DEAR JESSICA: I’m a gardener who for the past 12 years has been living in apartments, and I have a fancy to grow tropical plants. I recently purchased a variegated Meyer lemon tree that’s about 3 feet tall, loaded with blooms and four or five lemons. I also planted a lemon tree from seed last summer, and it’s now a foot tall. Do you think the new lemon tree will bloom and produce fruit? I use a citrus plant food three times a year. What temperatures can my lemon trees withstand outdoors? I have a southern-exposure window that seems perfect for keeping them indoors during the cold months ahead, and so plan on bringing them in. Should I purchase a sun lamp for the short winter daylight days?
— Vinnie Ingenito,
DEAR VINNIE: Because most fruit available these days is the result of years of breeding, and many are grown on grafted trees (as I assume your Meyer lemon to be), the odds of attaining edible fruit on your seed-grown lemon tree are slim to nonexistent.
That’s because all those years of breeding targeted a sweetness, resistance to disease, strong branch habit or other desirable characteristic that led a tree to produce the perfect fruit from which you attained a seed. That seed does not share those attributes with its mother. Rather, there’s no telling what kind of a tree it will grow. It could be incredibly larger or smaller, branched differently, and its fruit could take a decade to arrive. And when it does, it likely will look and taste nothing like its parent. Still, it’s fun to watch trees grow from a seed, so I encourage you to continue your experiment and see where it takes you.
Concerning the weather, lemon trees typically are suited for horticultural zones 9-12, which is quite removed from our zone 7, so you are right to bring them indoors for the winter. They cannot tolerate temperatures lower than 32 degrees. And I wouldn’t recommend sustained periods in the 40s, either. Fertilize three times a year, as you have been doing, timing those applications for around Valentine’s Day, Memorial Day and Labor Day.
Sunlight is paramount to ripening the fruit on your Meyer lemon and also for the health of all citrus plants. The window you describe should suffice. I don’t believe they would need any supplemental lighting, as long as they’re getting at least eight hours a day of bright sunlight. Be sure to keep the trees away from sources of heat, such as radiators or forced-air vents, which would rob them of the humidity they require.
DEAR JESSICA: After blooming this summer, my hydrangeas turned a beautiful red color. Should I cut the flowers back now, to just below the flower, or should I leave the flowers on the bush for protection of the new buds forming for next year? — Edith Tackenberg,
DEAR EDITH: The blooms of some species of hydrangea naturally deepen to burgundy as they age, and the foliage of most oak leaf hydrangeas turn a deep mahogany red in autumn. Gardeners typically revel in these changes, both because they are beautiful, and also because the morphed shades fit right in with the seasonal changes of the surrounding landscape.
It’s never necessary to deadhead hydrangeas to protect new buds or for any other reason, aside from maybe to fulfill a desire to keep things tidy. But for ever-blooming varieties, such as Endless Summer, the practice will stimulate new flowers during the growing season.
You don’t say what kind of hydrangeas you have, but even if they’re the ever-blooming type, deadheading now would serve no purpose. Enjoy the view, and in several weeks, you’ll likely have another view to enjoy — that of snowflakes perching atop your reserved spent blooms and birds stopping by to snack on the seed heads.