The lemon tree (Citrus limon) is like the sunshine incarnate in the form of a plant. It is a small to medium-sized evergreen tree or shrub with glossy green leaves and fragrant white blossoms. The tree is known for its thorny branches, which protect its precious fruit. Lemons are oval, bright yellow fruits with a thick zest and juicy, tart pulp. They’re packed with vitamin C and possess a distinct, refreshing aroma.
Lemon trees come in various types, each with unique characteristics and flavors. The primary types are Eureka and Lisbon lemons, known for their classic tartness and suitability for culinary use. On the other hand, Meyer lemons are sweeter and less acidic, making them perfect for desserts and beverages.
The lemon tree is native to South Asia, specifically the foothills of the Himalayas in northern India. Over centuries, it has spread across the globe, finding homes in Mediterranean climates, including regions of Italy, Spain, and California. Its adaptability to different climates has made it a staple in gardens worldwide.
The lemon tree isn’t just about its mouth-puckering fruit. It has a wide array of uses. The most obvious one is its culinary value; lemon juice and zest are essential ingredients in countless recipes, adding flavor. Lemons are also used to make lemonade, cocktails, and refreshing sorbets.
Beyond the kitchen, the lemon tree is valued for its aromatic leaves and blossoms used in perfumery and essential oil production. Lemon oil is also used in cleaning products for its pleasant scent and natural antibacterial properties.
The lemon tree holds a special place in cultures around the world. It symbolizes purity, freshness, and fertility. In many cultures, lemon trees are often planted on auspicious occasions like weddings and housewarmings as a gesture of good luck and prosperity.
In literature and art, lemons have been portrayed as symbols of love, beauty, and hope. They have a rich history in traditional medicine and herbal remedies, where their healing properties have been celebrated for centuries.
As a master gardener, my fascination with lemon trees has led me to extensive research. In this guide, I’ll impart all you need to know about them, instructions, and expert advice on how to plant lemon trees.
Botanical Name: Citrus limon
Common Name: Lemon Tree
Plant Type: Broadleaf Evergreen Tree
Hardiness Zones: 9 to 11 (USDA Hardiness Zones)
Sun Exposure: Full sun
Soil Type: Well-draining, sandy, or loamy soil
Soil pH: 5.5-6.5 (Slightly acidic to neutral soil)
Maturity: 3-5 years
Height: 10-20 feet
Bloom Time: Spring
Flower Color: White
Native Area: South Asia, specifically the foothills of the Himalayas in northern India
Lemon Tree Plant Care
Caring for a lemon tree involves understanding its needs and providing the right environment for optimal growth. First and foremost, selecting the appropriate location is crucial. Lemon trees thrive in full sunlight, so choose a spot in your garden where they can receive at least 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight daily. The soil should be well-draining, preferably sandy or loamy, as lemon trees don’t tolerate waterlogged or heavy clay soils. Ensuring the soil pH is slightly acidic to neutral, between 5.5 and 6.5, provides an ideal foundation for their growth.
Regular watering is essential, especially during dry spells. Deep watering, allowing the soil to absorb the moisture deeply, encourages the development of a robust root system. However, it’s crucial not to let the tree sit in standing water, which can lead to root rot. Mulching around the base of the tree helps retain soil moisture and suppresses weed growth, aiding in the overall health of the lemon tree.
Pruning is another vital aspect of lemon tree care. Regular pruning helps maintain the tree’s shape, removes dead or diseased branches, and encourages better air circulation. This promotes a healthier tree and reduces the risk of pests and diseases. Proper fertilization with a balanced citrus fertilizer also provides essential nutrients, ensuring the tree’s vigorous growth and abundant fruit production.
Lastly, monitoring the tree for signs of pests and diseases is essential for its well-being. Common issues include aphids, scale insects, and citrus canker. Early detection and appropriate treatment, often with natural remedies or organic insecticides, can prevent these problems from escalating and harming the lemon tree. By providing the right care, attention, and love, your lemon tree will reward you with bountiful harvests and lush greenery, enhancing the beauty of your garden space.
