The reason all of us foodie gardeners grow Meyer lemons is that their thin skins and delectable flavor surpass the acidic pulp and thick white rind of the grocery store Eureka or Lisbon lemons. Yet there are two common garden conditions that make Meyer lemons taste more acidic, develop thick bumpy white rinds, and have mis-shapen fruit.
I personally planted a Meyer lemon about five years ago for a client, and she called me recently to ask what variety of lemon I’d planted for her, because she’d thought Meyer lemons were supposed to have a thin skin. When I went to inspect the lemon, sure enough, the lemons had 1/2-inch thick rinds with an acidic flavor, instead of the thin skins and floral flavor of a Meyer. Since I’d gotten the tree from a reputable nursery, I was pretty sure it truly was a Meyer. But why then were the rinds so odd? A little research turned up the answer.
There are two things that cause thick rinds in Meyer lemons:
Too much nitrogen. Nitrogen is indicated by the first number on your fertilizer bag, and it’s responsible for the green leafy growth of plants. If you’ve been topdressing your garden with manure, or have been using an all-purpose fertilizer in the garden, your lemon tree may have more nitrogen than it needs.
While lemon trees often show signs of nitrogen deficiency, which is to say pale yellow leaves, it’s important to make sure you’re not over-feeding with nitrogen as that can cause lush growth that is attractive to pests, as well as deformed fruit, thick rinds, and a lack of juice.
Too little phosphorus. Phosphorus is the second number on the fertilizer bag, and it helps plants create flowers and fruit, as well as healthy roots. The symptoms of too little phosphorus on a citrus plant are the same as for excess nitrogen – bumpy thick rinds, acidic flavor, and not much juice in the pulp.
How to fix this:
Because the symptoms of excess nitrogen are made worse by having a lack of phosphorus in the soil, it’s often a good idea to start by applying bone meal to the dripline of the plant – the area of the soil around the outer edges of the leaves. Bone meal is a slow-release form of fertilizer that is organic and natural.
It’s also wise to be careful in applying nitrogen to your lemon tree. While lemons do need nitrogen, don’t apply so much that the growth is super-lush and super-deep green. Manure’s a great thing to use elsewhere in the garden, but skip it under your lemon tree.
Of course, the best route to take is to get a soil test before applying anything. I found a source for an inexpensive soil test, and I explain how and why to soil test in that article. The soil test may save you money and prevent a lot of trial and error, and it’s only about $15.
Image via Wikimedia Commons.