Simple Steps to Repot a Lemon Tree

Potted Lemon Tree
Potted Lemon Tree (Source: Unsplash)

Having a nice-looking citrus tree in your backyard can be very refreshing. But when it is time to repot a lemon tree, things can get tricky!

Who does not love a good lemon tree? Having fresh lemons in your own backyard for a cool lemonade in the summer has me relaxed just thinking about it.

But getting an excellent, ripe harvest requires some work put into your lemon tree. This includes repotting it on time.

Repotting a lemon tree is essential for its healthy growth and timely lemon production. If you constrain the roots in the same pot for a long time, your lemon tree will not get the space it needs to grow. This can stunt your plant’s growth and give it a sickly look. 

Ripe Lemons in a Lemon Tree
Ripe Lemons in a Lemon Tree (Source: Pexels)

So, knowing the right time to repot your lemon tree is crucial for its well-rounded care, and we are here to help with that.

In this article, we will discuss at length the whys and the whens of repotting your lemon tree. We will also give you tips on how to re-pot your citrus tree.

So what are we waiting for? Let us get right into it!

Does Lemon Tree Grow Well in Pots?

Lemon trees do well in the ground, but they can also do well in pots. However, you might have to give it a little extra attention.

For instance, in the ground, the roots of a lemon tree are protected from cold temperatures. In pots, however, these roots are exposed to critically low temperatures in the winter.

Since the roots of lemon trees can stand temperatures only up to 85 degrees Fahrenheit, you will have to find ways to keep your tree warm throughout the colder months.

Your watering requirements will also differ from those for trees grown in the ground. The time it takes for the soil in your container to drain will be specific to the kind of pot you have.

Another interesting problem you will face is the lack of bees indoors. Since the bees won’t help your indoor plant with pollination, your might need to give your tree a hand yourself.

Reasons to Repot a Lemon Tree

There is one main reason a lemon tree needs to shift into a new pot.

Growth and Nourishment

Lemon trees like pots with enough room for growth but not large enough that it will take years to fill in.

A Small Lemon Tree in an Ideal Pot (Source: Unsplash)

But a pot too small is not ideal either, and your plant will rebel by growing its roots out of the holes.

Rootbound trees like these can also start to look unhealthy and develop root rots.

As the tree breaks down the nutrients in its soil, it will ultimately eat through them all. This gives your tree little nourishment to go on after a certain point.

A malnourished lemon tree can start to look withered or yellow. So, you will want to change the old soil for a nourishing mix every once in a while.

Ideal Time to Repot a Lemon Tree

Citrus trees, such as lemon trees, are best repotted in springtime before the growth starts actively.

Enriched Soil Mix
Enriched Soil Mix (Source: Pexels)

Generally, a young lemon tree needs repotting every one to two years. For mature lemon trees (usually with a height of about 6-10ft), you can bring it down every three to four years. 

You can also look for specific signs that your lemon tree needs repotting.

You will know that your lemon tree has outgrown its current pot if you see roots growing out of the drainage holes or even see cracks in your current pot.

This happens as the tree tries to make more space for its growing roots. Move your plant into a bigger container to get it growing.

Another sign your citrus tree needs repotting is if you see that its leaves are turning yellow or are withering.

This can happen when your plant eats through the nutrients in its soil and does not have more to go on.

At this point, transfer your plant into a bigger pot with a mixture of soil and compost.

As a rule of thumb, repot your tree either in spring or at the onset of summer. In the colder seasons, your plant will not grow so there is no need of repotting.

Materials Required to Repot a Lemon Tree

Before you start repotting, here are a few things you will want to keep handy.

1. Pot Requirements

First off, you want your pot to be wide sideways. This is how the roots of a lemon tree grow. A shallow pot will not facilitate this growth.

Next, start with smaller pots of about 8-inch diameter. Ideally, your plant should be more than 2.5 times the height of the pot.

Round Plastic Garden Pot from Amazon
Round Plastic Garden Pot (Source: Amazon)

You might need bigger pots as the tree grows, depending on how big you want the tree to be. The pot should be big enough to allow room for the soil around the root ball.

Drainage is another key factor you should be looking out for in a pot for a lemon tree.

Soggy soil and a waterlogged pot can make your tree’s roots rot and eventually kill them. To avoid this, you will need a pot with proper drainage holes.

Get a pot that has drainage holes at the bottom. If you can’t find one, you can also drill holes into your pot for added drainage.

Also, elevate your pot off its tray to keep water from being trapped in the bottom of the container.

Amazon has some good plastic pots in a variety of sizes.

You will find a table highlighting the best pots for different age groups of lemon tree plants, along with a link to Amazon below.