Lemon trees thrive in full sun, so they need ample sunlight to grow and produce healthy fruit. Ideally, they should receive at least 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight daily. Placing your lemon tree in a spot with abundant sunlight ensures proper photosynthesis, fostering robust growth and vibrant foliage. Insufficient light can lead to leggy growth and reduced fruit production. If you’re growing lemon trees indoors, consider placing them near a south-facing window where they can bask in the sunlight. Adequate light enhances the tree’s overall health and contributes significantly to the development of juicy, flavorful lemons.
When cultivating a thriving lemon tree, understanding its soil requirements is paramount. With their vibrant green foliage and juicy fruits, lemon trees demand well-draining soil to prevent waterlogging, which can harm their delicate root system. Opt for sandy or loamy soil types, ensuring they don’t retain excess moisture.
Additionally, lemon trees prefer slightly acidic to neutral soil with a pH range between 5.5 and 6.5. This balanced pH level promotes healthy nutrient absorption, ensuring your lemon tree receives the essential minerals it needs to flourish.
It’s important to note that heavy clay soils are not suitable for lemon trees as they hinder proper drainage, potentially causing root rot. Providing the right soil environment—well-draining, slightly acidic, and rich in nutrients—lays a solid foundation for your lemon tree to grow robustly and yield an abundant crop of full-sized fruits.
These citrus trees thrive in well-draining soil, meaning excess water should be able to escape easily. Consistent watering is crucial when establishing a young lemon tree to help its root system develop. Deep watering weekly is generally beneficial during dry spells, especially in hot weather. However, striking a balance is vital – lemon trees don’t tolerate waterlogged roots. Overwatering can lead to root rot, a common issue that can jeopardize the tree’s overall health.
Monitoring the soil moisture level and adjusting the watering frequency according to the weather conditions is key. Additionally, a layer of mulch around the tree’s base can help retain moisture and regulate soil temperature, promoting optimal growth. Providing just the right amount of water ensures a happy and thriving lemon tree in your garden.
Temperature and Humidity
Lemon trees thrive in warm climates and are sensitive to cold temperatures. Ideally, they should be planted in areas where the temperature does not drop below 50°F (10°C). Lemon trees are also particular about humidity levels. While they can tolerate some humidity, excessively humid conditions can lead to issues like fungal diseases. Adequate air circulation around the tree can help mitigate such problems. It’s essential to monitor the local climate and provide protection during cold snaps, ensuring your lemon tree enjoys the right balance of warmth and humidity for robust growth and fruitful yields.
Typically, a well-balanced fertilizer formulated for citrus trees works wonders. Look for a fertilizer with a ratio like 10-10-10 or 14-14-14, indicating the percentage of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, respectively. Feeding your lemon tree every 4-6 weeks during the growing season, usually in spring and summer is beneficial. However, always follow the specific guidelines provided on the fertilizer package, as over-fertilizing can harm the tree.
It’s advisable to apply the fertilizer evenly around the tree, starting a few inches from the trunk and extending it to the tree’s drip line. This ensures that the essential nutrients reach the entire root system. Remember, a well-fed lemon tree is healthier and more resistant to diseases and pests, ensuring a bountiful harvest of those delightful, sun-kissed lemons.
Pruning is crucial to lemon tree care, ensuring healthy growth, improved fruit production, and overall plant vigor. Regular pruning helps remove dead or diseased branches, allowing sunlight and air circulation to reach the inner parts of the tree. This practice also aids in shaping the tree and controlling its size, making harvesting easier. Removing crossed or rubbing branches is essential when pruning lemon trees, as they can create wounds and invite diseases.
Additionally, pruning should be done in late winter or early spring when the tree is dormant, promoting rapid healing of wounds. Proper pruning techniques enhance the tree’s appearance and contribute significantly to its longevity and productivity.
Overwintering your lemon tree is also crucial, especially in regions where frost and cold temperatures are expected during winter. Lemon trees are sensitive to frost; their leaves and fruits can be damaged if exposed to freezing temperatures. To protect your lemon tree during winter, consider moving potted lemon trees indoors or into a greenhouse. Covering your lemon tree with frost cloth or burlap can provide some insulation if planted in the ground.
Types of Lemon Tree
Various cultivated varieties of lemons are accessible for both culinary and ornamental purposes indoors and outdoors. Below, you’ll find descriptions of the popular varieties and cultivars commonly found in grocery stores and nurseries. Ensure that your hardiness zone lies within the zone compatibility range of this variety before planting.
