What type of pot is best for a lemon tree?

It wasn’t long ago that I was standing in an aisle at the local home improvement store deliberating over a pot for my new lemon tree. As a first-time lemon tree owner, this task can seem nominal if you are unaware of the implications of your options. Choosing the right kind of pot for your lemon tree is something that can help ensure your plant grows healthily and happily for years to come.

So what is the best pot for a lemon tree? The best pot for a lemon tree is a terra cotta or unglazed ceramic pot with drainage holes. 

Lemon trees thrive in well-drained soil, and the type of pot you choose can be instrumental in promoting good drainage and preventing root rot. Certain materials of pots will either trap moisture inside the container or allow for the moisture to pass out of the soil through the container’s walls. Read on to find out more.

What is root rot?

A plant’s roots need oxygen to maintain healthy functioning. Plant roots get oxygen by absorbing it from small pockets of air within the soil. When a lemon tree’s roots are too wet for too long, air cannot get to the roots, and they start to decay.

If your plant is suffering root rot its leaves will begin to wilt, yellow and fall off. If you were to remove the plant from its pot, you would see that the roots had turned black and mushy.

Unfortunately, when root rot begins, even if the overwatering conditions are corrected the plant will usually still die. This is why maintaining proper soil moisture for your lemon tree is so important. The pot you choose can help with that.

The benefits of a terra cotta or unglazed ceramic pot

For most first-time lemon tree owners, the natural moisture wicking properties of a terra cotta pot help to lessen the danger of overwatering. 

Terra cotta and ceramic pots are made of fired (or baked) clay. When unglazed, terra cotta and ceramic pots are porous, meaning water and air can pass through the material. Almost all terra cotta and some ceramic pots are sold unglazed. You can tell if a pot is unglazed by simply touching it- it will feel slightly chalky to the touch.

If the pot is glazed, it means that the material has been sealed. It will feel much smoother to the touch, and will also no longer allow for water to escape from the soil. Go with an unglazed pot to take advantage of the moisture controlling benefits inherent in clay and terra cotta.

An added benefit of  terra cotta and ceramic pots are their classic look that many gardeners find attractive.

But what about a plastic container?

A plastic container has its advantages, as it is lighter and easier to lift if moving the plant seasonally between the outdoors and indoors, but you must be careful not to overwater. Plastic is nonporous, meaning moisture cannot escape through the material. Unlike porous pots, the sides of a plastic pot will trap the moisture inside. If your lemon tree’s soil stays too moist, the tree will get root rot and die.

If you decide to go with a plastic container, choose one with adequate drainage holes, and monitor soil moisture carefully. Only water when the soil is dry to the touch about 2-3 inches below the surface.

Drainage holes

Whatever the material, make sure the pot you select has adequate drainage holes. Drainage holes allow excess water to exit out of the bottom of the pot so that the roots are not sitting in waterlogged soil.

At least one medium, or several small holes at the bottom of the pot are necessary. If the pot you select is lacking, consider drilling additional holes.

You might be concerned that soil will fall through the holes, but little to none usually does, as the soil settles into place after its first couple waterings. If it is something you are still concerned about, place a paper coffee filter at the bottom of the inside of the pot before planting. This will prevent soil from falling through while still allowing for water to drain away.

Make sure to place a saucer underneath your pot with drainage holes, so that the excess water has a place to escape and collect in without ruining the surface on which you’ve set your plant.

Skip dark colors when looking for the perfect pot

Dark colors such as black or navy absorb the sunlight and generate heat-  lemon trees prefer cool roots. Natural and lighter colored pots will reflect the light and allow the tree’s roots to stay cool.