The process to start your own lemon trees from seeds is much like the process for starting your own apple trees from seeds. The difference is temperature. Apples like it COLD and lemons like it HOT … well, warm, anyway. But before we begin, let me clarify that this was just an experiment! We are aware that these pretty little trees will not produce fruit that is true to the parent (which was never the goal), and in fact, they might not produce at all unless properly grafted. We acknowledge that we still have much to learn about fruit trees, and as we learn more, we will share it with you. I plan to study up on grafting over the winter. Nonetheless, these little trees make lovely house plants and have a pleasant scent. So although they may never produce a thing, they are still fun to have around! Please do not interpret this article to mean more than is intended. Thanks!
Digressing, I did not think to take a lot of photos of the entire process when I did this, because at the time, I wasn’t blogging. However, I will soon go buy some lemons, photograph the process, and edit this post so you can see it as it happens. For now (since I have folks asking), here is what you do:
- Choose ripe, healthy, large lemons. Overripe is actually better than ripe. You want lemons that have had plenty of time develop, large healthy seeds. And do NOT refrigerate the lemons while waiting for you to get to this project … leave them out at room temperature.
- Do not CUT the lemons. Peel them, instead. Separate the sections and feel around until you find all the seeds. If a lemon only has 1-2 seeds or seeds that are just little slivers, that is not good. You want lemons with at least 4-5 large, well developed seeds. I have even been known to go into a restaurant and order ice tea with lemon and if I get a really good, healthy seed … I take it home with me. You just never know until you open a lemon whether it has good seeds or even no seeds.
- When you locate a seed, gently cut the flesh around it to free the seed from the pulp and pith. Save the rest of the pulp for use in your next recipe that calls for lemon juice. (Now you can put them in the fridge!)
- Place the seeds in warm water and rub them around in it a little. They will feel slippery and you want to get most of that off without damaging the seed. Take them out and dry them gently on a paper towel to get the rest of the “slippery” off. You can even leave them sit out on the counter for a day to just dry out a little, but don’t leave them there too long. They need moisture to live.
- Place the seeds on two folded paper towels and wet them … just like you do with apple tree seeds. Slip them into a baggie and seal it.
- Now here is IMPORTANT DIFFERENCE from apple trees. Do NOT put them in the refrigerator. You need a dark, warm spot. Any spot between 75-95 degrees will do nicely. Try the basement on top the water heater or the furnace. You could put them in a heat resistant dish and set them on your fireplace mantle or a heat register (if it’s winter when you do this). The top of your refrigerator may also be warm enough. Or you could do what I did and put them on top of (not inside) your dehydrator. (Inside is a little TOO hot … I would not go over 100 degrees.) Since my dehydrator is running most of the time, it seemed perfect. But any place that is dark and warm will work.
- Then wait … and wait … and wait. Several weeks, in fact. In the meantime, keep them wet, warm, and in the dark. Check on them every couple weeks and sooner or later … you will see a tiny root starting to sprout. You are officially expecting…. a baby …. lemon tree. YAY! Now, just like with apple trees, if they get a little moldy, just change out the paper towel. If they get mushy, toss them. They are dead. Try again.
- When the roots are about the same length as the seed, then it is time to plant. Put them in quality, slightly acidic soil and give them TONS of SUN at this point. No more darkness for these babies. Then you get to wait some more. But a couple weeks later, you will see this:
And about month later, you will see this:
And 9 months later … you will see this: Congratulations! You have a baby lemon tree.
Or, if you were really ambitious and planted more than one, you might see this:
A few things I noted:
- They like to start in January because come March or April, you can put them out for ALL DAY sun right when they are most eager to grow.
- They like a LOT of water and good drainage, too — but not torrential downpours. They are still too tender for that. Bring them in when the weather turns bad.
- Small pots like these are fine for the first year or so, but soon they will need bigger pots. I will likely transplant next spring when it is time for a growth spurt.
- They need to come indoors when the average temperature falls below 60 degrees F. Anything colder than that and they will die really quickly. Put them under artificial light for the 10-12 hours a day they need. Remember, these are tropical plants and they do NOT like winter. Once the last frost has come and gone and average temps stay above 60, put them back outside.
- They do not seem to like terracotta. The two trees you see here in the terracotta pot are only about 2″ tall compared to its brethren of 10″ and they were all planted at the same time. So avoid terracotta.
I keep wondering … and will need to check into this and report … what do I do when these bad boys are 5 feet tall? They are not a “Dwarf” variety, at least, not that I know of. How long can I keep them in pots in Ohio and have any fantasies that they may one day produce? I have no idea. First, I just wanted to know if it could be done. Yes, it can. But second, does this mean I need to build a greenhouse around them? Probably. Another project … another post. Never ends, does it?
Hope this works for you. Let me know how it turns out!