Expert sheds light on ‘orange’ lemons

Recently a reader asked about his Meyer lemon fruit turning orange in February and March. It seems his fruit went from green to bright yellow to a dull orange. He was leaving the fruit on the tree and picking it over a period of a couple of months. Normally, Meyer lemon is picked sometime in midwinter when the fruit is intense yellow. I assumed the rootstock, which is frequently an orange seedling, took over the plant at some stage dominated the tree and produced his orange fruit.

I received several e-mails from readers that their Meyer lemon fruit also turned orange and they were positive the fruit was a lemon, not an orange. So I contacted a citrus specialist friend at Dave Wilson Nursery in California and asked his advice. He confirmed that it is common for Meyer lemon, if the fruit is left on the tree too long and not picked at its peak, to turn from bright yellow to a dull orange. Meyer lemon is not a true lemon but a cross between an orange and a lemon.

He strongly advised to pick the fruit when it is bright yellow. If the fruit is left on the tree too long, it could interrupt with the tree’s normal flowering and fruiting cycle and reduce production of fruit.

Also, according to Tom Spellman, this orange fruit will not keep very long since it is overripe. Let’s harvest those Meyer lemons at their peak when the fruit is bright yellow.

Q: I have had two dwarf orange trees in large pots for eight years. They get blossoms but wind blows them off. I have only had two oranges all this time. Last year, the leaves started curling and falling off. I put fruit spikes in the pots but it made no difference. Now the leaves are really coming off and the stems are bare. What can I do to make them healthy again?

A: I am assuming they have been in the same pot and soil for the last eight years. This is a big no-no. All container plants need to have the soil changed out and replenished over time. These soils become depleted and salts begin to accumulate. Container soils are hard to determine when to water. Mild water stress can cause small, developing fruit to drop.

Saying that, this is absolutely the wrong time to do what I just described. I would wait until fall.

In the meantime you can try the following. First, completely flush the soil volume in the container so that you have gallons of water running out the bottom. Do this three times with an interval between each time so that the soil dries somewhat and the roots can breathe.

Next, buy some good compost and apply it to the soil in the container and work some in. You will damage a few roots but it will benefit the plant in the long run. When the tree is in bloom, move it to a location out of the wind or at least minimize the wind through the canopy during pollination. After small fruit form it won’t make as much difference.

Make sure you have bees. If you are not sure if you have bees, get some bee boxes from the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension Master Gardener Orchard in North Las Vegas or make them yourself. You can see a video of our orchard bee boxes on YouTube by entering the words UNCE orchard bee boxes. Place three or four in your yard.

These are solitary bees, leafcutters, and they will not become Africanized. Next shade the pot by placing it inside a larger pot or put something around the outside so direct sunlight does not cook part of the root system of the tree each year during summer months. Fertilize with a fruit tree fertilizer plus iron. I hope this helps.

Next fall, around the end of September, begin to repot your citrus with new container soil. I would put the tree in a new container about every three years.

Q: I have a recently planted persimmon tree, which is about 5 feet tall. Its beautiful new leaves are being eaten by some insect. I sent a photo. What can I do?

A: That is not insect damage but wind damage. Readers who receive my newsletter will see your picture. Give it some time and it will come out of it.

Make sure you mulch the persimmons with wood mulch. They need more frequent irrigations than other fruit trees or they will drop their fruit when they start producing. They love compost applied to the base of the trees in the irrigated area.

Q: I have decided to try to plant a small garden in my backyard but the only place available is next to a block wall that faces south. The area is about 3 feet wide and 40 feet long. Some of the area is shaded by the patio cover but it does get morning sun. The rest of the area gets sun most of the day. I would like to plant tomatoes, peppers, squash, lettuce and pickles. Could you suggest the best areas to plant the crop? Also, would I need to put some type of shade to protect the area which is in the sun.

A: Some light shade and some wind protection really helps a lot. About six hours of good light is all you need. The spacing, 3 feet wide, is good for a naturally raised bed but tough to reach if you only access it from one side. Make it no wider than you can reach across without stepping on the garden area and keep your feet off of it when it is in production.

Make sure you add plenty of compost at the beginning and remove rocks larger than a golf ball. This bright area will benefit from light shade, about 40 percent, over the top of the planted area. This could be a shade structure tall enough to cast shade on the area and maybe even for you when you are working there. From the sound of it you have enough light to do most anything.

You will need to rotate different families of vegetables in the area. So, the areas planted to tomatoes, squash and lettuce, all in different families, will be rotated to different areas from season to season. This avoids problems that can accumulate when growing similar things in the same location year after year.

Bob Morris is an associate professor with the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. Direct gardening questions to the master gardener hot line at 257-5555 or contact Morris by e-mail at

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