Have you ever had a surplus of lemons and wondered what to do with the seeds? Instead of tossing them, why not grow an outdoor or indoor lemon tree? They make excellent food forest additions. And lemon trees are more straightforward than you think. If you’re unsure how to start, follow these seven steps to grow a lemon tree from seed. Without second-guessing!
- Why Grow a Lemon Tree From Seed?
- How to Easily Grow a Lemon Tree From Seed
- Germinating and Growing Lemon Seeds In 7 Easy Steps
- Special Considerations for Meyer Lemons
- Lemon Tree Growing Requirements
- Lemon Tree Planting and Growing Schedule
- Choosing the Best Lemon Tree Varieties and Cultivars
- Common Lemon Tree Problems
Why Grow a Lemon Tree From Seed?
Growing a lemon tree from seed is not just a fun project! It’s a long-term investment in your well-being and your orchard. Lemon trees purify the air and offer a burst of greenery. And, if you’re lucky, provide you with homegrown lemons!
Plus, if you’re into grafting, the seedlings can serve as economical rootstock. However, remember that seed-grown trees may take longer to produce fruit, and the fruit quality can vary.
How to Easily Grow a Lemon Tree From Seed
Mature seeds from nearly any lemon can help grow a beautiful, healthy tree. Start by removing the lemon seeds from the fruit. Then – rinse them under your faucet to remove excess fruit pulp. You then plant the seeds half an inch deep in a terracotta pot with your favorite well-draining potting soil.
You should also ensure not to let your lemon seeds get too dry – so it’s best to plant your seeds soon after removing them from the lemon.
As you can see from our straightforward process above – growing lemons from seed is less fussy than many gardeners believe!
We also want to share our more in-depth, seven-step process to grow healthy, tangy lemons at home. It is as follows.
So – gather your supplies. And let’s plant some lemons!
Germinating and Growing Lemon Seeds In 7 Easy Steps
Here’s our easy 7-step process for growing lemon seeds from seeds. Before we start – gather the following citrus cultivation supplies.
- A ripe lemon (organic is best)
- Potting soil
- Growing cups or any planter (for germinating)
- A larger pot with drainage holes (for transplanting)
- Plastic wrap or a plastic bag
- A sunny windowsill or grow lights
Are your supplies ready? If so – let’s proceed to step number one.
Step 1. Extract the Lemon Seeds
Cut your lemon in half and extract the seeds. Rinse them under cold water to remove pulp and sugar, which can lead to mustiness. Even once washed, you’ll notice the lemon seeds still have a slimy coating. Don’t worry too much about the slick texture – but try to remove excess pulp.
(An alternative method is to peel the lemon like an orange. Then, gently pull apart the lemon slices. With this method, there’s less risk of accidentally puncturing and damaging the delicate lemon seeds.)
Step 2. Selecting Viable Lemon Seeds
Before you start planting, it’s wise to pick the best lemon seeds. We want plump seeds! Another quick way to determine seed viability is to place them in a glass of water. Seeds that sink are your best bet for successful germination, while those that float are likely duds.
(Each lemon usually has at least eight to twelve seeds – so choose the healthiest and thickest-looking specimen.)
Step 3. Plant the Lemon Seeds
Fill your planters or growing cups with soil or coarse river sand and make a half-inch deep hole with your finger. Don’t bury your lemon seeds too deep! A half-inch to an inch below the soil surface is ideal.
Coarse river sand works perfectly as a growing medium. River sand provides excellent drainage and is free from pathogens. This clean soil type ensures your lemon seeds have the best environment for germination. Place the seed inside and cover it with soil. Lightly water the soil so it’s moist – but never waterlogged.
(You can also germinate lemon seeds using the paper towel method. That’s when you put the lemon seeds in a damp paper towel and place it in a warm spot for a few days. This method works. But – lemon seeds germinate while in potting soil without much fuss.)
Step 4. Create a Greenhouse Effect
Create a mini greenhouse for your baby lemon seed. Start by covering the growing cup with plastic wrap or a plastic bag. The plastic bag keeps the soil moist and helps the seed germinate. Temperature and humidity are crucial for successful germination. (Temperatures between 70 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit will usually help your lemon seeds germinate without fuss.)
Step 5. Place In a Warm Area
Put the growing cup in a warm area with bright light. A sunny windowsill or a spot under grow lights works well. The top of a fridge or near a radiator are also good spots.
There is some debate about the best temperature for germinating lemon seeds. Many citrus farmers recommend a temperature range of 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit (18 to 23 degrees Celsius).
