Lemon trees are some of the easiest fruit trees to grow indoors. All they need is a sunny windowsill, the right soil, and a lot of patience. Before we learn today how to grow a lemon tree from seed, however, let’s discuss a few important things you should know!
It can take a few years for an indoor lemon tree to bloom and produce fruit, but it’s worth the wait. Their shiny leaves and rapid growth are mesmerizing to any greenery addict and you really can’t compare the taste of indoor-grown lemons with store-bought fruit. As we said, lemon trees are some of the easiest and spectacular trees to grow indoors, but this does not mean you should not pay your full attention to their germination and propagation!
This article stands as a step by step guide to help you grow a lemon tree from seed.
First, we’ll go through all the items you will need to make sure the lemon seeds germinate, and then we’ll go into detail on how to make the seeds sprout and show healthy growth.
April 3, 2019
How to Grow a Lemon Tree from Seed: What You Need
Without further ado, here are the items you should have at hand before planting lemon seeds:
- One or two lemons; we recommend the organic varieties that suffered less treatments with pesticides, herbicides, or chemical fertilizers;
- A ziplock bag and a paper towel (for the paper towel method);
- Sterile citrus soil mix OR peat, perlite, vermiculite, and organic fertilizer;
- 4-inch pots (either terracotta or plastic).
You’ll also need a warm, shaded spot for germinating the lemon seeds AND a sunny spot for growing the lemon trees once they’ve germinated.
How to Grow a Lemon Tree from Seed: Method 1
Method #1: Germinate Seeds in a Paper Towel
I tried planting lemon seeds with the paper towel method during this winter and I was surprised by how simple and effective it is. I had a 90% success rate with germinating lemon seeds in a paper towel.
1. Gather the seeds
- Cut the lemon and gather its plumpest seeds.
Keep in mind some of them might not germinate so you’ll need more than one; I recommend trying this with a minimum of 5 seeds.
- Clean off the pulp from the seeds, then rinse them with warm water and dry them with a paper towel.
2. Peel off the white skin from the seeds (OPTIONAL)
This accelerates germination since the tiny sprout doesn’t have to break through the skin anymore – makes sense, right?
Be careful, though, not to cut through the seeds or you might puncture the sprout inside.
Note: Some tutorials on how to grow lemon trees from seeds also recommend peeling off the second (brown) skin layer to accelerate the sprouting process even further. I didn’t do this, but I don’t think it would hurt if you’re careful enough not to puncture, cut, or break off the cotyledons.
3. Wrap the seeds in a moist paper towel & seal them in a bag
- Place the seeds about one inch apart on a paper towel and carefully cover them with another paper towel.
- Wrap them up gently and spray the paper towel until it’s wet.
- Then, seal the whole thing in a plastic bag and write down the current date on the bag.
It’s okay to leave some air inside the bag – in fact, most tutorials online recommend this practice as the seeds need moisture, warmth, and air to sprout.
4. Place the bag in a warm, shaded spot
Your lemon seeds don’t need light at this stage, but they do need plenty of warmth and moisture, as mentioned before. Keep them out of cold or drafty spots in your home to accelerate the sprouting process.
5. After 2-4 weeks or when the roots are at least 1.5-2 inches long, the seeds are ready to be planted in soil
Here’s what to do about a month after germinating lemon seeds with the paper towel method (i.e. when the roots are over 1.5 inches long):
1. Prepare soil and one pot for each seedling
- The pots should be at least 3 inches in diameter and at least 5 inches tall.
- The ideal soil mix should have a pH of 5.5 to 6.5.
You can use the citrus soil mix from Miracle-Gro or make your own using the ingredients listed at the top in even quantities.
2. Carefully separate the seedlings from the paper towel
It’s okay if they only have roots, the plants will grow if provided the proper care described below. Also, some paper towel stuck to the roots is fine – it happened to my seedlings as well and it doesn’t affect growth. Don’t risk breaking off a root just because there’s a bit of paper stuck to it, it’s not worth it.
3. Plant the seedlings about one inch deep
When making the holes in the soil, also take the length of the roots into account. When covering the seedlings, gently pat down the soil.
Do not press too hard or you might break off the roots. Allowing the soil to be a bit loose gives proper access to nutrients, moisture, and air and helps the plants develop healthy root systems.
4. Keep the soil permanently damp until 4-5 leaves appear on each plant
During this time, gradually move the plants to a sunny window in your home. The ideal spot for a lemon tree is right in front of a south-facing window for maximum sunlight exposure, so try to move them closer and closer to their future spot. If you want to make the lemon tree your next best office plant for stunning interior design, keep in mind to move the plant regularly until it reaches the ideal place.
Be careful not to burn them, though! Unfortunately, I don’t have any direct sunlight in my apartment, but mine has been doing wonderfully under a neon lamp!
