How Much and How Often to Water Lemon Trees?
While lemon trees grow and thrive in tropical climates that receive direct light, they have also become popular fruit trees in colder climates. For lemon growers in tropical climates, creating a watering schedule is a non-issue. However, for gardeners in colder climates, watering can be tricky because lemon trees are overly sensitive, especially when still young.
This article will explore how much and how often you should water your lemon trees depending on whether they are grown indoors or outdoors, what the season is, and the irrigation system. Keep reading to learn more.
How Much to Water Lemon Trees
According to research by the University of Arizona¹, mature lemon trees can use about 60 inches of water per year. This will, of course, depend on the size of the tree and corresponds to 135 gallons of water in summer and about 17 gallons in winter. While this information is maybe useful to large-scale commercial lemon farmers, it is irrelevant for a home gardener with a limited number of lemon trees.
If growing one crop type, the soil will not effectively recycle water and nutrients. Moreover, most of the topsoil and water are lost, and as such, a lot of water is needed for compensation. The data from the university also exceeds the average rainfall received in tropical climates where lemon trees are native and can grow with minimal human intervention.
So, how much should someone from a colder climate water their lemon trees?
Well, citrus trees will need water at least twice a week. The quantity of water offered will depend on factors such as season, location, tree size, soil type, and age.
If your citrus plant is still young, it will require watering about 2–3 times within the first week and once every week for the next two months. In addition, newly planted lemon trees will need about 5 centimeters of water for them to get established.
For mature lemon trees, you will need approximately 150 centimeters of water every year. If the tree has developed a 14-foot canopy, for instance, it will need about 110 liters of water in each watering session. However, if ambient temperatures rise above 32℃, you may have to increase the watering frequency to once per week to ensure the soil remains moist.
How Often to Water Lemon Trees
For a lemon tree to thrive, you should only water the plant when the topsoil layer (about 2–4 inches) gets dry. If lemon trees get overwatered, they become susceptible to root rot, and if underwatered, they may fail to bloom and produce fruits. Therefore, it is important to get the watering right.
Unfortunately, there is no general rule for watering citrus trees. As mentioned earlier, the frequency of watering lemon trees will also depend on several factors. These include the irrigation system employed, the season, soil type, and whether the plants are grown indoors or outdoors.
Below is the watering schedule based on some of the most important factors that gardeners need to consider.
Based on Irrigation System and Schedule
- Hose: Hoses are the cheapest and least time-consuming method of watering lemon trees. Unfortunately, this method presents a high rate of operator errors due to impatience, neglect, and inexperience.
- Drip Systems: Drip systems are a popular choice for most gardeners because they are easy to install. However, they are not scheduled to run long enough to fully saturate the soil resulting in wilting and drying of the plant leaves. So, a drip system should be run for at least 2 hours once or twice a week to ensure that the soil is sufficiently saturated with water.
- Sprinklers: This irrigation method may be more expensive than the two methods above, but it distributes more water to the plant in less time. For a fully mature tree (15 gallons), you should run your sprinklers for 15–25 minutes, depending on the soil type.
- Bubblers: Bubblers are similar to sprinklers in water distribution. However, they distribute water faster and direct it to a localized area. You may need additional bubblers as the tree roots grow and spread but they can effectively saturate a drip zone in just 5 minutes.
Based on Season
During the hot and humid summer months, moisture demand in lemon trees significantly increases. At this time, the trees tend to be actively growing and developing fruits. So, your watering schedule will be more frequent. Sure, lemon trees are drought resistant and can last for more than a week without water in summer, but they will need a generous soak and need to be planted in soil made up of lots of organic matter for moisture retention.
Any lemon tree less than 6 feet will need about 5 gallons of water every week during summer. The larger and more mature trees will need more water and as such, you might want to consult a professional citrus care chart for more exact measurements.
You may have to moderate the amount you give your plant based on the weather because if your area receives sporadic rainfall, watering your tree may contribute to root rot. Additionally, you will have to adjust your schedule if your tree is growing on fast or slow draining soils or growing somewhere particularly prone to high winds that may suck moisture from the plant leaves.
Either way, so long as the top two inches of soil are dry and crumby to the touch before watering, you can avoid a whole host of problems associated with underwatering and overwatering your lemon tree.
One of the biggest issues most lemon tree growers face during winter is overwatering. During these cold months, the plants slip into a dormant state and require much less water. Therefore, water is only needed to ensure the plant remains moist throughout winter. The watering schedule will depend on whether the plants are growing indoors in a pot or growing outside on the ground.
If outside, they can achieve their watering requirement from the environment, but if indoors, you will have to water the plant yourself. Just watch out for early signs of underwatering such as leaves curling and dropping off, and adjust your water frequency accordingly. However, remember not to spray water on lemon tree leaves to prevent fungal and mold growth during these cold months.
Based on Growing Indoors vs Outdoors
Lemon trees growing indoors or outdoors¹ have specific differences in their needs and care services for them to thrive. Those grown outdoors tend to be vulnerable to environmental conditions compared to the indoor variant. This is because the gardener has little or no control over the lemon’s surrounding environment. Hence, water the plants once every two weeks.
On the other hand, indoor-grown lemon should be watered at least once a week or immediately when the soil moisture content indicates that the plant needs watering. Another important aspect in terms of watering indoor lemon trees is the potting size¹.
Excessively large pots are not recommended because they are susceptible to overwatering, especially if you have recently transferred the plant. As a rule of thumb, a 2-to-3-year-old lemon tree will require a 10”–12” diameter pot, while a larger plant will thrive in a ½ gallon barrel.
How to Tell Your Lemon Tree Needs Water
Besides checking the top 2 inches of soil for moisture content, if your lemon leaves are turning yellow, curling up, drying, and falling off¹, chances are high that it’s not getting enough water.
The small size of the fruits produced is also a sure sign of underwatering. This is because citrus trees are an evergreen plant species, and, as such, should not be losing leaves during fall and winter like the deciduous plant species. Actually, they shouldn’t lose any leaves throughout the year.
Fortunately, with proper care and maintenance, the plant should be able to recover its leaves back. One way of preventing wilting in your citrus plants is by adding mulch or compost to protect the plant from the elements and increase its moisture retention capability.
As you may have gathered, lemon trees are native to tropical climates, and as such, they need enough rain, direct sun, and coarse draining soil to thrive. So, if your lemon is wilting and dying, it is probably lacking in one of the three key areas. When it comes to watering lemon trees, your goal should be to keep the soil moist, but not oversaturated. However, this is a balancing act and will depend on several factors.
If growing your plants outdoors, at least water the plants after every two weeks with 140–420 gallons of water during summer. If growing indoors, the plants will need less water a less frequency (at least once a week). During winter, the plants will need at least watering once every two weeks because they are usually dormant. But if growing indoors, water it at least once a week.
To find out if your lemon tree is receiving the right amount of water, check out for curling and dying leaves, which indicates underwatering, or rot in roots which indicate overwatering. Fortunately, you can reduce the amount offered to your tree by mulching, drip irrigation, shading, and using better draining soil. This will make the plant self-sufficient and able to thrive anywhere no matter the climate.
See also: 8 Tips on When and How to Prune Lemon Trees
Featured Image Credit: GregMontani, Pixabay