(However, a study by R. E. Rouse and J. B. Sherrod suggests that the best citrus seed germination temperature is around 85.5 degrees Fahrenheit. So – you may consider aiming for a warmer environment to encourage germination and for a better success rate.)
Step 6. Watch for Roots and Lemon Sprouts
Lemon seed germination can take anywhere from two weeks to a month. You will see a sprout emerging from the soil. At this point, remove the plastic cover and continue to keep the garden soil moist. Let your baby lemon tree bask in the sun and develop for a few weeks to a month. Then – gather your favorite clay pot. It’s time to transplant your baby lemon tree. 🙂
Step 7. Transplanting Your Lemon Seedling
Once your seedling has grown a few sets of leaves, it’s time to transplant it to a larger pot. Fill the pot with a fifty-fifty mix of native outdoor soil and a citrus potting mix. Dig a hole in your new, larger pot roughly the same size as the current, smaller growing cup. And – carefully transfer your baby lemon tree to its new home.
(We usually try to remove the baby tree and the entire contents of the growing cup when transferring it to the larger container. That way – we let the lemon tree’s rootball stay intact. Replanting your lemon tree this way is easy when the tree is still tiny. It’s way more difficult when the tree gets bigger. Use a large spoon or a small garden
Then, place your baby lemon tree in a warm spot – like a sunny location. A bright and warm window in your home with ample direct sunlight is usually your best bet. We love using terracotta pots for our indoor citrus plants. Water it regularly and keep the soil damp, but don’t let it sit in water.
Lemon Growing Shortcut – You can also germinate your lemon seed directly in the large pot – and skip the peat growing cups. However, we usually find that sprouting the lemon seeds in tiny peat-growing cups works perfectly. The roots develop magnificently in a small, compact growing cup. After developing for more than a few weeks to a month, your baby lemon tree will have a lovely and healthy root ball.
Special Considerations for Meyer Lemons
If you’re thinking of growing Meyer lemon trees from seeds, be aware that they are hybrids. Their hybrid heritage means the tree you grow may not produce fruit identical to the one you took the seed from. It’s a bit of a gamble but also part of the fun!
Lemon Tree Growing Requirements
Lemon trees can grow outdoors in warm climates or as potted houseplants in colder climates. No matter how you cultivate them – lemon plants need at least six hours of sunlight daily and prefer temperatures between 55 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Water when the top two to three inches of soil feels dry. We’ll also discuss the lemon tree growing requirements in further detail below.
Lemon trees love growing with 65-degree Fahrenheit temperatures during the day and 55 at night. Some of our gardening friends from Massachusetts remind us that lemon trees are surprisingly cold-hardy. In fact – Meyer trees are cold-hardy down to 22 degrees. But – also remember that if the temperature dips below 54 degrees Fahrenheit, they will go dormant – and stop growing. (This isn’t a big problem – bring your potted lemon tree indoors during winter! Then you can bring it back outside during warmer months.)
Lemon trees are one of the least fussy fruit plants. But they still require ample sunlight if you want an abundant harvest. Plan to offer at least six to eight hours of daily sunlight. We should mention that outdoor lemon trees will almost always have a more promising yield than indoor potted plants. If you grow your lemon trees indoors, place them in a warm, sunny spot – a south-facing window usually works the best.
Lemon trees, especially those with lemon fruits, need consistent watering, moisture, and humidity. Watering potted lemon trees inside your home is somewhat tricky – because humidity levels vary indoors – especially if you run a hot pellet stove, fireplace, or electric heater in the winter. The best advice is never to let your lemon tree get too dry. Monitor the top inch of soil of your lemon tree daily. If it feels too dry – give it a splash of warm water. Lemon trees and their dense foliage also LOVE a gentle misting now and again. Never let it get too dry!
Soil and Fertilizer
Lemon trees, like other citrus fruits, love acidic soil more than other fruit trees you may have grown. A fresh potting mix or citrus soil mix will usually work flawlessly. You may also consider adding peat moss to your mix to help increase acidity.
Lemon trees are also hungry! Slow-release fertilizers are perfect when applied during the spring or summer. Usually – we urge against feeding fruit trees fertilizers with too much nitrogen. But lemon and other citrus trees are an exception – they need ample nitrogen to grow abundant and yummy fruit.
Acclimating to Outdoor Conditions
Once your tree is big enough, it can start acclimating to outdoor conditions. Start by placing it outside for a few hours daily, gradually increasing the time it spends outdoors.