5. Afterward, allow the first inch of soil (but no more) to dry out between waterings
Don’t let the whole pot of soil dry out, this will surely kill your plant as lemon trees are tropical plants and love moisture.
How to Grow a Lemon Tree From Seed: Method 2
Method #2: Germinating Lemon Seeds in the Soil
I did not try this method beforehand because I had a pretty good success rate with the paper towel, but many people vouch for this method and strategy.
Unlike the paper towel method, germinating seeds directly in the soil might give them a better chance at survival since they won’t go through transplant shock.
1. Gather the seeds
Pick the biggest, healthiest-looking seeds out of a lemon and clean the pulp off, then rinse them with warm water and dry them off.
2. Peel off their skin (OPTIONAL)
The seeds will germinate faster if the sprouts don’t have to break through the seed’s skin as well. Another way to speed up lemon seed germination is to soak the seeds in warm water overnight.
3. Prepare the pots and soil
The ideal pot for one seed is 3-4 inches in diameter and 5-6 inches tall, while the perfect soil mix for planting lemon seeds has a pH between 5.5 and 6.5. You can use the items listed at the beginning of this article to make your own soil.
4. Plant the lemon seeds about 1 inch deep
The pointy tip should be oriented downwards. Cover the seeds with soil and gently pat it down. The soil should be a bit loose to allow air and moisture circulation.
5. Seal the pot with cling wrap and poke a few small holes
This will trap some much-needed moisture and warmth while also allowing the seeds and soil to breathe.
6. Remove the cling wrap when sprouts come out of the soil and place in a warm, sunny location
Keep the soil permanently moist until the plant(s) have about 4-5 leaves, then water about once a week. No more than the first inch of the soil should dry out.
You can transplant the plants after about a year or when several roots peek through the drainage holes of the pot.
Before we wrap up our guide today, let’s take a look at the most frequently asked questions we received from you, our lovely community of casual gardeners!
How to Grow a Lemon Tree from Seed: FAQs
The answers below will also help you have a clear and simple picture of how to grow a lemon tree from seed.
1. Can I plant lemon seeds from store-bought lemons?
Yes. Store-bought lemons are affordable sources for lemon seeds that you can grow inside to turn into lemon trees. However, we recommend you buy a couple of organic lemons. Due to the treatments they go through, non-organic lemons usually come with non-germinating seeds.
2. Does a lemon tree grown indoors from seeds produce lemon fruit?
Usually, no. The best results you can expect when you grow a lemon tree from seeds is to have a luxuriant indoor tree yielding gorgeous flowers. If the seed is of high-quality and you meet all the germinating, sprouting, and lemon tree care guidelines, you may have the great surprise of enjoying lemon fruits as well. However, you have to have patience and keep your hopes to a minimum level to avoid disappointment. Just as our expert in citrus care says, your lemon tree will probably want to spend most of its time outside. If you can only grow it indoors, follow the care instructions to a tee and you may enjoy fresh lemon juice from your own production soon enough.
3. How long does a lemon tree grown from seed take to produce lemons?
After you plant your lemon tree, you should wait about three years before it can produce lemons you can actually pick up and use for consumption. When you grow a lemon tree from seed, no matter the method, you should expect three to six years before it becomes capable of producing edible fruits. The secret is to care for your lemon tree with the utmost attention.
4. Can I grow a lemon tree from dry seeds?
We do not recommend this approach. The best chance you have to grow a lemon tree is to germinate the seeds as soon as you took them out from your fresh lemon. The drier the seeds, the smaller are the chances they will germinate.
5. Can you grow a lemon tree from cuttings as well?
Lemon trees and citrus trees, in general, propagate well if you use cuttings. Nevertheless, keep in mind that if you choose this method over buying a commercially grown lemon tree, yours will most likely show less resistance in the face of common lemon tree diseases.
6. Which is the best fertilizer for lemon trees grown indoors?
Keep in mind that a lemon tree needs a lot of nitrogen to grow well. Experts recommend you should feed your lemon tree every 6-8 weeks all year long. For more information on how to water and fertilize an indoor lemon tree, check out this guide here!
7. Can I feed Epsom salt to my lemon tree?
If your lemon tree suffers a magnesium deficiency, Epsom salt is a good soil amendment to solve this issue. The magnesium levels are crucial for a lemon tree’s capacity to yield fruits. However, before you start conditioning and amending the soil of a lemon tree, make sure you test it first and learn about the potential deficiencies.
Now you know how to grow lemon trees from scratch! I hope you’ll have as much success as I did with germinating and planting lemon seeds.
In fact, I’m looking forward to reading about your experience with these techniques! Let us know how it went for you in the comment section of this article.
For more information on caring for a lemon tree indoors, check out the complete lemon tree care guide by Darren Sheriff, a.k.a the Citrus Guy.