Eureka Lemon (Citrus limon ‘Eureka’)
Eureka lemon trees are among the most common and widely grown lemon varieties. They are semi-dwarf cultivars that produce medium-sized, oval-shaped fruits with a bright yellow color and a classic tart flavor. The Eureka lemon tree is thornless, making it a popular choice for home gardens. It is a prolific fruit bearer, making it an excellent choice for those who enjoy a steady supply of fresh lemons. These trees are relatively small with aromatic foliage, making them suitable for indoor and outdoor cultivation. The tree blooms in small clusters of pretty, waxy, white blossoms with purple-tinged buds, yellow anthers, and a citrus scent. Eureka lemons are often prized for their juice, ideal for culinary purposes, and frequently used in both sweet and savory dishes by chefs worldwide. They are great for juicing due to their thin skin and mostly seedless pulp.
Lisbon Lemon (Citrus limon ‘Lisbon’)
Lisbon lemon trees are similar to Eureka lemons and are often considered its sister variety. These trees produce large, juicy lemons with a strong tart flavor. Lisbon lemons are nearly identical in appearance to Eureka lemons, with bright yellow skin and a classic lemon shape. They are thorny, and while they share the same versatility as Eureka lemons, they are particularly valued for their high juice content. Lisbon lemon trees are everbearing, producing fruit year-round, making them a favorite choice among commercial and home gardeners.
Meyer Lemon (Citrus × meyeri)
Meyer lemon trees are a distinct lemon variety known for their round, smooth-skinned fruits with a deep yellow to orange hue when fully ripe. Unlike Eureka and Lisbon lemons, Meyer lemons are less acidic and have a sweeter, floral flavor. They are actually a hybrid cross between a mandarin orange and a lemon. These trees are smaller and more ornamental, making them suitable for container gardening. Meyer lemons are prized for their culinary uses, particularly in desserts, beverages, and cocktails. They are also highly aromatic, with fragrant blossoms and foliage, adding to their appeal for gardeners looking for both beauty and utility in their lemon trees.
Ponderosa Lemon (Citrus × pyriformis)
Ponderosa lemon trees are unique among lemon varieties due to their large size and distinctive shape. The fruits are much larger than standard lemons, often reaching the size of a grapefruit, and have a thick, bumpy rind. Despite their size, Ponderosa lemons have a similar tart flavor to other lemon varieties, making them suitable for culinary purposes. These trees are thorny and require a warm, sunny climate to thrive. Ponderosa lemons are often used in specialty dishes and beverages, and their size makes them a conversation piece in any garden or orchard setting.
How to Plant a Lemon Tree From Seed
While it’s generally not recommended to grow a lemon tree from seed due to unpredictable outcomes, it is indeed possible. However, one must approach it with patience and realistic expectations regarding the tree’s quality and fruit yield. Here’s how you can go about it:
Step 1: Preparing the Seed
Before you dive into the planting process, give your lemon seeds a good rinse to remove any remaining pulp. Pat them dry gently with a paper towel, allowing them to air out for a day or two. This drying period ensures that the seeds are free from excess moisture, giving them a better chance at germination. As you handle the seeds, think of it as preparing the ground for a tiny miracle, setting the stage for the birth of a lemon tree.
Step 2: Planting the Seed
Now comes the exciting part – planting the lemon seed! Find a well-draining pot and fill it with a rich, loamy potting mix. Plant the seed about half an inch deep in the soil, covering it gently. As you tuck the seed in, envision it nestled in a cozy bed, ready to awaken and stretch its roots. Water the soil lightly, ensuring it’s moist but not waterlogged. Place the pot in a warm, sunny spot, allowing nature to work its magic on the seed, coaxing it to life.
Step 3: Providing the Right Conditions
Lemon seeds, like any young sprout, crave warmth, sunlight, and consistent moisture. Keep the soil consistently moist, but avoid drowning the seed with excessive watering. Find a sunny windowsill or use a grow light to provide ample sunlight, mimicking the radiant warmth of the sun. As you watch the seedling emerge, it’s akin to witnessing the first rays of dawn, promising a new day filled with possibilities.
