October 8, 2014 8:40 AM   Subscribe

Our awesome new flat has a large garden area attached to it. It's primarily all paving stones, excepting the borders and what appears to be an untamed lemon tree in the corner. I need help with some plant identification and basic lemon tree triage. Difficulty level: Rome, Italy

As I mentioned, we live in Rome. And I'm not a proficient plant person. So with that in mind...

1) I need some help identifying what type of lemon tree this is: Flickr album. I looked at some old AskMe's but the useful identifying links were suffering from link rot.

1a) Our flat was converted from a medical office back to a residential flat, so the lemon tree seems to be suffering from benign neglect. It's got a plethora of differing sized green fruit everywhere, and at some point was lashed to two support stakes. The leaves are looking a bit meh as you can see, and it seems to be wildly overgrown. I've never cared for a fruit tree before, so I need the Lemon Trees For Dummies Quick Primer. Pruning? Harvesting? Fertilizer? What kind of pests or blight should I look out for? Is that snail in the tree harmless or it needs to be relocated?

2) What (preferably online/app) resources would you suggest for plant identification for this part of the world? I've got another tree with very large waxy leaves, some sort of well established ivy covering the perimeter walls, and a bunch of what I'm guessing are weeds in the perimeter strips but I'd hate to weed whack anything interesting that might be there.

As always, thanks in advance for your help and advice.
posted by romakimmy to Home & Garden (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I'm not going to be much help in identifying the specific variety from those pictures, but if the tree has received minimal care over the years one thing to look out for is the possibility that a lot, if not all, of the tree is composed of suckers, or growth from the root stock below the graft. Most modern fruit trees are grafts, with a root system chosen for hardiness and soil preference grafted onto a variety chosen for looking nice and/or producing tasty fruit. IF the root stock starts leafing out and turning into branches it can crowd out the grafted part and you end up with weird lemon-like things with little juice, poor flavor, and rind four centimeters thick.
posted by contraption at 9:17 AM on October 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'd have an arborist come by and assess the tree, identify it and prune it.

Perhaps one of your neighbors knows someone?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:21 AM on October 8, 2014

The fruit looks like my Meyer lemons, but I don't really know for sure. The tree seems like it definitely needs a pruning...seconding the idea to have a pro come and take care of it.
posted by three_red_balloons at 9:33 AM on October 8, 2014

Best answer: Statistically, it's most likely a Feminello Ovale:

The Feminello Ovale is one of the oldest Italian lemon tree varieties still actively grown today. This tree is popular because its lemons have very few seeds and tend to be plump and juicy. They are highly acidic. This tree bears fruit all year, with the largest crops in the winter and spring. The Feminello Ovale's fruits store and ship well. This tree has no thorns and is the leading cultivar in Italy.

If it's a tough old lemon tree, which it probably is, any citrus tree fertilizer (I don't know if you're going to be able to get a fertilizer spike into the ground there, or if spikes are even popular there, but they're kind of set-and-forget which is nice) and water are all it really wants. I just moved into a house with lemon and orange trees and kind of panicked that I might be citrusing wrong, but I have learned that with an established tree it's hard to get it terribly wrong. Mine only gets California water restriction sprinkler-watering, which is like 6 minutes 3 times a week. When I moved in here in April, it was full of softball-sized lemons, and I'm watching the fruit grow now waiting to see if I get the same again. (On the other hand, on the day we moved in I caught the landlord hiding away the bushels of oranges they'd just taken off the orange tree, leaving us only the ones too high to reach with the picker.)

I have a lawn service provided by the landlord, and they do not seem instructed to prune anything. Both our trees have been allowed to get enormous, and the only sign of pruning I see is lower to the ground where you'd generally want clearance.

I doubt a few snails are going to hurt anything. At my old house, the neighbor's orange tree that hung over our fence turned out, up close, to be absolutely chock full of happy spiders, so that I would first clear an area with a wooden spoon before hand-picking a fruit.

I have a hard enough time identifying plants in Southern California. I haven't found a great app, though I have downloaded something called "Garden Compass" that I haven't really tried out yet.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:34 AM on October 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think it might actually be a chinotto tree, not a lemon tree, but I'm not really sure, the leaves are a bit different.
posted by poffin boffin at 9:46 AM on October 8, 2014

Best answer: Hand-pick the snails. Crush them with your shoe or toss in a bucket of soapy water and put them in the trash.