You can also condition your lemon tree again if you bring it inside for the winter. Prepare your lemon tree to come inside by keeping it in a shady spot with indirect sunlight for a few weeks before bringing it in for the cold winter season. (This gradual decrease in sunlight will help it acclimate to returning indoors for the winter.)
Patience is key! It may take seven or more years for new lemon trees to fruit. But when it does, the reward is sweet, or should we say, tangy!
Lemon Tree Planting and Growing Schedule
Here are the critical dates all lemon growers should know.
|April||April is one of the most exciting times for lemon growers. April represents one of the earliest times of the year you can transplant your developing lemon tree outdoors. The risk of overnight frost has passed in many regions – and your lemon tree has a beautiful, warm season to help establish its roots. April is also the perfect time to begin acclimating your potted lemon tree to spend the spring and summer outdoors. Bring it out for a few hours daily at first – and help it adjust to the sun.|
|May||May is our favorite time overall to transplant your lemon tree outdoors. The weather is gorgeous in most growing zones during May. And – the sun isn’t too overbearing, so you don’t risk letting your baby lemon tree dry up or get scorched from the hot sun. May is also an excellent time to add fresh fertilizer to your mature lemon tree.|
|June||If you have a potted lemon houseplant, let it enjoy some outdoor sun in June. June is when your lemon trees are likely in full swing. Many lemon gardeners experience abundant harvests during June. We also remind you that citrus trees, lemon trees especially, are tremendously heavy feeders. Don’t let them run out of nitrogen during this time. And if you grow indoor plants (or potted lemon trees), adding a slow-release fertilizer in June is usually excellent timing.|
|July||Your lemon trees need special care in July. Temperatures can get much higher than 75 degrees Fahrenheit in some locations. So – July is when you must ensure your lemon tree never gets too dry! Monitor your lemon tree at least a few times weekly. Double-check the topsoil around your lemon tree to ensure it’s nice and moist. If not – then give it a warm drink. You can also wet the leaves, give them a cool mist at dusk, and help keep them comfortable.|
|August||August is one of the most brutal months for lemon trees, especially if you experience dry weather. Remember to keep your lemon trees nice and moist – and never let the soil dry fully. We don’t advise transplanting your lemon tree outdoors during this time, as it will have a much easier transition during early spring or autumn.|
|September||September is our second favorite month to transplant lemon trees outdoors. Your lemon tree begins to slow down in the chilly weather – so it’s a less stressful transition. But we don’t recommend waiting much beyond September. You might imperil the lemon tree’s sensitive roots when transferring it during a time with an overnight frost risk. So – October or November might be too late.|
Also – remember to study the lemon cultivar you decide to grow – and how it thrives in your region.
Choosing the Best Lemon Tree Varieties and Cultivars
We’ve researched dozens of tasty and zesty lemon cultivars. Homegrown, organic lemon is always far superior to store-bought lemons, regardless of which lemon tree plants you grow! And out of all lemon varieties – the three are our favorite for home growers.
Meyer lemons are probably our favorite overall lemon cultivar. They’re hybrid plants and make an elegant, beautiful lemon tree with thick, glossy leaves. These lemons come from an Eureka or Lisbon variety mixed with a Mandarin orange. The result is a yummy, tasty lemon that isn’t as tangy or tart as other varieties. They’re among the few lemons with deliciously edible fruits right off the branch. Meyer trees are also short – and work excellently as an indoor houseplant.
- Tree Size: Up to ten feet tall.
- Harvest Season: November to April
- Fruit Weight: 1 to 3 pounds!
- USDA Zone: 9 to 11
- Self-Pollinating: Yes
- Fruit Appearance: A smooth and short, yellow to orange elliptical fruit.
Eureka lemons are the everyday lemons you’ll find at your grocery store. They’re sour, tangy, and perfect for homemade iced tea, lemon juice, or lemonade. Eureka lemon trees also have breathtaking white flowers. The only problem with Eureka lemons is that they have famously few seeds. You may have to slice open a few dozen to find any! So – we advise buying a small tree from your local nursery if you choose this cultivar.
- Tree Size: Around 10 to 15 feet tall.
- Harvest Season: Mostly fall, winter, and spring. But – sometimes year-round.
- Fruit Weight: Up to one-half pound or 170 grams.
- USDA Zone: 8 to 10.
- Self-Pollinating: Yes
- Fruit Appearance: Bright yellow color with an iconic elliptical shape. Eureka lemons also have a small nipple at the end of the fruit.