Step 4: Addressing Common Pests and Problems
In your journey to nurture your lemon seed into a tree, you might encounter some challenges. Keep an eye out for pests like aphids or spider mites, gently addressing them with natural remedies like neem oil or insecticidal soap. If you notice yellowing leaves, it might indicate overwatering or nutrient deficiencies. Adjust your care routine accordingly, providing just the right balance of water, sunlight, and nutrients. Think of it as tuning into the needs of a dear friend, understanding their cues, and responding with care.
Step 5: Flowering, Fruiting, and Aftercare
With time, patience, and your loving care, your lemon tree will reward you with delicate blossoms, filling the air with their sweet aroma. As the tree matures, it will bear fruits – tiny green orbs that will swell into vibrant, yellow lemons. Once your tree starts fruiting, continue to provide it with regular watering, occasional pruning, and a balanced fertilizer to support its growth. Enjoy the journey of tending to your lemon tree, marveling at its transformation from a humble seed to a fruitful, thriving member of your garden. Remember, your dedication and nurturing hands play a vital role in this beautiful process, making you an essential part of the lemon tree’s story.
How to Propagate Lemon Trees through Cuttings
Propagating lemon trees through cuttings can be a rewarding and efficient method, ensuring the new tree inherits desirable traits from the parent plant. It’s a delightful process that lets you witness the miracle of life as a small cutting transforms into a flourishing tree. Let’s delve into the steps, guiding you through the process so you can successfully propagate your lemon tree and enjoy the fruits of your labor.
Selecting a Proper Specimen
Begin your propagation journey by selecting a healthy, disease-free lemon tree as your source. Look for a vigorous specimen with vibrant leaves and robust growth. Choosing the right parent plant significantly impacts the success of your cuttings. Think of it as selecting the best storyteller to pass down a cherished tale – a healthy parent plant ensures a strong and vibrant legacy.
With your specimen chosen, it’s time to prepare your cutting. Opt for a 4-6 inch long, semi-hardwood cutting from the parent tree. Use sharp, clean pruning shears to make a precise cut just below a leaf node. Remove any leaves from the lower half of the cutting, allowing it to focus its energy on root development. As you handle the cutting, visualize it as a tiny yet resilient sapling, ready to establish its roots and grow into a magnificent lemon tree.
Once prepared, dip the lower end of the cutting into a rooting hormone, which encourages the growth of roots. Plant the cutting in a well-draining potting mix, ensuring it is stable and upright. Create a mini greenhouse effect by covering the cutting with a plastic bag or dome, maintaining high humidity levels. Place the pot in a warm, bright location but away from direct sunlight. The cutting will gradually develop roots, establishing itself for future growth. It’s akin to watching a new chapter unfold in the life of your garden as the cutting transforms into a self-sufficient plant.
Care and Maintenance
As your cutting begins to root and grow, provide it with consistent care. Keep the soil consistently moist but not waterlogged, ensuring a balance to promote healthy root development. Once the cutting shows signs of new growth, gradually acclimate it to the outdoor environment if you plan to transplant it. Regular monitoring and nurturing will result in a robust, resilient lemon tree ready to thrive in its new home.
Finding a Suitable Location
When it’s time to transplant your propagated lemon tree, choose a sunny, well-draining location in your garden. Lemon trees love sunlight, so ensure they receive at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight daily. Proper spacing is crucial – give your lemon tree enough room to spread its branches and grow comfortably. Imagine it as finding the perfect spot for a sunbather – ample sunshine and space make all the difference in their contentment.
Monitoring for Pests and Diseases
Finally, keep a watchful eye on your newly propagated lemon tree for any signs of pests or diseases. Regularly inspect the leaves and branches, and promptly address any issues you encounter. Utilize natural remedies like neem oil or insecticidal soap to protect your tree from common pests. Early intervention can save your tree from potential harm, ensuring it thrives and produces bountiful fruits.
By following these steps and showering your propagated lemon tree with care, you’re not just growing a tree but nurturing a legacy. Your efforts will soon bear fruit, rewarding you with the joy of homegrown lemons and the satisfaction of having propagated a tree from the heart of your garden.