Product NamePot SizePot MaterialLemon Tree Age
Ogrmar Gallon Durable Nursery Pot5 GallonsPlastic2-4 years
VIVOSUN Gallons Thickened Nonwoven Pot10-15 GallonsFabric4-7 years
Viagrow Round Plastic Garden Nursery Pot20 GallonsPlastic8-9 years

2. Soil Composition and Other Requirements

Opt for well-draining, slightly acidic soil with a pH of about 6-7. Sandy loam is usually used for gardening and suits the lemon tree well.

Well-draining soil makes sure water runs through the soil and does not sit in it for too long. Add perlite, sand, and small stones to your soil for extra drainage and aeration of roots.

For commercial potting mixes, choose ones with perlite, peat moss, and vermiculite, in addition to compost.

These inorganic materials absorb the moisture, providing the citrus roots with hydration without making the soil soggy.

In short, this combination makes the soil sufficiently drain while also providing the nutrition your citrus plant needs.

If making the mix at home, use one-fourth of each sand, perlite, compost, and peat.

If using clay soil, add mechanisms like sand, stones, or grit to facilitate drainage.

You can pick up mixes from the local nursery.

3. Compost and Fertilizer Requirements

Lemon trees love nutrition, so you will want to incorporate a source of nitrogen into the soil mix. Manure and cedarwood chips work wonders for your plant.

Spreading cedar wood shavings on top of your soil adds nutrients to it as the shaving breaks down. It also repels pests.

NPK fertilizers are also a good investment for lemon trees. Nitrogen (N) helps in leaf production, phosphorus (P) in fruit and flower production, and potassium (K) boosts the overall health of the tree.

We will cover more on this later in the article.

Cedar Wood Shavings from Amazon
Cedar Wood Shavings from Amazon (Source: Amazon)

You can find packets on Amazon.

4. Gardening Knife

You can use this to cut away roots that might have been rotting.

It is also helpful when loosening the excess soil from the root ball before transferring it into a new potting mix.

5. Gloves for Safety

Keeping a pair of gloves handy for safety purposes is always a good idea while gardening, especially in an activity like repotting, where you will be playing with the soil hands-on.

The soil can get lodged under your nail beds, and you can come across sharp objects like broken twigs and sharp stones that can cut you.

These injuries in the garden run a risk of causing tetanus infections because of the bacteria in the soil.

To help you avoid these mishaps, we’ve made a list of some of the sturdiest gloves in the market:

Gloves NameMaterial Available SizesSpecial Features
StoneBreaker GlovesGenuine Leather (North American deer skin & cow hide )Medium, Large, Extra-largeReinforcing patches, Extended cuffs, double sewn seams
Clip Gloves Ladies Bamboo Fibre Comfort & GripBamboo, LatexMediumEnvironmentally sustainable, bamboo lining, insulating latex coating
Heavy Duty Gardening Gloves by UneedMeLeather (goatskin)MediumLong sleeve gauntlet design, adjustable elastic cuffs, waterproof material
CLC Custom Leathercraft 125L Handyman Flex Grip Work GlovesFaux LeatherSmall, Medium, Large, X-Large, XX-LargeInner stitching for heavy duty work, wing closing strap, 3 touch screen friendly finger tips for mobile devices
Ironclad General Utility Work GlovesFaux Leather, Nylon, LeatherSmall, Medium, Large, X-Large, XX-LargeThermoplastic rubber for knuckle protection, sweat wipe at the back of thumb, adjustable hook and loop

How to Repot a Lemon Tree

And now, let us go step by step through the process of repotting your lemon tree.

Step 1: Preparing the Materials

  • Gather all your materials and equipment in one location. This way, you will not have to do a lot of back and forth.
  • Make sure you are wearing gloves since you will be doing a lot of hands-on work.

Step 2: Mixing and Adding the Soil

  • Start by mixing your perlite, compost, sand, and other materials for your soil. For whatever ingredients you are adding by yourself, make sure to read the instruction for the correct amounts.
  • Fill in the new container up to the level where you want your roots to start. It is important to plant the tree at the same level as it was in the previous pot.

Step 3: Repotting the Lemon Tree

  • To take your tree out of its current pot, take some of the soil from the edges. Then, tilt your pot to a 45-degree angle and gently pull the plant. Make sure to hold on to the base of the plant, which is the strongest.
  • Now loosen the soil around the root ball. Take off some of the excess soil. Examine the roots for rotting, and prune them off if you see any.
  • You can now transfer your plant into your new container. Make sure you center your plant. If the level is correct, fill in the sides with your potting mix.

