establishes good roots.
Easy ways to tell if your potted lemon tree needs water
Don’t just follow the watering frequency above without getting to know your tree and the soil.
The easiest way to check if your potted lemon needs watering is to stick your finger in the soil, about 2 inches (about 5cm) deep. If the soil feels dry, it’s time to water. If you don’t want to get your hands dirty, try using a wooden or bamboo skewer instead and checking if it comes out of the soil dry or damp.
Watch your potted lemon tree’s leaves for signs that it needs a drink. Leaves will start to wilt when the soil is too dry. They may also start to turn yellow (although this can be a sign of other issues including lack of nutrients, or overwatering!).
If you have a small tree in a light enough pot, try picking it up after watering to see how heavy it is. When it’s time to water, again pick the pot up and see how the weight compares. If it is much lighter, your lemon tree needs a drink.
How to water potted lemon trees
Water your lemon tree with room temperature water. It’s really important to water your lemon tree thoroughly so the roots get a good amount of water. Using more water and watering less often is much better than shallow watering.
Make sure your lemon tree pot has drainage holes. Let the water soak through so that it runs out of the holes in the bottom of the pot. If you keep a lemon tree inside, depending on it’s size you might like to place it outside or in a sink so that you can give it enough water without the saucer overflowing. If you have an inner pot with holes that sits inside a decorative planter, take the inner pot out to water it. Don’t leave your lemon tree sitting in the pooled water.
For outside potted lemon trees, you can simply water with a watering can to soak the soil. It’s best to water around the drip line of the tree, away from the lemon tree trunk. If your lemon tree is in a larger pot and stays outside all year round, you could even incorporate slow running drippers in your automatic sprinkler system.
Can you overwater a potted lemon tree?
Yes, you can overwater a potted lemon tree! Overwatering is probably worse than not watering your lemon tree enough. Overwatering can remove vital nutrients from the soil. An undernourished lemon tree is unlikely to flower and fruit well and can be susceptible to diseases.
Overwatering can also affect growth, so that the lemon tree branches are not strong enough to hold fruit and can break.
If your potted lemon tree is sitting in overly wet soil, it can also cause root rot. Good drainage will help avoid this. Don’t leave your lemon tree pot sitting in pooled water.
Make sure that you pot your lemon tree in a good quality potting soil to start with and fertilise it regularly. Using water crystals in your potting soil mix can help keep a consistent level of moisture in the soil.
More about lemon trees and potted citrus
Looking to expand your potted citrus collection? Try growing a hardy Tahitian lime tree in a pot too.
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