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Past Articles Library | Trees | How to Grow and Care for a Lemon Tree

After a trip to California, I desired my own lemon tree.  While I could have purchased a dwarf lemon tree from a seed catalogue, I decided to try my hand at growing my own from seed.  But one word of caution, before you run to the grocery store for a lemon take a look at how commercial lemons are grown.

Lemons are grown outside in USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 8 through 12.  While lemons grown from seed can take up to 15 years to produce, commercially grown lemon trees are grafted.  This grafting process makes the lemon tree start producing around the 5 year mark. 

While the lemon tree that you will grow from seed will not produce until it is around 15 years old, it is still fun to give it a try. 

Starting a Lemon Tree from Seed

To begin the process starts with harvesting the seeds.  While other seeds can tolerate drying out and planting later, lemon seeds will not.  Once the lemon is opened, remove the seeds and wash them off.  Why do you need to wash them off?  Well, the answer is simple.  The sugars left on the seeds can attract fungus and in doing so cause problems.   Once the seeds are cleaned, soak in water overnight to speed up the germination process.  While the seeds are soaking, you can prepare your planting medium and pot.

The soil you will need to use is one that is fresh and pasteurized.  Avoid using a bag of soil that has already been opened.  While you may have been very diligent and sealed up the bag, you are still running a risk of using contaminated soil.  Also, you will need to use a sterilized pot that has a drainage hole.  How do you sterilize a pot?  To do this, one will first need to wash the pot in warm water with a little squirt of dish soap.  Rinse the pot in a container of warm water and a capful of bleach.  Once cleaned and rinsed, allow to dry in the sun if possible.

Now that you have your container prepared, place a coffee filter in the bottom of the pot and fill with sterilized soil.  Water the soil in until you see moisture coming out of the bottom of the pot.  Once that is done, it is time to plant the seed.

Lemon seeds need to be ½ inch deep in the soil.  After you have all your seeds planted, cover the pot with plastic wrap or place the pot in a plastic bag.  Place your planted pot in a warm location.  At this point, there is no need to expose the seeds to sunlight. 

Every few days, take a look at your seeds.  Once you begin to see little green sprouts appear, move the container to a sunny location and remove the covering.

An interesting note about lemon seeds is that each seed can produce more than one seedling.  What this means is you will have one seedling that is produced through pollination while the other seedlings are strictly vegetative in nature.  In other words, it will be a clone of the parent.  While you cannot tell by looking, the point is you can plan on having some lemons in about 15 years.

If you would like to have lemons sooner, you will need to buy a lemon tree.

How to Plant a Lemon Tree

As stated before, lemon trees grow outside in USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 8 through 12.  If you live in any other area, plan on growing your lemon tree indoors during the winter. 

To begin the process of planting your tree outdoors begins with the selection of the tree.  If you live in an urban area, consider purchasing a dwarf variety.  On the other hand, if you have several acres at your disposal, consider growing a standard-sized tree.

Once you have selected your tree, the next step in this process is selecting the correct location.  Lemon trees require a lot of sun but also need to be protected from the wind.  After you have selected your location, it is time to map out your grove.

Lemon trees need to be spaced out according to the size of tree you have selected.  Standard-sized trees need to be spaced 12 to 25 feet apart while dwarf trees can be spaced between 6 to 10 feet.  Feel you do not have that much space and in doing so cannot grow lemon trees.  Well, believe it or not, lemon trees are self-pollinating, which means you only need one tree to produce fruit.

Once the location has been selected, the next step of this process is digging the hole.  The hole for your lemon tree should be two to three times the width of the container and the same depth.  After the hole has been dug, cut away the pot from the root ball of the lemon tree and do a dry run of the hole.  If the hole is the correct size, remove the tree from the hole and gently tease the roots.  This teasing consists of loosening the soil around the roots.  After that is done, place the tree in the hole and fill in with soil.

While other trees benefit from a mulch layer, lemon trees do not.  The best approach for weed control is manual removal or an application of corn gluten early in the growing season.

Newly planted lemon trees should be fed with a balanced fertilizer that is designed for tree use.  After you tree begins to produce, you will need to feed it a fertilizer specifically designed for citrus fruit.

When it comes to picking fruit, one will need to cut it or gently pull it off the branch.  Once your tree starts producing, do not leap up from your garden chair.  Lemons take up to nine months to ripen.


One of the most common pests to lemon trees is aphids.  The easiest approach when comes to controlling these pests is to control the ants that help take care of them.   While there are several different approaches when it comes to this, the simplest is to just spray them off.  This will help to destroy aphids along with ants.  Another approach is to introduce ladybugs and other beneficial insects into the environment.  The last approach is to use an organic soap, such as one that is made with tomato leaves or garlic oil.

To use this latter approach, one will need to apply the soap on a cloudy day that is not expecting rain.

While the lemon tree can have its challenges, it is great fun to try to grow your own.

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Fertilize Container Plants

Because container gardens are usually grown to show off a lot color, the plants in them require more frequent fertilizing.

It's good to feed them every two weeks with a water-soluble complete fertilizer like a 20-20-20 or a hyrdolized fish fertilizer.

Regular feeding will help them fill in faster, and produce more flowers.

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