FAR be it for me to stray into geo-political observation but the American Wonder Lemon — much like its country of origin — looks great on the outside...

Only when you delve deeper do you discover that much of its beauty is only skin deep and that tough skin takes most of the space that should be fruitful...

Some years ago I was gifted the so-called Wonder Lemon ‘Ponderosa’ and it immediately in its first year produced swathes of wonderfully sweet-smelling white blossom which were a magnet to bees. It was a hopeful sign of lemon-garnished G&Ts to come.

The Wonder Lemon is famed for producing enormous fruit. Sadly, in my tree’s case, the lemons are as thick-skinned as a New York yellow cab driver.

Isle of Wight County Press: Taking the pith.

This Wonder Lemon is taking the pith!

Some lemon varieties naturally have thicker skin or less juice than others.

Ponderosa (Citrus limon x Citrus medica) is a lemon hybrid that grows into a small tree with grapefruit-sized lemons that have thick skins and numerous seeds.

It is not alone. Many varieties have thick skins. If I had known a bit more I should have had a Eureka moment.

Eureka, aka the Four Seasons Lemon, has more pulp and less skin and is well-suited to the UK climes which are not synonymous with citrus growing.

Regardless of variety, any lemon may develop thick, puffy, skin when left on the tree for too long after they ripen.

A handy hint to ensure juiciness and thinner skins, is to pick them while there is a little green still on the fruit.

But, whatever variety is chosen growing a lemon tree isn’t that difficult, even in the UK — if you have indoor and outdoor space for a container that is not visited by toddlers.

Many lemons have vicious spikes on their branches which would easily pierce a two-year-old eyeball and will scratch the skin of the unwary, although the thorns — not the toddler — can be removed with secateurs.

In this country, lemon and other citrus trees can be left in a conservatory but they will appreciate a summer holiday outside in the open air and full sun, moving them back indoors when chill weather sets in.

Isle of Wight County Press: American lemon (centre) with 'normal' lemon (right) and grapefruit (left).

The American Wonder Lemon (centre) with 'normal' lemon (right) and grapefruit (left).

In an ideal world, they should be moved outdoors in the spring when blossom appears so that bees can do the pollination work that will otherwise have to be done by hand.

You will need a small, soft, paintbrush to brush pollen from the anthers and stamen. Insert it between the petals of the flower, first against the anthers and then transferring the pollen to the pistil, moving from flower to flower to ensure cross-pollination.

Beware, though, they will survive the cool, entering dormancy when night temperatures fall below 50 deg F, but are not frost hardy.

Lemon trees have a propensity to becoming untidy with gangly branches that have trouble supporting their fruit, especially if it’s a Wonder Lemon when they can be a size of grapefruit, so maintenance pruning should be done before bud-break in spring.

When your lemon needs potting-on choose an ericaceous compost and add a generous quantity of grit in a terracotta pot.

Bear in mind that citrus trees thrive in warm, dry, places and you are something of a lemon yourself if you expect them to do well in completely alien conditions.


  • Force rhubarb plants by placing an upturned bucket or bin over the crown. The tender pink stems will be ready in about two months.
  • Order fruit bushes, such as currants and raspberries, now to plant in a prepared bed in a sheltered position.
  • Move and plant perennial shrubs and trees now while they are dormant.
  • Stripped down branches of your old Christmas tree make great pea sticks.
  • Feed the birds by hanging fat balls and keeping feeders topped-up to attract birds, which in turn eat garden pests.
  • Remove slimy patches from patios and paving by scrubbing with a broom or blast with a pressure washer.
  • Plant amaryllis bulbs in pots now, for spectacular indoor flowers in early spring. Post-Christmas they are often cheaper in the shops.
  • Mist house plants regularly, if possible with rainwater, to protect them from dry centrally-heated air. Stand them on a tray of pebbles filled with water to increase humidity.

Are you an Isle of Wight gardener with a question for Richard? You can email him on richryde@tiscali.co.uk