Step 4: Finishing Touches

  • Pat down the mix a little to avoid air pockets. Take care not to make it too compact, however. You want to allow movement and good drainage.
  • Add some wood shavings on top. This will give your plant extra nutrients while at the same time preventing excess weeds from growing in your container.
  • Finally, place your pot where the sunlight is optimum, and water your tree in your new pot.

Extra Tips:

  1. If the roots are tightly knotted together, gently pull them to loosen them to have more movement in the new soil.
  2. Cover the top of the roots with your potting mix, but leave about 2 inches between the soil level and the pot mouth. This will keep the water from spilling over when watering your tree.
  3. You do not need to shift your plant into a new pot. Instead, you can prune the roots and repot your lemon tree into the same pot with enriched soil if you want a small tree. We recommend you do some research before you take this step.

Learn how to repot a philodendron and a snake plant.

Here is a helpful video that teaches you how to prune the roots.

We will talk about all these care tips in the next segment.

Tips to Take Care of a Repotted Lemon Tree

Here, you will learn some neat tips and tricks on how you can take care of your repotted lemon tree.

ParametersDescription 
LocationPlace the tree in a warm spot.
Light6 hours of direct sunlight everyday.
Temperature75 - 85 degrees Fahrenheit.
Humidity RequirementOutdoor: 50% or more.
Indoor: Below or around 50% to avoid mold and bacteria.
Watering ScheduleWater with one-day intervals in between.
Fertilizer RequirementIdeal fertilizer for lemon trees: 6-6-6.
Pruning TimeAt the beginning or throughout the summer.

1. Location and Temperature

Lemon trees love sunlight. Giving it around 6 hours of sunlight every day is ideal.

If you are growing it indoors, it is helpful to invest in LED lights.

So, whether indoors or outdoors, you want your lemon tree growing in a warm spot with plenty of light.

Your tree will especially thrive in temperatures between 75 – 85 degrees Fahrenheit.

Also, place the tree in a spot that does not get intense wind.

Lemon Trees love Sunlight (Source: Unsplash)
Lemon Trees love Sunlight (Source: Unsplash)

In cooler climates, you can keep them outside in direct sunlight.

Lemon trees are frost-sensitive, so you will want to bring your tree inside when the temperature falls below freezing at night and in wintertime.

You might also have to cover your plant with a blanket or plastic if the temperature gets extreme.

If your winters do not get below freezing temperatures, your lemon tree can survive the cold outside.

In hot climates, you will want to keep the trees in partial shade. The scorching sun can give your tree sunburn.

2. Humidity Requirement

Lemon trees need humidity levels of either 50% or more. In most climates, outdoor settings provide this humidity.

Indoors, you might have to increase your humidity a little bit. However, keep it below or around 50% to avoid mold and bacteria in your rooms.

To compensate, you can take your plant outside for a few hours on warm days.

You can also use a spray bottle to spray water on your tree leaves throughout the day.

Preferably get a bottle that sprays mist like this spray bottle I found on Amazon.

3. Choosing the Correct Container

The material and the color of your container can affect the temperature and drainage of your soil.

Black plastic containers are the most popular ones. They can be easy to drill holes into.

However, the black color absorbs heat, giving higher temperatures to your roots.  An easy fix for this is to paint over the containers with a lighter color.

Terracotta is more porous than ceramic, and it is harder to drill holes into ceramic pots if they do not already have them. Ceramic can also crack in the cold.

Also, be mindful of your need to change the locations of the pot.

If you live in a climate that will require you to bring your pots in and out frequently, you want the material of your container to be sturdy and light.

4. Watering Schedule

Lemon trees love to be watered but not to sit in water-logged soil.

Immediately after you repot your tree, water it with one-day intervals in between. Make sure not to drench the soil in water. It should be moist, not soggy.

A good measure for the quantity of water is about 20% of the volume of the container.

Cut back on the watering after about two weeks. You can then start watering the tree according to the dryness of the soil.

To know this, stick your finger into the soil and water if dry.

You will need to water your plant liberally and more frequently in the summer. Water your plant a few times a week.

In the winter, cut back on the watering. Wait until the top layer of soil is partially dry to water your plant.

Lemons Sprayed with Water (Source: Unsplash)
Lemons Sprayed with Water (Source: Unsplash)

If you see that the leaves are wilted, and watering makes them perk up, this means the roots are too dry. Pick up the watering at this point.

If the leaves are yellow or curled and stay the same after watering, it is a sign for you to cut back on watering because the roots are getting too much water.

Additionally, spraying the top halves of your plants with water now and then will keep off pollution and pests. It will also aid in pollination.

