How To Grow Lemons From Seeds

Lemon Seedling Growing in Pot

Getty Images/Ekaterina Varnakova

Growing plants from seeds is incredibly satisfying. And when those seeds would otherwise be thrown in the trash, there is something even more pleasurable about nurturing new life. Next time you slice open a lemon and see those small white seeds, picture a tree with handsome foliage and clusters of white flowers. Inhale the divine scent of those blossoms–a combination of jasmine and citrus. If that sounds like a tree you want in your home or garden, read on to learn how to grow lemons from seeds to produce one of the most fragrant flowering trees around. 

What To Expect from a Lemon Seed

Before you get started, it is important to temper your expectations regarding fruit. Lemon seeds contain a great deal of genetic diversity and will produce a plant that is different from its parent. The resulting plant may ultimately produce tasty fruits, but chances are the fruit will taste drastically different than what you are expecting. However, lemon trees grown from seed make beautiful houseplants with glossy leaves and sweet-scented blooms. Lemon trees take several years to flower and fruit. 

Starting Lemon Seeds

Lemons grow quite easily from freshly harvested seeds. Unlike vegetable plants, citrus seeds do not tolerate drying out and should be planted as soon as possible. Clean the seeds well to remove any pulp or sugars clinging to the seed coat, as these will encourage disease. Soak seeds overnight in a bowl of water to soften the seed coat and discard any seeds that float. 

Plant seeds one-quarter inch deep in 2- to 3-inch pots containing a slightly acidic, well-draining soil with plenty of organic matter. Be sure to use a container with drainage holes to allow excess water to drain away. Water the soil until evenly moistened, then cover pots with plastic to retain moisture until the seeds germinate. Place containers in a warm location, around 70˚F, until the seeds germinate. Monitor soil moisture, keeping it moist but not soggy. Light is not essential until seedlings emerge, which can take two to three weeks.

How To Care for Lemon Seedlings

Once the seeds germinate, remove the plastic covering and move containers to a location receiving bright light, such as a south- or west-facing window. Lemons are well adapted to indoors temperatures and thrive between 55°F and 85°F. After your seedling has produced four true leaves, move them into a four-inch pot. Clay pots are ideal, as they allow excess moisture to evaporate from soils. Deeper containers are preferred to shallow ones. As plants grow, they can be moved into larger containers every one to two years. 

Take care to water seedlings and young plants carefully. Lemons require moist soil but should never be soggy. Allow the soil surface to dry between waterings, then water the container deeply. Do not allow pots to sit in trays of water. During periods of active growth, typically April through August, apply a fertilizer made for acid-loving plants mixed at half the recommended strength. 

Young plants may not branch readily. Encourage side branching by cutting the tip off the central shoot and any side branches near the top of the plant. As plants grow, you may notice thorns developing at the nodes, especially on fruiting stems. This is perfectly normal. Thorns can be pruned off if desired. Lemon trees can also be pruned at any time to shape plants.

Flowering and Fruiting

Lemon trees can take four to five years to produce flowers, however the intoxicating fragrance is worth the wait. Flowering plants do not always produce fruit. Outdoors, lemon blooms are pollinated by insects. When grown indoors, lemons may need a bit of help to set fruit. You can hand pollinate flowers by gently shaking the branches or flicking the flowers with your finger to spread pollen. You can also use a paint brush to move pollen from flower to flower. 

Lemon trees can be brought outdoors to grow on the patio during the summer months, however plants cannot tolerate frosts. Be sure to bring them back indoors when temperatures begin to drop.

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