I'd wait to fertilize till January. I feel like Rome and Northern California have somewhat similar climates, and the traditional advice here is to avoid fall fertilizing so the tree doesn't get a flush of new growth that is killed off by random winter frosts. (UC Davis also suggests fall fertilization affects fruit quality.)

Citrus generally doesn't require a lot of pruning. You cut branches that are poorly placed or unusually weak, but that's for your convenience, not the health of the tree. Looking for suckers is good advice, but I'd wait and see for a while. Your tree has lived through a ton of neglect; a few more months won't make too much difference.

I like Lyn Never's 'Feminello Ovale' guess. It'll be easier once the fruit ripens this winter. My first guess was 'Santa Teresa'/'Feminello Santa Teresa'. Here's an LA Times story about Italian lemons by the Fruit Detective, David Karp.
posted by purpleclover at 10:12 AM on October 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: We've got feelers out for an arborist/gardener but that is waaaay down on the list of New Flat Priorities (furnishing an entire apartment, including the kitchen. Whee) but Lyn Never's reply did remind me to ask the landlord if he perchance knows who did the garden maintenance.

Pretty sure it's some form of lemon as scratching a rind smells like lemons. No thorns and no shooters from the base so I guess that was at least taken care of. Don't think it's a Meyer either as I understand Meyers to be smaller than your average lemon; the more ripened ones are well on their way to being what I term as average Italian lemon size, around baseball to softball size.

Any ideas on sources for other plant identifications? Is there a plant version of Identifont where you narrow down options based on a series of questions on various characteristics?
posted by romakimmy at 12:41 PM on October 8, 2014

Best answer: You're asking for a plant key. I just downloaded a random free android app called Key: Plant Families, and it looks okay. But here's the problem with plant keys: You have to learn a bunch of technical terminology about stuff like leaf arrangement and division to make good IDs and have keys be useful, so I'm not sure keying out your species is going to be very successful for you.

Honestly, if I were you I'd take pictures (and maybe leaves) and go to the Orto Botanico and look for your plants. Or a nursery or garden center. In-person identification is how I learned what things were, and I think it's faster than staring at online pictures.

Sorry this is not the convenient online solution you were looking for. You might google around and look at some of the online plant keys and see if any of them seem useful for your garden and your plant knowledge. (Here's one; it's from the US, but there's quite a bit of continental crossover.)
posted by purpleclover at 1:04 PM on October 8, 2014

I have always had lemon trees in many houses, in a variety of climates.I have never done anything to then at all. No pruning. No fertiliser. No watering. I just pick the lemons, and they are always plentiful and juicy. Established lemon trees are easy.
posted by lollusc at 3:07 PM on October 8, 2014

Put beer in a saucer for the snails. They die happy.
posted by BlueHorse at 4:01 PM on October 8, 2014

Best answer: I always view yellowing leaves as a warning sign that your tree is suffering/stressed.

I would give the tree regular water, (with a compost tea if possible to free up some trace elements), thin some of the fruit, and do a winter liquid feed, which will green up the leaves. If the black on the leaves is mould, you may want to improve the air circulation through the foliage with selective pruning (aim to prune no more than a third, and try to open up the tree a little, getting rid of any branches that rub against each other)

As an aside, from the photos - the tree behind looks a bit like a loquat tree to me.
posted by insomniax at 7:42 PM on October 8, 2014

Response by poster: Update for shits n' giggles:

That is indeed a loquat behind the lemon tree, causing the latter to grow a bit lopsided.

Still no idea what type of lemons, but pruning it's explosive growth today for munchkin safety purposes, I actually found thorns on some branches. But not all. And the black stuff on the leaves seems to be mild from a seasonal aphid/white fly problem. Will be getting something to curtail the ants and hopefully encourage more ladybugs to hang around for the feast, plus some neem oil to dilute and spray for both the aphids/white flies and to ward off the skeeters. Thanks again to all.
posted by romakimmy at 4:08 AM on May 27, 2015

« Older QUILTING HELP!… or really just advice.   |   I have health insurance. Now what? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.