Lisbon lemons are our favorite juicy lemon for home cooking. Their fresh, tangy flavor can help upgrade nearly any meat dish. They’re also perfect for baking, desserts, or as a garnish. We’ve also used Lisbon lemons to help make homemade insecticides. It never works as well as DEET – but we believe Lisbon lemons help to keep flies away from food!
- Tree Size: Around 10 to 15 feet tall.
- Harvest Season: Winter to spring. And sometimes – you can get year-round fruit.
- Fruit Weight: Around one-third of a pound or 140 grams.
- Self-Pollinating: Yes
- USDA Zone: 9 to 11
- Fruit Appearance: Small yellow fruit with thick, uneven, bumpy skin.
Common Lemon Tree Problems
Lemon trees are relatively straightforward to grow – as long as you live in an area with mild winters. That said, three common ailments can impact your lemon tree harvest. They are as follows.
Our homesteading friends refer to bacterial blast by the common name, black pits. Black pit is a nasty disease that kills your lemon tree twigs and leaves. The bacterium Pseudomonas syringae is the cause.
It spreads the most readily with cold, windy, wet weather. You can identify black pits by the unsightly black lesions or water-soaked lesions on the leaf petioles. The bacteria also spreads to the lemon fruit and causes a hideous-looking black indentation – or pit.
The best way to manage black pits is to wait for dryer weather. And then remove any damaged twigs or leaves. You can also try to plant other wind-resistant trees or crops near your lemon tree to help prevent wind – which exasperates black pits.
Lemon Tree Pests
Your average lemon tree usually won’t die from insect pests. But – unfortunately, a massive variety of pests find this plant appealing. Here are some of the most common lemon tree pests you may encounter.
Luckily – infestations from these garden critters usually won’t be enough to kill a healthy lemon tree. Prune away any badly infested areas, and treat the tree using horticultural oil or insecticide.
Use organic control methods when possible – and monitor your tree regularly for infestations. Manually remove pests if you can. Above all else – follow the instructions of whichever pesticide product you use – and ensure it’s safe for citrus trees!
Excess water, constant moisture, and harsh conditions can negatively impact your lemon tree. Standing water can lead to root rot, sagging leaves, leaf loss, wilting, twig death, and eventual tree death. That’s one reason we love using soil with sand – as it can help provide extra drainage.
That said, unfortunately, you can’t control the weather. But you can always prune away dead, damaged twigs and leaves from the tree. You may also notice that lemons fall from your tree. But – falling lemons isn’t necessarily a sign of tree damage. Your lemon tree will naturally drop lemons as they mature, ripen, and weigh the tree down.
Thanks so much for reading our guide about growing lemon tree seeds! We hope it helps you plant lemon trees with great success.
Growing a lemon tree from seed is a long-term commitment, but it offers numerous rewards. From the educational aspects to the joy of watching something grow from a mere seed, the experience is worth the effort.
Lemon trees also add an elegant fragrance to your home or garden. They’re underrated crops! (Lemon tree flowers also help attract beneficial insects – making them excellent companions for veggie gardens.)
What about you?
- Have you ever had a fresh backyard lemon?
- Do you grow lemons outdoors? If so – what is your favorite soil amendment?
- Do your indoor lemon trees fruit and flower on a sunny window sill? Or does it need more direct light?
- Do you have any citrus care tips you can share?
- Which lemon tree do you think has the most gorgeous flowers?
We’re diehard lemon tree enthusiasts! And we’d love to hear from you about your lemon growing experience.
We also encourage you to ask us if you have questions about proper care for your lemon tree.
All lemon tree gardeners are welcome!
Thanks again for reading.
Have a great day!
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How to Grow a Lemon Tree From Seed | Resources, References, and Works Cited
- Rouse, R. E., and Sherrod, J. B. (1986) | Optimum Citrus Seed Germination Temperature | University of Florida, IFAS | Southwest Florida Research & Education Center
- Optimizing Germination Percentage and Reducing Germination Time for Lemon Seedlings | Walsh Medical Media
- Growing Citrus Outdoors | University of Minnesota Extension
- Grow Your Own Lemons | PennState Extension
- How to Grow a Lemon Tree Indoors | UNT Libraries
- Nitrogen for Citrus Trees | University of Florida | IFAS Extension
- Bacterial Blast of Citrus | University of California | Agriculture and Natural Resources
- Growing Lemons In Australia – A Production Manual | NSW Department of Primary Industries
- Physiological Performance of Lemon Seedlings Treated with Different Concentrations of Traditional Fertilizer and a Soil Conditioner, MDPI, 2020