Bitter sweet lemon wonder for your garden

THOUGH commonly known for its bitter taste, the lemon is one fruit we cannot do without in this cold weather.It is just what the doctor ordered in this season of coughs and colds due to its high vitamin C content.Demand for the fruit normally rises during this time, though the fruit has many other commercial uses throughout the year.

The lemon is widely used for detergents, drinks and as a preservative. Health wise, lemon juice drank with water lowers blood pressure and relieves depression, freshens your mouth and acts as an anti-aging agent.

The lemon tree belongs to the citrus family, which contains a number of tree species such as lime, orange, grapefruit and mandarin.

Equally, there are quite a number of lemon varieties available for growing. Eureka is the most common one, while nepali, lisbon and rough lemon are the other types.

The rough lemon variety is commonly used as a rootstock on other citrus members.

It is a small tree capable of reaching a height of 6m with stiff spines which is particularly sensitive to extreme hot or cold temperatures.

As medication, the fruit has been widely used in treating acute rheumatism, dysentery, diarrhoea, scurvy, pneumonia and to increase the frequency of urination.

The lemon trees should be spaced six to eight metres apart (200 trees per hectare). And after planting your trees the trunks should be protected from sunburn until such a time the foliage is able to shade the tree.

Maize stalks or grass works well for this purpose.

With judicious watering, flowering and fruiting can be achieved throughout the year. When it comes to fertilising the tree responds to frequent nitrogen applications, which should be applied at three separate intervals in the year.

Nitrogen should be applied during or just before periods of active growth. But, while phosphate can be applied at anytime, potassium is applied in two applications, with one application towards flowering.

The fertiliser amounts vary as the tree grows increasing gradually until the eight year. In the first year apply 60g nitrogen, 200g superphosphate, 75g double superphosphate, 200g potassium chloride and 250g potassium sulphate.

Deficiency of nutrients is treated symptomatically. Trees can start bearing from three to five years and reach maximum bearing in 10 years. However, the trees can be kept for 20 to 30 years.

There are a number of pests and diseases that can affect lemon trees just like is the case with other trees in the citrus family.  Among the most serious are scales like the soft brown and wax scales, including insects such as mealy bugs, fruit flies, thrips and the citrus psyllid.

Most of these insects can be kept to a minimum if the correct insecticides are used such as malathion with a little oil and avoiding broad spectrum insecticides such as parathion which kill most beneficial predators.

Some scales and mealy bugs can be brought in check by controlling ants which help spread them. The citrus nematode can be a problem so prior testing of the site for its presence should be done.

Diseases such as stem pitting, quick decline, scaly bark disease or citrus greening disease can be common but the most important factor of control is to use clean nursery stock and to practice good hygiene to avoid contaminating your orchard.

Harvest your lemons by clipping as opposed to pulling.

Plant a few lemon trees in your garden or orchard and reap the rewards of this versatile tree.

Happy winter gardening!

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