As healthy living continues to grow currency, so is the demand for fruits such as lemons. Lemons are packed with Vitamin C which is key to a strong immune system. Growing lemons can be highly rewarding if done properly. Ideally, you can plant up to 150 trees per acre. Maximum production can be attained after trees produce over four to five times. Each tree can produce over 100kg at peak production. Lucas Munene, a farmer from Kiambu County, says grafted lemon seedlings take two to three years to start fruiting, and a single tree can produce up to 200 to 300 fruits per season by year five. The common lemon varieties include Acid lemons (Lisbon and eureka) and Sweet lemons (Meyer and ponderosa).
Lemons can be grown in a wide range of soil types. However, for best results, they should be grown in well-drained soils, which are fertile, well-aerated, and with a pH of between six to 6.5.
Trees should be planted in sunny and wind-protected areas, and in frost-free regions because they cannot tolerate severe frosts. They can tolerate high temperatures provided the trees are well supplied with soil moisture.
Planting and management practices
The trees are grown from either grafting or budding. The commonly used are grafts.
Grafts involve joining the top of the tree (scion) with a different variety to the roots (rootstock) of the tree. This process begins with propagating new citrus trees by planting seeds for the rootstocks.
Prepare planting holes about 0.5 by 0.5 by 0.5 metres. Fill the holes with topsoil mixed with manure and DAP.
“To improve on nutrient uptake by the young plants as well as stimulating growth, incorporate manure and DAP for better yields,” says Munene.
Water the holes unless the soil is wet enough. Plant the grafts in the holes, to the same depth as they were in the nursery. The bud union should be about 300mm above the ground.
Standard-sized lemon trees should be spaced 12 to 25 feet apart while dwarf trees should be set six to 10 feet apart. The exact distance however depends on the variety. For instance, the bigger the fruit, the further the distance. Citrus trees require a regular water supply. Since rainfall is often poorly distributed and in most cases deficient, invest in irrigation to ensure that moisture stress does not suppress growth and production.
“Newly planted grafts should be watered daily until they are established,” he says.
Dead wood must be removed regularly. When the trees become too big and start growing into one another, pruning is also recommended. Branches touching the ground hamper the removal of fruit lying underneath the tree, impede irrigation and promote ant infestation. They should also be removed. It is important to keep the area under the canopy free from weeds. This is because they compete for growth factors like nutrients and water and harbour pathogens.
Pest and disease control
Pests to watch out for include False coddling moths, aphids, orange dog caterpillars, fruit flies, citrus leafminers, brown soft scales, citrus thrips, and bud mites. Use pesticides and advise as directed by experts. Diseases include citrus canker, sooty mold, greasy spot, anthracnose, bacterial blast, root rot, citrus greening, powdery mildew, and citrus gummosis.
Harvesting of the fruits is done by cutting them off with pruning shears or pulling the fruit stalk from the tree. Harvested fruits can be stored for several weeks at cool temperatures.
The market for lemons is available in the cities and urban areas. Munene sells a kilo at Sh35.