Harvesting and Storing Lemons
Harvesting Lemons: The Art of Picking the Perfect Fruit
Harvesting lemons is an art that requires patience and a keen eye. The ideal time to pick lemons is when they have developed full color and are firm to the touch. Ripe lemons should be a vibrant yellow or yellow-orange, depending on the variety. It’s important to gently twist the lemon while pulling to avoid damaging the tree or the fruit. Use pruning shears or scissors if necessary, especially for lemons growing high up in the tree. Remember, lemons can remain on the tree for several months, so there’s no rush to harvest them all at once. Regular harvesting not only provides you with fresh lemons but also encourages the tree to produce more fruit. Each fruit packs citric acid and plenty of vitamin C.
Storing Lemons: Keeping Freshness Intact
Proper storage is key to preserving the freshness and flavor of your harvested lemons. If you plan to use them within a week or two, store them at room temperature, away from direct sunlight. For longer storage, place lemons in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator. Make sure to keep them in a perforated plastic bag to maintain the right level of humidity. If you have a surplus of lemons, consider juicing them and freezing the juice in ice cube trays. This way, you’ll have fresh lemon juice readily available for various culinary uses. Additionally, you can zest the lemons before juicing and store the zest in an airtight container in the freezer. Properly stored lemons and their derivatives can add a burst of citrusy flavor to your dishes even when lemons are out of season.
Common Pests and Plant Diseases for Lemon Tree
Citrus Leaf Miner (Phyllocnistis citrella)
The sneaky leaf miner – a tiny moth that might seem insignificant but can wreak havoc on your lemon tree. Recognizable by the squiggly patterns it leaves on the leaves, this pest burrows into the soft tissues, causing leaves to curl and distort. While they won’t necessarily kill your tree, they can weaken it significantly. Fear not, though! A neem oil solution or introducing natural predators like ladybugs can help keep these leaf miners in check, preserving the beauty of your lemon tree’s foliage.
Aphids are a familiar foe of lemon trees. Found in clusters of tender new growth, they can stunt your tree’s growth and distorted leaves. But fret not; you can combat them naturally. A strong blast of water can dislodge them, and introducing ladybugs or lacewings into your garden creates a natural predator-prey balance, keeping the aphid population under control. Regularly inspect your lemon tree, especially the undersides of leaves, and swiftly deal with any aphid presence to keep your tree thriving.
Citrus Canker (Xanthomonas axonopodis)
The dreaded citrus canker is a bacterial disease that manifests as raised lesions on leaves, fruit, and stems. These lesions often have water-soaked margins and can lead to premature fruit drop. Citrus canker spreads rapidly, especially in warm, humid conditions. Sadly, there’s no cure once a tree is infected. Prevention is key here. Regularly sanitize your gardening tools, avoid working in wet conditions, and promptly remove and destroy any infected plant material. You can protect your lemon tree from this relentless disease by practicing good hygiene.
Root Rot (Phytophthora spp.)
Root rot is caused by waterlogged soil, and various soil-borne fungi are a nightmare for lemon trees. It leads to wilting, yellowing leaves, and a decline in overall vigor. To prevent root rot, ensure your lemon tree is planted in well-draining soil and avoid overwatering. Good irrigation practices and proper soil drainage are your best allies in keeping this devastating disease at bay. Regularly monitor your tree’s moisture levels and adjust your watering routine accordingly to maintain a healthy root system.
Scale Insects (Coccoidea)
Scale insects, those peculiar-looking creatures resembling tiny, immobile shields, often attach themselves to the stems and leaves of lemon trees. They feed on plant sap, causing yellowing leaves, wilting, and overall weakened growth. A natural predator like the ladybug can help control their population. For a homemade remedy, a solution of water and mild dish soap can be applied to the affected areas, effectively dislodging these pests. Vigilance is key; regularly inspect your lemon tree, paying attention to the undersides of leaves and stems, to catch and manage scale insect infestations promptly.
Common Plant Problems and Solutions for Lemon Tree
One of the most common problems lemon tree owners face is yellowing leaves, and it’s often a sign that your lemon tree needs some TLC. Yellow leaves can result from various factors such as nutrient deficiencies, overwatering, or pests. To address this issue, start by checking your watering habits. Make sure you’re not drowning your tree; let the soil dry out slightly between waterings. Also, ensure your lemon tree receives adequate sunlight and feed it with a balanced citrus fertilizer. If pests are the culprits, take a close look at the leaves and act accordingly – treat for aphids or scale insects as needed. A holistic approach will help your lemon tree regain its vibrant green.
