A recipe for container soil (lemons and limes, oh my)

I recently purchased a Meyer Lemon and a Bearss Lime from a very special person on Vancouver Island – Bob Duncan. You can see Bob in the video above, where he discusses growing lemon trees in Canada – outdoors even! While I have seen lemon trees at the garden centre previously, I always believed they needed to be planted indoors or a greenhouse in order to succeed in our climate – but I was pleased to learn that this is not so, and even more important, bringing them inside in the winter can really stress them.

Lemon tree!

Despite the hail and snow yesterday morning, I managed to get my new trees potted yesterday in some 15-gallon planters that I bought on the cheap at the Re-Store a few weeks ago. These are much bigger than I needed for the trees at this stage, but because I had them I figured I might as well just fill them up with the right potting mix and give the trees some room to grow. Apparently in 4-5 years I will be re-potting these in 25-gallon containers, which is the maximum size needed for the full-grown trees.

Because I am anxious for these trees to live and prosper – I followed Bob’s instructions for the soil mix to the letter. This is a new thing for me, as I am frequently the kind of gardener who just uses whatever soil, fertilizer and drainage materials that I have on hand – but while that works out in my garden boxes for the most part, I have always struggled to get my container plants to thrive. In the case of a fruiting tree, I know that I will have to stay on top of feeding and nurturing them – so it makes sense to get them started with the best possible mix.

I am sharing the soil recipe here, because I haven’t seen anything this detailed in the past and there might be other interested lemon/lime growers out there who want to try them as container plants.

Lime in waiting.

The formula: 1/2 screened bark mulch + equal parts pumice, coarse pearlite, sand and sea soil + 2 tsp dolomite lime and 2 tsp of bone meal per gallon of potting mix + 1/2 tsp chelated iron or other micronutrient per gallon of potting mix.

For example, a ten-gallon pot would include 4 gallons of bark mulch + 2 gal each of pumice, coarse pearlite, sand and sea soil + 1/2 cup dolomite lime + 1/2 cup bone meal + 2 tablespoons of chelated iron. (You will note that to get the numbers right I decreased the mulch and increased the other ingredients slightly).

My plan for these trees is to overwinter them beside our studio and under the overhang, stringing white Christmas lights for protection and using Reemay if the temperature really drops. We don’t get particularly cold winters here in Vancouver – though some years are harder on plants than others. I am hoping starting out in such a large pot won’t be a problem for these little guys, and suspect it will be fine as long as I pay attention to fertilizing at the right rates for the extra soil.

If you are on Vancouver Island, I would highly recommend going out to Bob Duncan’s place and checking out his orchard and greenhouses. He is only open a few hours of the week (see his website above for  details) but apparently you can book a tour (which I intend to do at some future trip over). One thing I will say is that it probably pays to call ahead and/or reserve the plants you want to pick up. He has a wonderful selection of apples, as well as berries, and some other rare-to-find plants. In addition to the lemon and lime, I also bought a tea bush which I will write more about later when I get it in the ground.

Not only will he sell you the tree, but you will leave with complete growing and care instructions for whatever your purchase – and there is also the opportunity to buy marmalade made from the trees grown on the Duncan property. This is a gem of a place – run by fantastic people. So much more gratifying than the typical big-box nursery experience.

2 Comments on “A recipe for container soil (lemons and limes, oh my)

  1. I garden on the opposite side of the US, in North Carolina near the coast. I had hesitated to leave my lemon and orange trees outside through the winter but with this soil mix, I’m giving it a go. I can always bring it into the garage on the frosty nights. Thanks for sharing this mix and for focusing on Bob Duncan who obviously loves pushing the gardening envelope. Nice to know there are still adventurous gardeners among us.

  2. We have quite a temperate climate on this coast, but even so it can get cold. Bob told me that if you do bring the plants indoors it makes them quite unhappy and a lot of misting is needed to keep their humidity up specifically. A friend of mine who brought hers in last winter definitely found that, her lemon tree dropped a lot of leaf and was generally sick all winter. She’s plopped it in the ground right beside a south-facing wall now and it’s responding quite well. He definitely suggested an unheated garage that has some light, near a window if your temperatures do go down to a killing level…… And yes, he’s definitely pushing the envelope for west coast Canadian gardening!

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