I’ve grown lemon trees in multiple states, but the easiest one by far had to be Florida. This makes a lot of sense because of Florida’s sandy soil, strong sun, and heavy rains—all of which are perfect growing conditions for tropical fruits like lemons. Compare this to California and Texas, and I had a bit of a harder time growing lemon trees. While the soil difference is a big factor here, I wanted to take a look at water specifically. So, just how much water should we provide lemon trees for optimal growth?
The best way to water lemon trees is to only water when the top 2-4 inches of soil gets dry and to provide enough water to thoroughly soak the soil within the drip line of the tree. Generally, lemon trees can get between 140-420 gallons of water every two weeks. However, this depends on the climate and soil type.
If you’re like me, then you’re probably thinking 140-420 gallons every two weeks is a LOT of water. So, why do lemon trees need this much water and how can you best provide it to them? Let’s take a closer look.
Do Lemon Trees Need a Lot of Water?
Lemon trees do need a lot of water, sometimes reported up to 135 gallons per day. But, this number is designed for commercial growers and not casual gardeners. It’s not practical for most to use this much water for a single lemon tree. Instead, aim to water your tree when the soil gets dry again.
If you’d like to learn more about how much water exactly to provide lemon trees, read on. However, if you’re not interested in the math (I don’t blame you), then you can jump to the next section (How Often Should Lemon Trees Be Watered?).
First, let’s take a look at the recommended amount of water to provide citrus trees.
Research from the University of Arizona has found that mature citrus trees use about 60 inches of water per year. Depending on the size of the tree, this can correspond to as much as 17 gallons of water per day in the winter and 135 gallons of water per day in the summer.University of Arizona
While this information does come from a reputable source and is useful for commercially growing citrus trees, it’s simply not practical or relevant for the casual gardener with a small number of citrus trees.
For context, the water dispensers that you use at home or businesses have jugs that are typically 5 gallons. With the above information, you’d need to use 27 5-gallon jugs to just water one lemon tree, daily! That’s just an absurd amount of water! So, why is this figure wrong?
There are two problems with this.
First, this figure is designed for commercial citrus growers. Typically, when growing one type of crop, the land can’t effectively recycle nutrients and water, and much of the topsoil and groundwater is lost. Because of this, significantly more water is needed to compensate.
Second, this figure far exceeds the average rainfall in tropical or subtropical climates, which citrus trees are native to and known to grow well in without much or any human intervention.
Let’s break down the quick math and found out how much you should be really watering your lemon tree:
- Subtropical climates get 50 inches of rain per year (4.16 per month)
- 1 inch of rain converted into square feet is 0.62 gallons per square foot of soil
- The average canopy and root width of lemon trees is 15 square feet (225 feet total)
This comes out to a total of 580 gallons of water per month for lemon tree (280 gallons per month in the winter and up to 840 gallons per month in the summer).
While this may seem like a lot, compare this to the previous estimate at 4,050 gallons per month. That’s 7 times more!
This equals 350 INCHES of water annually. Compare this to the annual rainfall of 50 inches in Orlando, Florida, and that just doesn’t seem right.
Here’s the math if you’d like to check it (I’m decent, but not amazing at math): 4.16 inches of rain per month x 0.62 gallons per square foot x 225 square feet = 580 gallons of water per month per lemon tree.
If you’re getting a bit dizzy from the math, don’t worry—I am too. While the above estimate is helpful if you need a more precise measurement for water, the best rule for watering lemon trees is to only water when the first 2-4 inches of soil gets dry. We’ll cover more on the best practices for watering lemon trees, but first, let’s answer a simpler question.
How Often Should Lemon Trees Be Watered?
Ideally, lemon trees should be watered every 7-28 days, depending on the weather and type of soil. This is because lemon trees do best with sporadic and deep watering, which mimics rainfall. They also need water more frequently in hot weather as their roots transfer moisture and help cool the rest of the tree.
Unfortunately, there’s no one rule to watering lemon trees. How often you water your lemon tree comes down to factors including the sun, wind, soil type, fertilizer, size of the tree, fruiting season, and more.