It’s disheartening to watch your lemon tree shed its fruit before they ripen. Fruit drop can be caused by several factors, including inconsistent watering, extreme temperature fluctuations, and poor pollination. To combat this issue, maintain a consistent watering schedule, keeping the soil moist but not waterlogged. If you experience extreme heat or cold spells, consider providing temporary shelter for your lemon tree. Additionally, you can improve pollination by introducing more pollinators like bees and butterflies into your garden. Adequate care and maintaining a stable environment will help ensure your lemons stay on the tree until they’re ready for picking.
If you notice the leaves on your lemon tree curling, it’s time to get to the root of the problem. Leaf curl can be attributed to various factors, including aphids, fungal diseases, or even insufficient sunlight. To tackle this issue, start by inspecting the undersides of the leaves for aphids or other pests. If you find them, use natural predators or a mild soapy water solution to eliminate them. If the curling persists, consider fungal diseases and prune affected branches accordingly. Ensure your lemon tree receives ample sunlight and that it’s not overcrowded by nearby plants, as improved air circulation can prevent future leaf curls. Keeping an eye out for these issues and addressing them promptly will have your lemon tree’s leaves flat and healthy once more.
If your lemon tree seems to be dragging its feet in terms of growth, it’s time to take action. Slow growth can be due to various factors like poor soil quality, lack of sunlight, or inadequate fertilization. Start by ensuring your lemon tree is planted in well-draining, nutrient-rich soil. Provide it with ample sunlight, at least 6-8 hours a day. Regularly fertilize with a balanced citrus fertilizer during the growing season, typically spring and summer. Be patient and consistent with these efforts, as it may take some time for your lemon tree to show significant growth. In the long run, your persistence will be rewarded with a flourishing lemon tree.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Where do lemon trees grow best?
Lemon trees thrive in warm, sunny climates. They prefer well-draining soil and need plenty of sunlight to produce healthy fruits. Regions with Mediterranean-like weather, such as parts of California, Arizona, Spain, and Italy, are ideal for lemon tree cultivation. However, with proper care, lemon trees can also be grown in pots indoors or on balconies in cooler climates.
How long does it take for a lemon tree to bear fruit?
The time it takes for a lemon tree to bear fruit depends on several factors, including the tree’s age, variety, and growing conditions. Generally, lemon trees start producing fruit within 2 to 5 years after planting. Dwarf varieties tend to bear fruit earlier than standard-sized trees. Adequate sunlight, proper watering, and well-balanced fertilizer can expedite the fruiting process, so attentive care can yield lemons sooner.
How hard are lemon trees to take care of?
Lemon trees are relatively easy to care for, especially when provided with the right conditions. They require regular watering, especially during dry spells, and well-draining soil to prevent root rot. Fertilize the tree with a balanced citrus fertilizer to promote healthy growth and fruit production. Pruning is essential to remove dead or diseased branches and encourage airflow. Protect the tree from extreme cold, especially in colder climates, and watch out for common pests. With consistent attention to these factors, your lemon tree can flourish with ease.
Do you need two lemon trees to produce fruit?
Unlike some fruit trees, lemon trees are self-pollinating, meaning they don’t require a companion tree to produce fruit. Each flower contains both male and female parts, allowing them to pollinate themselves and develop into lemons. However, having multiple lemon trees in close proximity can increase the chances of successful pollination, potentially leading to a more abundant harvest. So, while it’s not necessary, planting multiple lemon trees can be beneficial, especially if you have the space.
How do lemon trees grow?
Lemon trees, like most citrus trees, grow from seeds, cuttings, or grafted rootstocks. When grown from seeds, lemon trees take longer to mature and may not produce fruits identical to the parent plant. Grafting or using cuttings from a healthy lemon tree ensures the new plant inherits the desirable traits of the parent, such as fruit quality and disease resistance.
Lemon trees have glossy, dark green leaves and fragrant white flowers that develop into lemons under the right conditions. The tree continuously produces new growth, and with proper care, it can grow into a lush, evergreen tree, providing a steady supply of fresh lemons for years to come.
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Melissa Pino is a biologist, master gardener, and regular contributor for Planet Natural. Melissa's work focuses on promoting environmentally-friendly practices, helping people create healthy gardens and finding ways to achieve overall health and wellness.