5. Pollinating the Plant

Speaking of pollination, here’s how you can help your indoor trees:

  • Take a soft paintbrush and brush against the antlers of the flower to collect the pollen. These are the tiny buds on thin stems filled with yellow pollen.
  • Now brush the pistil of another flower with the collected pollen. This is the long stem growing from the center of the flower.
Flower of a Lemon Tree
Flower of a Lemon Tree (Source: Unsplash)

Pollinate your lemon tree like this every day when it is in bloom to ensure good pollination.

You can take your tree outdoors for a couple of hours during the day if you’d prefer to skip this step.

6. Fertilizer Requirement

Growing lemon trees need a good amount of nutrients. Fertilizing your tree once every month during this time boosts its growth.

Lemon trees are suckers for extra Nitrogen, Phosphorus, Potassium, Iron, Calcium, and Zinc.

In the summer, use citrus summer feeds that are high in nitrogen.

In winter, use citrus winter feeds. Winter feeds are heavier in phosphorus and potassium to give your plant that extra boost in the cold. 

An ideal fertilizer (NPK value) for lemon trees would be 6-6-6. You can opt for a stronger fertilizer mix, but it should not exceed the value of 8-8-8.

Add compost to your mix in the springtime as well. If the leaves are yellow despite adequate watering, increase the amount of feed you are using.

Here are the Amazon links to winter feeds and summer feeds made for citrus trees.  The Espoma Citrus-Tone is also a good fertilizer that is popular among the citrus gardening community.

7. Root Burn

Underwatering and overfertilization can cause the roots of a lemon tree to “burn.”

Manures and synthetic mineral fertilizers with high levels of mineral salts, when used excessively, can draw water out of the roots.

To avoid root burn, follow the instructions on the label for appropriate fertilizer application. Additionally, you can use a mulch to reduce evaporation of the moisture.

8. Pests Information

Heavy infestations can be lethal for your lemon trees. You might even have to prune the infested areas.

So, monitor your plant regularly to catch them early on.

The table below shows the kind of pests you can find on your lemon tree.

PestDescription EffectSolution
AphidsAphids are small, green, brown, or orange insects that feed on the sap of plants. They show up on flowers and young shoots around summertime. They leave behind a sticky residue. They affect flower production. This can mean less fruit-bearing by the lemon tree.
They also cause leaves to curl up.
Hand-picking, dabbing with rubbing alcohol on cotton swab, pest spray
Mealy BugsMealy bugs are tiny, fluffy, white insects found in warmer climates. They feed on plant sap in the crevices of branches and look like tiny cotton balls. They cause yellowing leaves. Mealy bug honeydew (their waste) can also encourage mold growth. Pest spray, dabbing with rubbing alcohol on cotton swab
CaterpillarsThese are the bushy larvae of butterflies. They attack leaves, flowers and young shoots. They eat through leaves and flowers, deforming them. This also affects fruit production. Handpick eggs, general pest spray
Scale These are tiny brown insects that also feed on plant sap. They're generally found on the undersides of leaves. They cause the deforming and yellowing of leave. They can cause stunted growth of the plant. Hand-picking, horticulture oil spray, dabbing with rubbing alcohol on cotton swab
Leaf minerThese are the larvae of various pests. They feed on leaves and leave a silver trail on the leaf. They eat the leaf tissue and deform leaves. General pesticide spray

Spider mites can be quite tricky. They appear as white spots on leaves. Learn about white spots on catnip leaves.

9. Pruning On Time

Lemon trees do not need a lot of pruning. The frequency with which you prune depends on how small you want your plant to be.

However, some pruning is recommended to keep your plant healthy as well.

It is important to mention here that stunted growth can affect the quantity of fruit-bearing. Smaller trees will give you less fruit.

Pruning for Shape

Pruning off about half of the length of new shoots gives the plant a tight shape. Make sure to cut just above leaves.

You can cut off about two-thirds of the tallest branch as well to get bushy growth.

If your lemon tree is grafted, cut off new shoots below the graft union since these won’t give you the intended fruit variety.

Pruning for Health

Cut off some inside branches so that light passes through to the center. You should also prune overcrowded and leggy branches along with deadwood.

Older plants can also produce water shoots. These are fast-growing shoots coming out of the trunk of your tree or from its old branches.

You only want to shorten the ones that grow around the tips of branches.

When to Prune Your Lemon Tree

The onset of spring and throughout summer are the best times to prune. Avoid pruning in scorching heat, however.

Pruning is ideal after harvests since this gives your tree time to heal before the next harvest.

Here is a helpful video for more tips and visual instructions on the overall care for your lemon tree.

Conclusion

All in all, lemon trees need repotting every few years, and the process is not intimidating once you know what you are doing.

I hope I have given you some confidence in that area. A little care goes a long way for your lemon tree.

So show it some love for fresh, plump lemons.

So, what are you waiting for? Go on and repot a lemon tree today!

Happy planting!

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