How to grow a lemon tree from seed

The lemon tree is an iconic plant in many parts of the mediterranean. It is a small, evergreen tree with fragrant blooms, but of course it most noted for its tangy, yellow fruits. The history of the lemon is a little hazy but the first cultivated varieties are believed to have been produced from wild plants originating from northeast India, northern Burma, and China. In fact India and China account for a third of the worlds commercial lemon production. So how do you grow a lemon tree from seed?

Growing a lemon tree from seed is surprisingly easy although germination times can be quite slow unless you can provide enough warmth. However first you must obtain some seed. Most commercial seed suppliers do not sell species or particular varieties of citrus seed, which may be due in part that modern lemons are highly cultivated and hybridize easily. This means that the resulting seedlings are unlikely to display the same characteristics of the parent plants. If this is not important to you or if you are interested in producing new hybrids then you can collect the seed from most lemons sold in the local supermarket.

How to prepare lemon seeds for germination

lemon seeds
It is quite possible to remove a seed from a lemon, clean off any remaining pulp with fresh water and pot it in some soil-based seed compost and wait. If you live in a warm-temperate or subtropical country then it may not be necessary to make this procedure anymore complicated. However if you are in a cooler, northern European climate then putting in a little effort will improve your germination results.

For citrus fruits to ripen fully they need to be subjected to the cooler nights that autumn provides. Because of this there is a line of thought that says that lemon seeds will need to be pre-chilled before sowing to encourage a more successful rate of germination. However as it is not possible to produce a cost effective and successful lemon crop in northern Europe all fruits are imported under refrigerated conditions, meaning that the seeds would have been pre-chilled before you purchase the lemons. So all you really need to do is remove the seeds and clean off any remaining pulp. This is important as the pulp will contain anti-germination properties.

Sowing lemon seeds

lemon fruits and flowers
Allow the seeds to dry out for a week or so in a warm position, then soak in warm water for a couple of hours before sowing. Any non-viable seeds will float to the top where they can be removed and discarded. Fill 3 inch pots with a good quality compost such as John Innes 'Seed and Cutting' and sow the seed 1/2 inch deep. Gently water in and allow the excess to drain away before placing in a heated propagator at a temperature of approximately 20-25 degrees celsius. Alternatively seal the pots inside a clear polythene bag and place on a warm, bright windowsill. Avoid direct sunlight as this can dry out the compost inhibiting germination. Your can expect the seedlings to emerge from 2-4 weeks depending on the temperatures. Higher germination temperatures will result in faster germination.

Once germinated remove the pots from the propagator or polythene bag and keep in a warm, bright position. Once they have established in the pots they can be potted on into 1 litre pots using John Innes 'No 3' or good quality multi-purpose compost. The can be hardened off over the summer where they will perform best in a sunny, sheltered position. Water frequently over the growing period but do not allow the roots to become waterlogged. Feed every week or two with a liquid soluble citrus fertilizer.

Bring lemon trees back in under protection in October before the winter frosts. While they can tolerate a certain amount of frost, and will even tolerate below freezing temperatures for short periods of time, they will suffer damage. It is best to keep them in light, frost-free conditions with a minimum temperature of around 7 degrees Celsius.

As lemon trees do not like their roots disturbed only pot on as necessary over the winter period when the plant is dormant.

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