In order to plant a lemon tree, first choose a sunny, sheltered location in your yard. Then, get to work digging the hole for your tree. Lemon trees need a planting hole that is about as big or slightly shallower than their root ball. For better air circulation, plant your lemon tree high up in the soil. Like other citrus trees, lemons prefer looser soil. So it’s a good idea to dig a deeper hole at first and then backfill the hole with soil up to the desired level before planting. This soil preparation will ensure the tree roots have ideal space for root growth.
Table of Contents
Can You Plant a Potted Lemon Tree in the Ground?
With the right tactics, you can transfer a potted lemon tree to the great outdoors. Transitioning potted trees or container trees to outdoor trees can be a bit stressful. The entire tree must be prepped for the shock of being removed from its pot or it can suffer. First, you should move your potted plant to the planting location for at least 2 weeks. Do not re-plant it yet, keep it in the container but in roughly the spot it will be planted. This will give your tree time to acclimate to the environment.
- You can replant a potted tree with enough preparation and care.
- Give your lemon plant at least 2 weeks to acclimate to its new location before replanting.
- Ensure your plant has all the soil conditions and nutrients it needs in the new spot.
Before you plant, follow our guide to digging the ideal hole for your tree. You may be surprised how much digging you have to do in order to loosen soil and create a large enough hole for your tree. Get a shovel handy and put on your work gloves. You can get the job done yourself in just a few hours.
8 Steps to Plant a Lemon Tree in the Ground
Planting citrus trees such as lemons is just like planting any other fruit tree. It’s all about location, soil conditions, proper planting depth, and continuing care. In the following sections, we’ll cover how to take your lemon plant from a pot with soil to growing outdoors.
Plant at the Right Time of Year
It’s best to plant citrus trees, especially lemons, in the spring. Outdoor lemon trees don’t have much protection against the cold so they need to be planted in warmer months. Trees planted in the height of summer can also suffer from extreme heat, so the cooler months of spring make for an ideal planting time.
Choose a Good Location
Your lemon plant needs a sunny location and warm climate much like other citrus trees do. Cold weather conditions can easily kill your tree. To prevent cold weather damage, plan to plant your lemon tree in a sunny spot.
- Choose a sunny, warm area for your lemon tree to be planted.
- Make sure to choose a location that is protected from wind during winter.
- If possible, plant lemon trees on the south or west side of a building, so they receive shelter and sun.
It may also be a good idea to find a somewhat sheltered location that blocks wind during the colder months. This can provide additional protection against frost. Consider planting your tree close to a building for wind protection. South-facing plantings are typically best because the building will block winter wind but won’t block sunlight from reaching your tree.
Prepare the Soil
Sandy soils, especially sandy loam soils, are best for planting citrus trees and ensuring optimum growth. Unsurprisingly, lemon trees also prefer slightly acidic soil conditions, from 6 to 7 pH. You can add various nutrients and acidity to the soil using gardening aids. Sulfur will increase soil acidity, while fertilizer provides necessary plant nutrients.
- Use this pH meter to check soil acidity before planting
- pH between 6 and 7 is ideal for lemon trees
- Loosen soil by digging it up then putting it back in the hole
- Add citrus fertilizer to the soil for a growth boost
Citrus trees also prefer loose soil and need special fertilizer. Dig up the soil you plan to plant in then backfill the hole with the same soil to loosen it. Use these citrus fertilizer spikes to keep your lemon trees well-nourished. Be sure to calculate the correct number to use for the size of citrus tree you’re growing.
Dig the Hole
Dig your tree’s hole about twice as deep as the root ball. Then, backfill with soil up until the hole is about as deep as the root ball is tall. This may seem like extra work but it helps to prepare the soil for your citrus fruit tree. Citrus plants like lemons need loose soil to ensure optimal root growth.
- Lemon trees thrive in loose soil.
- Dig a hole twice as large as the tree’s root ball.
- After digging, backfill the hole until it is about the size of the root ball.