For example, clay soil, rainy or cloudy weather, and mulched trees will need much less water while sandy soil, sunny weather, and ground that is exposed will need much more water.
Because we can’t predict the weather, we can’t really have a set frequency for watering lemon trees. For this reason, the best thing to do is only water your lemon tree when the top 2-4 inches of soil gets dry. This way you can simply provide your lemon tree with water as it needs it.
How To Tell If Your Lemon Tree Needs Water
Aside from checking the first 2-4 inches of soil for dryness, if your lemon tree has leaves that are curling, drying, and falling off, or has smaller fruits, there’s a chance it’s not getting enough water. Adding compost and mulch will also help protect the soil from the elements and retain more water for the tree.
Keep in mind that lemon trees are evergreen, so they should not be losing leaves during the fall and winter such as apricot or other deciduous trees. In fact, lemon trees should not be losing many leaves at any time of year. However, the good news is that lemon trees will grow their leaves back once the issue has been corrected.
Can You Overwater Lemon Trees?
Lemon trees can easily get overwatered, which is usually signaled by a lack of soil drainage, swampy smelling soil, or leaves that are yellowing and falling off. Generally, you can fix overwatered lemon trees by letting the soil dry or as a last resort—repotting the tree with fresh soil.
While I haven’t overwatered my lemon trees yet, I once overwatered my Kaffir lime tree and it took a little experimenting to figure out how to fix it. Here are some signs that lemon trees are overwatered:
- Poor drainage
- Soil smells stagnant or swampy
- Leaves are turning yellow or falling off
For planted trees, a good way to check if your lemon tree’s soil is draining well is to dig a hole nearby that’s 1 foot wide and 1 foot deep and fill it up with water. After 2 hours, if the water hasn’t drained, then you’ll likely need to amend the soil and improve drainage. To further improve drainage, plant the tree on elevated ground, such as a mound or raised bed.
For potted trees, you can tell if it’s overwatered from the list above. If so, simply wait until the soil is dry before watering it again. However, if the soil is staying sopping wet for over 24 hours, then there’s a chance it’s not draining enough and could develop root rot (a fungal disease) from the stagnant water. In this case, try drilling more holes into the bottom of the pot to improve drainage or repotting the tree with fresh soil.
Since lemon trees are from the tropics, they grow best in climates with full sun, sufficient rain, and sandy soil. If your lemon tree currently is lacking in any of these three areas, and it has issues growing (or is dying), it’s likely caused by one of them.
When it comes to watering lemon trees, the goal is to keep the soil moist while not letting it get overwatered. While this is a balancing act, there are a few tips that can help you water your lemon tree less often and help it become more self-sufficient:
- Mulching – Provide 1-2 inches of mulch around the drip line of your lemon tree to protect the soil from the sun, wind, and rain. This will also significantly retain water in the soil. Leaves, straw, and pine needles are common mulches used on lemon trees.
- Drip Irrigation – Sprinklers waste a lot of water due to evaporation. Instead, try drip irrigation to deliver water straight to the soil.
- Shade – Even though citrus trees love sunlight, it can still get too hot for them (and the soil they’re in). If the weather is above 95ºF consider providing 1-2 hours of shade during the hottest part of the day. This is typically 2-4pm. Mulching and sufficient soil moisture are also key in helping citrus trees regulate their temperature.
- Provide Drainage – While mulching and drip irrigation are good strategies, it won’t help if the soil doesn’t drain well in the first place. Because of this, make sure the soil is loose and rich. Generally, loamy and sandy soils work best for citrus trees due to their drainage and nutrient profiles.
- Only Water When the Soil is Dry – As mentioned, watering only when the first 2-4 inches of soil is likely one of the best gauges to know when to water your lemon tree. After this, you simply need to provide enough water around the roots to soak the ground (still making sure the water is draining well).
When in doubt, mimic nature. By providing conditions as similar as possible to your tree’s native environment, you’re making the tree more comfortable and allowing it to focus on fruit production instead of struggling to survive. You’ll find that growing lemon trees (and most other plants) can be much more fruitful this way!
If you’d like more information about caring for lemon trees, feel free to check out my recent post: Lemon Tree Care: The Complete Guide (Indoor & Outdoor).