Food Gardening Network

Growing Good Food at Home

Growing Lemons from Seeds, Seedlings, or Cuttings

Lemon tree seedlings, grown from seed

Lemon tree seedlings, grown from seed

Can you grow lemons from seed? Yes. Should you? Well, it depends. Are you willing to nurture your seedling for about 15 years until it produces fruit? Then, plant away!

It’s possible to grow lemons from seed, but you can’t always be sure of what you’ll get. One of the interesting things lemon seeds can do is produce three seedlings from one seed. One seedling will be from the embryo that formed when the tree was pollinated, so it will be a combination of the original tree from which the seed came, and the second parent tree that provided the pollen.

The other two potential seedlings will be what are called apomictic seedlings—exact genetic reproductions of the tree on which the lemon formed; in other words: clones.

So, if you nurture your seedlings through to producing fruit, they may or may not produce true to seed. If you’re OK with that, then plant away!

Seed Planting Process

Lemon seeds

Lemon seeds

You can collect seeds from a lemon you eat and plant them. Ideally, you should use seeds from an organic lemon. You’ll have to act fast when you decide to plant; unlike other plant seeds, lemon seeds don’t like to dry out.

Prepare the potting soil so you can get your seeds into soil as soon as possible. The germination soil should be sterile; either buy potting soil that’s been pasteurized so that it’s germ-free, or make your own by heating moistened soil on a baking sheet at 160 degrees F for 30 minutes. Heat until the center of the soil reaches 160 degrees F, then allow it to cool.

Here’s the fun part. To prepare your seeds, you need to remove the sugar to prevent a fungal attack. You can wash them gently in a sieve at the sink, or you can suck on the seeds until you’ve fully removed the sugar coating the seed. Your choice.

Put the seeds about a half inch deep into the potting soil, moisten it a bit, and then cover the top with plastic wrap. This is a good situation to use a seed starter tray with a plastic lid.

Put the seeded soil in a warm location until the seeds germinate. You could put it on top of your fridge, or you could use a heating mat designed to help seeds along. You don’t need a lot of light at this point, but don’t let the soil dry out. Keep the soil moist, but not soggy.

Once the seeds germinate, they’ll need light. So put them in a sunny spot or get out your grow lights. Once you have seedlings with several sets of leaves, you can transplant them to larger pots. Then settle in for the long haul.

Growing Seedlings

Progression of a lemon tree seedling

Progression of a lemon tree seedling

You can get seedlings and skip the whole germination process; but again, plan to wait a long time before you have a plant that produces any fruit. You’ll want to make sure your little seedling gets plenty of light and adequate water—just be careful to keep the soil from getting soggy. Lemons don’t like wet feet!

Growing from Cuttings

Taking a lemon tree cutting

Taking a lemon tree cutting

If you already have a lemon tree and you’d like to have more, you can take a cutting from a healthy tree. Trim about a 7-inch section of branch that has at least two or three healthy nodes. Remove any bottom leaves, leaving about three leaves at the top. Dust the cut end with rooting powder.

Plant the cutting in seed starter mix with the branch about an inch deep. It’s a good idea to add a support stake to help the branch remain upright as it roots and grows; you can upgrade the stake as the branch gets taller. Cover the pot with plastic wrap to retain moisture in the soil and to create a warm, humid environment. Don’t let the plastic wrap touch the end of the branch. You might want to put three dowels in the pot to act as supports for the plastic wrap.

After the roots develop, you can take the plastic wrap off. Keep the pot in a sunny, sheltered spot. Keep an eye on root growth. Once the roots nearly fill the pot, it’s time to transplant your young tree to a bigger pot.

Keep in mind that you’ll still be in for a long wait before your lemon tree starts producing fruit. If you’re not in a rush to get to harvest, this is a growing option.

While growing lemons from seeds, seedlings, or cuttings is certainly doable, it requires more time, care, and patience than purchasing a young tree, where growers have done some of that up-front work for you.

Have you tried growing lemons from seeds, seedlings, or cuttings? Which method do you prefer—and why? Please share your experiences with us.

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