- Root balls should be planted at soil level.
Your planting hole only needs to be as big as the root ball but this additional preparation helps spur vigorous growth. In place of extra soil, you can also backfill with citrus fertilizer for an additional boost.
Remove Your Tree from its Container
Gently separate the tree from its container by grasping the base of the tree trunk and pulling. Use constant but light pressure and stop any time you feel tearing. You want the root ball to come out of the pot seamlessly and with little to no loss of roots.
- Grasp the base of the tree trunk and pull with light, steady pressure.
- Separate the tree from its container as gently as possible.
- Brush away potting soil and detangle the root ball before replanting.
Once the root ball is safely out, brush out the clumped soil. Run your hand over tangled roots and take care to separate them delicately. This will ensure ideal root growth once your lemon tree is re-planted. After the potting soil is brushed away and the roots are detangled, the tree is ready to plant.
Plant the Tree
Place the lemon root ball into your prepared hole. Do not drop it into place. The shock of being dropped into a hole can kill your lemon tree. Once the tree is in place, begin to cover the roots with soil. Don’t fully cover the roots. Leave the root crown (the top of the root ball) exposed. This increases exposure to air pockets, which helps keep the roots aerated.
- Place your tree in the hole gently and cover with soil.
- Leave the top of the root ball exposed.
- Monitor your tree for a few weeks after planting.
Newly-planted citrus trees need to be monitored for a few weeks after planting. This is because newly-planted citrus is susceptible to re-planting shock, which can hamper its growth. If your tree looks like it’s suffering, you may need to take extra steps to care for a struggling tree.
Once your tree is planted, add organic mulch at its base. A 2–4 inch deep (5–10 cm) layer of mulch will help retain soil moisture and ensure healthy tree growth. Newly-planted citrus will prefer organic matter that breaks down quickly. Things like grass clippings, leaves, and compost are all great mulch.
- Spread a 2–4 inch thick (5–10 cm) layer of mulch around your tree.
- Use organic matter like grass clippings or compost as mulch.
- Leave a mulch-free zone 2–3 inches (5–7.5 cm) around the tree’s trunk.
If you get a commercially-produced mulch, go for something made out of tree materials. This will work so long as it is pesticide-free. When you are laying mulch, do not mound it up against the trunk. Keep the area clear of mulch for 2–3 inches (5–7.5 cm) around the tree trunk. This will prevent trapped moisture from rotting your lemon tree’s bark.
Water Your Lemon Tree
Lemon trees need a few inches of water every five days. How many inches depends on the size of your tree. In general, you want to water once the top 3 inches (7.5 cm) of soil are dry to the touch. Water until the top 3 inches (7.5 cm) of soil is well-wetted but not soaked. You want the roots to retain plenty of moisture, but too much water will cut off airflow.
- Lemon trees need a few inches of water every 5 days
- Make sure the soil is dry at 3 inches deep (7.5 cm) before watering again
- Moisten the top 3 inches (7.5 cm) with water, but do not water until the soil is soaked or muddy
Consider setting up basic spray sprinklers to give your lemon trees the correct inches of water per week. As long as the sprinklers are set up to not hit the foliage or fruits, these sprinklers are one of the best ways to water outdoor lemon trees.
How Deep Should You Plant a Lemon Tree?
Ideally, lemon trees should be planted as close to ground level as possible. The best way to plant a lemon tree is to:
- Plant your outdoor lemon trees in spring
- Choose a sunny, warm spot to grow in
- Make sure the soil is loose, sandy, slightly-acidic, and well-fertilized
- Dig a hole just deep enough for the root ball
- Cover with soil but leave the top of the root ball exposed
- If replanting from a container, monitor your newly-planted citrus to make sure it acclimates
- Add mulch to retain soil moisture and water once every 5 days
So be sure to follow these steps. As long as you plant your lemon tree with the roots near the soil surface, you’re definitely planting deep enough. Be sure to consult with your local gardening center if you have any difficulty planting your tree.