Fielding Questions: Lemon tree indoors, preventing squirrel damage, potatoes in a tire tower

This week, gardening columnist Don Kinzler fields questions about pruning an indoor lemon tree, preventing squirrel damage, and growing potatoes in a tire tower.

lemon tree Feb. 11, 2023.jpg
Reader Sandy F. asks gardening columnist Don Kinzler this week about how to prune an indoor lemon tree.
Contributed / Sandy F.

Q: My grandson planted lemon seeds from a lemon purchased from the grocery store about a year-and-a-half ago. Two seeds grew, and they’re now 5 and 6 feet tall. I have them near a south-facing window, and they appear to be healthy.

I’d like to prune them so they’ll bush out instead of growing into a tall tree, but I have no idea how. My grandson panics every time I mention it. – Sandy F.

A: The lemon trees look great. I would definitely suggest pruning to keep their height manageable indoors, while encouraging increased branching.

You're right about the lemon trees becoming too large if left to their own devices. The Meyer lemon, the type most commonly grown indoors, is a dwarf form, but most seeds from store-bought lemons will produce large trees.

In lemon orchards, trees are pruned while young to develop the desired shape, so it’s good you’re thinking about this now. As spring approaches and days are longer, we’re entering a good window for pruning indoor plants. Increased daylength triggers the production of abundant new growth, versus pruning in the dead of winter.


To prune your lemon trees, cut long shoot back by about half, taking care to cut just above a leaf or side branch, to avoid leaving dead-end stubs.

Q: I’m having a major squirrel problem. They’re climbing my exterior walls, destroying my yard, destroying my flower gardens, getting into the bird feeders, tearing into my covered garbage can and many more problems. Is there anything I can do to get rid of them? – Ade T.

A: Thanks for writing. Squirrels are among the most difficult creatures to control in yard and garden. They’re trickier than deer and rabbits because most fencing can’t even exclude squirrels.

Repellents don't work well, except sometimes in flowerpots or gardens where pepper-based repellents can be tried, but the success rate isn't high. Without other effective options, trapping is sometimes the only effective way I know. Recommended trapping baits are peanut butter, walnuts, pecans, apple or orange slices, corn and sunflower seeds.

I wish I had a better solution for you. The University of Nebraska has a good discussion of squirrels and their damage, and a few control ideas to try. To access their information, search “ University of Nebraska squirrel control .”

Q: I saw your recent answer about potatoes in a barrel . My great-uncle, long gone old timer, used a similar method with great success. You start with an old rubber tire, fill it with dirt and then plant seed potatoes. As the plants grow, you put another tire on top and add soil. We'd end up with about four tiers of tires making a tower. At harvest time, we just dismantled the tower. It gave many potatoes without a lot of digging, and the tires are reusable year after year.

A: Interestingly, planting vegetable in tires is making a comeback. There’s considerable controversy, though, about the possibility of chemicals leaching out of the old tires and possibly contaminating the soil contained within.

Tires contain large quantities of petroleum-based chemicals and other toxic materials. Some sources feel these products could be released into the soil as the tires weather, possibly affecting vegetables grown within. Other sources disagree, indicating tires are safely used around vegetables.


There doesn’t seem to be good research that settles the issue. To err on the side of caution, before using tires to grow potatoes or other vegetables, line the inside of the tires with landscape fabric, food-friendly plastic, or other material to limit the possibility of materials leaching out of the tires and into the soil.

If you have a gardening or lawn care question, email Don Kinzler, NDSU Extension-Cass County, at . Questions with broad appeal may be published, so please include your name, city and state for appropriate advice.

Don Kinzler, a lifelong gardener, is the horticulturist with North Dakota State University Extension for Cass County. Readers can reach him at
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