When life gives you lemons, grow trees! Why? Because it’s so easy to grow lemon seeds into trees. I did … and here’s what I discovered, plus how to get growing your own lemon trees from seed:
Typically, lemon trees flourish outdoors year-round in hot, sunny regions, but they can also thrive indoors as edible houseplants in cold-season climates. My local organic food store has a healthy lemon cutting producing massive fruit in a garage setting all year. It makes for an impressive sight in the dead of Canadian winter!
And while rooting cuttings is a sensible option for fast fruit, lemon tree cuttings are not readily available in many parts of the world. Thankfully, lemons are! And despite the fact that it can take anywhere from five-seven years for a new tree to be capable of producing fruit, there is something extra rewarding about starting from seed. I currently have six strong little seedlings on the go, all of which were germinated in the middle of winter with very little effort. Watching them grow has been an exciting and fascinating experience and I know the best is yet to come.
Here is a step-by-step guide to growing your very own lemon trees from seed
Things you’ll need:
A lemon. Make sure you purchase an organic lemon since (supposably) non-organic lemon seeds are “duds”, incapable of germinating. Any organic lemon will do, but if you have climate or space restrictions, you may want to try looking for a specific variety called a “Meyer” lemon. Meyer lemons are a smaller type of lemon, often grown for ornamental purposes, and are thus better suited for indoor containers. I chose Meyer seeds for these reasons, but you can use any seed that makes sense for your situation.
Potting soil. Virtually any potting soil will do, but I suggest using one with a blend of peat, perlite, vermiculite, and organic fertilizer. Every single one of the seeds I planted in this type of certified organic potting mix have sprouted beautifully, so I think it’s safe to say that it works.
Container/pot. A container (with drainage holes) that is 5-6” deep and a few inches in diameter will be sufficient for sprouting; however, the seedling will need to be re-potted into a larger container soon after. Keep in mind that mature lemon trees prefer a container that is wider rather than deeper.
A grow light or lots of sun. Lemon trees need a lot of light, especially when they are sprouting and require 10-14 hours of it each day. If you don’t have a consistently sunny window (like me), get a grow light to substitute some of the sun that’s missing. They don’t cost much and will prove their worth in healthy green foliage.
Method for sprouting the lemon seed:
- Pre-moisten your potting soil. Put some soil into a bucket and mix in some water until the soil is damp all the way through.
- Fill your container with the pre-moistened soil. Leave about an inch of space below the rim of your container.
- Slice open your lemon and choose a seed that looks completely full of life. Pop it into your mouth and suck on it until all the flesh is removed and the lemon flavour is gone. Do not allow the seed to dry out at any time. It needs to stay moist in order to germinate. I suggest keeping it in your mouth until you’re ready to plant.
- Plant your seed! While it’s moist, plant your seed about 1/2″ below the soil level. Cover it completely with soil and water well with a squirt bottle or gentle watering can.
- Cover your container with breathable plastic to keep your seeds warm and moist. I used a piece of clear garbage bag with holes poked into it and a rubber band to securely hold it in place.
- Place the container in a warm location and observe for the next few days. Keep in mind: your seed needs warmth and moisture in order to germinate. Don’t allow the potting soil to dry out completely. Also take caution that you don’t cook your seed in its little greenhouse. Too much heat and moisture could lead to a rotten seed! You’re aiming to achieve a nice balance, so if you feel like the soil is warm enough without the plastic then it’s probably safest to remove it.
In about two weeks you may notice a sprout emerging from the soil. Once it appears, remove the plastic (if it’s still on) and place the little guy in a warm location with plenty of direct sunlight. Supplement sun with your grow light if needed.
Care for your new baby and watch it grow! Provide it with:
Water. Ensure that the soil is damp at all times, especially when your lemon tree is young. Do not allow it to sit in a puddle of stagnant water though; those drainage holes are there for good reason. Water more often whenever the tree is fruiting.
Sunlight. Place it in a warm sunny window where it will receive eight hours of direct sunlight each day, or supplement some sun with a grow light. Since Toronto rarely seems to get any sun in the winter, my sprouts reside in a well-lit window under the warm rays of a grow light for 12 hours each day. Make sure to bring your lemon tree outside and place it in full sun during the summer growing season.
Food. In order to keep your lemon tree healthy and growing, the soil will need to be replenished with nutrients. I suggest mixing an organic fertilizer, such as compost or vermicompost, into the soil when re-potting your seedling. Or, serve up some nutrients in the form of compost tea. Try feeding your lemon tree twice a year (once in spring and once near the end of summer), or as needed; but do not overfeed! When it comes to fertilizing, less it best; so if in doubt, put it off a bit longer. Also, make sure your tree gets a healthy dose of phosphorous during blossoming/fruiting time.
Love. Spend some time looking at your new citrus friend. Pay attention to its growth. Feel it, talk to it … sing to it! Get into the habit of looking for browning leaves and checking the underside of the leaves for pests. Just like us, our plants can become victims to insects and disease and may sometimes require some extra attention.
Lemon trees are self-pollinating, which means they don’t need another tree in order to produce fruit. This also means that if a good balance between moisture, sunlight, and nutrients is achieved, your lemon tree should be blossoming within the next few years!
*Note: Keep in mind that mature, healthy lemon trees, grown from seed, in their natural habitat are HUGE. They can reach up to 20 ft tall! That being said, if you are growing a lemon tree from seed in a colder climate region, like Canada, you’ll need to have reasonable expectations with regards to fruiting. By the time your lemon tree is able to fruit, it will require a large pot, a LOT of sun, and ample space to branch out. Of course, if you don’t think you’ll be able to make your tree fruit, you shouldn’t let that discourage you from growing one! The tree itself is great to have and the lemon flowers are just as rewarding as the lemons themselves.