Lemon trees are some of the easiest fruit trees to grow indoors. All they need is a sunny windowsill, the right soil, and some patience.
It can take a few years for an indoor lemon tree to bloom and produce fruit, but it’s worth the wait as their shiny leaves and rapid growth are mesmerizing to any greenery addict. 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
Without further ado, here are the items you should have at hand before planting lemon seeds:
- One lemon;
- 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: Germinate Seeds in 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; 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 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 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.
Be careful not to burn them, though! Unfortunately, I don’t have any direct sunlight in my apartment, but mine have 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 Lemon Tree
Method #2: Germinating Lemon Seeds in Soil
I did not try this method beforehand because I had a pretty good success rate with the paper towel, but many vouch for this method.
Unlike the paper towel method, germinating seeds directly in 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.
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.