If you are new to keeping a lemon tree, it can initially seem daunting to understand how often you should be watering your new friend. Both too much and too little water can kill a lemon tree. Fortunately, equipped with a few guidelines, it is easy to develop and maintain a watering schedule that will keep your potted lemon tree happy and healthy for years to come.
So how often should a potted lemon tree be watered? Though it varies dependent on factors such as relative humidity, temperature, and plant maturity or size, a potted lemon tree should be watered thoroughly about once every 5 days, or when the soil is dry to the touch 2-3 inches below the surface.
Monitoring your lemon tree’s soil and maintaining proper soil moisture is critical in sustaining your tree’s health while discouraging wet diseases such as fungal infections and root rot. Read on to find out more.
The dangers of overwatering
While lemon trees need plenty of water, it is important that you don’t overwater your potted lemon tree. When the soil stays too wet for too long, oxygen cannot reach the roots of the plant through air pockets in the soil, and the roots will start to decay. This will result in diseases such as fungal infections and root rot. When a lemon tree is inflicted with a disease caused by overwatering, it is very unlikely that it will recover.
Unfortunately, it can be quite easy to overwater potted lemon trees, as water is often trapped by the sides of the container and cannot dissipate into farther reaches of soil as is possible with a tree that is planted in the ground.
Make sure to water your potted lemon tree only when it needs it. Choosing the right pot with adequate drainage can also help in making sure your lemon tree’s roots are not sitting in too wet of soil. For more information about choosing the right pot for your lemon tree, see this post.
Signs of overwatering
If the leaves of your lemon tree start to turn yellowish, this can be an early sign of overwatering. The leaves will eventually begin to drop, and the roots will become mushy and black.
The dangers of underwatering
Lemon trees are native to and thrive in subtropical and Mediterranean growing zones, i.e. the coastal areas of California and Florida, and therefore are not accustomed to drought stress. If you are growing a lemon tree outside of the subtropics, you will need to make sure it has enough water and humidity in order to thrive and produce fruit.
When the relative humidity is low (i.e. in the winter with the heater on) or when temperatures are high (i.e. in the peak of summer in front of a window with full sun), it can be easy for a lemon tree to become dehydrated more quickly.
Fortunately, once the symptoms are recognized, with an increased and regular watering schedule, a lemon tree will usually recover from being underwatered.
Signs of underwatering
If your lemon tree’s leaves are curling inward yet are still green in color, this can be an early sign of underwatering. Progressive signs include the browning, drying, and dropping of leaves. If the tree is blooming, blossoms may die and drop prematurely. In extreme cases, fruit can drop as a cause of underwatering.
How to tell if your lemon tree needs to be watered
Stick your finger into the soil of your lemon tree. If the soil of your lemon tree is dry to the touch 2-3 inches below the surface, it’s time to water.
After a few weeks of tracking how often you water your lemon tree based upon soil dryness, you will be able to hone in on an approximate interval range after which you need to water your plant. Currently I water my potted lemon tree about once every 5 days, but this may be different for you dependent on your climate, season, and pot and plant size. Most lemon tree growers need to water their potted plant once every 3-7 days.
Beware that the frequency with which you need to water your lemon tree may change over time. Factors such as plant size, temperature, and humidity can affect the frequency with which you need to water. The larger or more mature the plant is, the more water it will need to sustain its larger size. In the hotter months, your tree is likely to use water more quickly. If the humidity is low, the rate of evaporation of the water is much faster, and the soil of your lemon tree will become drier faster. If you are attentive to the signs and check the soil moisture regularly, it will be easy to tell and adjust your watering schedule accordingly.
Water your tree thoroughly
When it is time, water your tree thoroughly until the water begins to drain out the bottom of the pot. It is better to water your lemon tree with deep, infrequent watering sessions than with more frequent sprinklings.
If you do not water your lemon tree deeply but rather with shallow frequent waterings, it is likely that the water will only reach the top of the roots. The tree will adapt over time to produce more roots near the surface where the water is reaching, and less roots deeper down. This produces a tree that is not as stable, and when it encounters an external force such as high winds or a pet or child bumping into it, it is more likely to become uprooted. Also, water evaporates much more quickly from the top of the soil, which means the plant is more likely to suffer from the symptoms of underwatering, even if you are watering it regularly.
Should I mist my lemon tree?
Lemon trees thrive in areas with high humidity, around 50% or above. If you are growing your lemon tree in an indoor environment or in a dry climate, the relative humidity is likely much lower. Chances are your tree would love a misting.
Plants don’t absorb water through their leaves, but they do lose water through their leaves. Misting a lemon tree can help reduce loss of moisture and help prevent your plant’s leaves from drying out.
You can mist your lemon tree as often as you think about it, but once or twice a day is usually adequate. Here’s an Amazon link to the mister I use. It’s super cute, doesn’t leak, and sprays a fine mist. I love it!
An alternative to misting is to situate a humidifier near your plant. A humidifier works by forcing moisture into the air in the form of an invisible mist. This will raise the relative humidity level in your home and in turn will help your lemon tree retain the moisture it needs.
Lemon trees are adaptive, however, and the humidity level in your home isn’t something to stress over. As long as your lemon tree is getting enough water and sunlight, your tree will be ok with a lower relative humidity.