How to Grow a Lemon Tree from Seed (And Reasons Not To)

lemon tree seedling in pot with fresh lemons

Have you ever looked at the seeds in your lemons and wondered if you could plant them? It’s actually really easy to grow a lemon tree from seed. Find out two easy ways to sprout and grow a lemon tree from seed and also whether it’s really a good idea or not.

lemon tree seedling in soil on yellow background with text "how to grow lemon trees from seed and reasons not to"

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Two ways to grow a lemon tree from seed

It can be really satisfying to take seeds from your lemon and grow brand new lemon trees. I’ve tried two different ways to do this.

Whichever what you chose, the first thing you’ll need to do is get your lemon seeds ready.

If you can, choose a home grown/organic lemon. Store bought lemons may be treated, which can mean there is a higher chance of the seeds not germinating.

Carefully remove the seeds from your lemon and wash to remove any pulp that’s still attached. If you have trouble removing the seeds, an easy way is to use a citrus juicer with a strainer. The strainer will catch all of the seeds and you can choose the biggest, best ones to grow.

Lemon half with lemon seeds on paper towel

Make sure to use quite a few seeds. I like to use at least 10-12 seeds at a time, to allow for any that don’t sprout.

Some people prefer to remove the outer skin of the seeds to give them a ‘head start’ for germination. I don’t think this is necessary. Others recommend drying the seeds first, but I’ve had much better results using the seeds straight away while they are still fresh and moist.

Planting seeds directly

Fill a small pot with good quality potting mix. Ideally use a specially formulated citrus potting mix. If you can’t find a specific citrus potting soil, you can make your own by adding some coir and some perlite to a good quality regular potting soil. Moisten the soil, but don’t oversaturate.

Plant the clean lemon seeds into the soil, about 2.5cm or 1 inch deep.

Cover the pot with plastic wrap and secure to the pot with a rubber/elastic band. Pierce some holes in the top of the plastic with a pencil.

lemon seeds planted in a pot with plastic wrap over the top

Place the covered pot in a warm sunny place. A windowsill inside is perfect. Use a spray bottle to keep the soil moist, not wet. Check regularly to ensure that the soil hasn’t dried out completely. After about 2 weeks the lemon seeds should sprout.

Sprouting seeds first

The second way to grow lemons from seed is to sprout the seeds before planting.

I prefer this way of growing lemon trees from seed, as I know that the seed has germinated before it goes in the soil. It can be so disappointing spending days caring for seeds planted straight into soil only for them not to sprout. At least with the paper towel method it’s easy to eliminate any non-germinating seeds early on.

Place the cleaned lemon seeds on a paper damp paper towel. Cover the seeds with a second piece of lightly dampened paper towel, fold to wrap the seeds and place in a plastic zip lock sandwich bag. Store the sealed bag in a warm, shaded place. Over the coming weeks, the seeds will start to germinate. After 2 to 4 weeks, carefully remove the sprouted seeds from the bag and plant into small seedling pots filled with citrus potting soil.

Half lemon and lemon seeds wrapped in moist paper towel in sealed plastic bag

Looking after a young lemon sapling

Once your lemon seeds have sprouted, it’s important to look after the new saplings properly. When the seedlings have at least 4 or 5 leaves, you can divide them into separate seedling pots for each one. Keep the soil moist and make sure that your seedlings get around 8 hours of sun each day.

3 lemon tree seedlings grown from seed in a pot

Repot the seedlings into larger pots as they grow. Young lemon trees should be re-potted every 2 years. If you are going to keep your lemon tree in a pot, you’ll need to repot every 3 to 4 years. It’s a good idea to trim a little off of the roots and replant in fresh potting soil to ensure your tree stays happy and healthy. Make sure to water your potted lemon as often as needed.

Fertilise young lemon trees with an organic fertiliser around 3 to 4 times a year.

Reasons not to grow your own lemon tree from seed

You can grow lemon trees from seed, but should you? There are a few reasons why you might want to skip sprouting your lemon seeds and head to your local nursery to buy a grafted tree instead.

Time to produce fruit

It can be really satisfying to watch your lemon seed sprout and then grown into a little sapling. But if you are growing your lemon tree in the hope of producing lots of lemons, you will need a lot of patience! A lemon tree grown from seed can take over 7 years to blossom. And it can take up to 15 years to produce any fruit. That’s a very long time to wait to pick your own home grown lemons !

Your lemon tree may not be the same

Another factor to take into consideration is whether the lemon tree you grow will be the same variety of lemon you expect. There’s a chance you could end up with a thorny tree that produces something quite different.

Some lemon varieties, such as Meyer lemons, can’t be grown from seed as the tree that grows won’t produce fruit that is true to type. This is because the seeds only have one embryo, created by fertilisation. In other words, two types of genetic material are combined and the resulting seedling won’t be the same as the parent tree.

Some varieties of lemon will have seeds with more than one embryo within the seed. One embryo will be the product of fertilisation (and won’t be true to type). Others are created from the material inside the seed that is genetically the same as the original tree. These seeds will produce multiple shoots. The weakest shoot is usually the one that is from fertilisation and not true to type. If you remove the weakest shoot you should be left with a seedling tree that is the same as the parent lemon.

This article from Deep Green Permaculture explains more about growing fruit trees from seed and whether they will be true to type.

Weak roots

Another problem with growing a lemon tree from seed is that they sometimes won’t develop a good root system that enables them to thrive. This can depend on the type of soil and environment the seedlings are grown in.

Advantages of grafted lemon trees

Most lemons are grown on grafted or budded trees using a hardy type of root stock, such as citrus trifoliata. This is a disease resistant variety, that is particularly resistant to root rot. Dwarf lemons may use a different type of citrus root stock to hep them stay small in size, like this dwarf Meyer lemon from Yarden.

Grafting lemons trees involves grafting or joining the desired variety of lemon onto the root stock. It means that fruit from the grafted tree will be true to type and you can be certain of the type of lemons you are going to get.

Buying a grafted lemon tree from your local nursery usually means you’ll get a stronger tree with established roots. And you can expect to be picking your own lemons much more quickly than if you grow your own tree from seed. It usually only takes 2 to 3 years for a grafted tree to produce lemons. Of course, you can always buy a more advanced citrus tree that is already producing lemons too.

If you aren’t concerned about your lemon trees producing fruit quickly and are happy just to grow seedlings for their glossy green leaves, then by all means keep sprouting those lemon seeds! Or if you are a very patient gardener, you may be happy to wait for possibility of lemons down the track. Growing lemon trees from seed is also a fun educational activity for kids, regardless of whether you keep the seedlings.

More about lemons

If you have your own lemon tree, you’ll find lots of tips for looking after it on our garden page, including how to manage common pests like citrus gall wasp and bud mites.

For ways to use your delicious lemons, check out our recipe page or find out about our handy tips for cooking with lemons.

And don’t forget to subscribe for more citrus inspiration for your garden, kitchen and home.

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