Growing Lemon Trees From Seeds in the Pacific Northwest

Sometimes the best gifts come in tiny packages. Growing Your Own Lemon Trees A friend gave me a sandwich bag of lemon seeds wrapped in a wet paper towel. These were seeds from a lemon tree that came from another friend’s yard, and he described the lemons as sweet and delicious. He ate them in a bowl with sugar sprinkled on top, a simple and delicious dessert. I had always wanted to grow lemon trees from seeds, so this was the perfect opportunity. I kept the seeds moist in the refigerator for several weeks, hoping to simulate a natural dormant period. I’m not sure if this is a necessary step. When I removed the bag from the fridge and carefully unwrapped my seeds, I was dismayed to find that the damp paper towel had molded. But it turns out this didn’t really matter. The outer shell of the seed is quite hardy and protects the tender inside from all harm. The shell of the seed will also likely keep it from germinating also, which is why we have to get rid of it. Wash your seeds and dry them with a paper towel. If you hold a seed upright, you will see that the shell fibers grow up into a point at the top. Using a sharp paring knife, gently cut down into the point, peeling away from the inner part of the seed. You have to take care not to cut or nick the seed inside, or it will be damaged and unable to germinate. You’ll see that the seed inside is brown in color. This brown coloring is yet another layer, like a “skin”, that covers and protects the seed. This will need to be removed also. This is probably the most challenging part, as you want to get under the skin and peel it away without scraping or damaging the seed. It helps to use a bit of fingernail to chip it away. Once that’s done, the true seed is exposed and can begin the germination process! Sandwich Bag Method Place your baby seeds on top of a damp paper towel and tuck into a clear sandwich bag. This will serve as a miniature greenhouse for your seeds, magnifying the light and warmth. Keep this in a bright area, or in a place that will receive full sun for part of the day. I put mine outside in the sun for a couple of hours every day, bringing them in at night so they wouldn’t get too cold. The moisture and the light will kick start germination. If the paper towel dries, you’ll need to rewet them so the seeds never dry out. Growing Lemon Trees From Seeds After a few days you will notice your seeds turning bright green, and some of them will already be splitting open with little tails coming out. Some seeds will break apart into multiple pieces, and each of these fragments can grow tails and eventually grow into a lemon tree! Planting the seeds is a delicate matter of knowing when is the best time, when the tails are not too short and not too long. A few of my seeds I waited too long to plant in soil, and those grew, but were noticably more stunted than the others. You can plant when the tails are about 1/2 inch long, just enough to root in soil. Place the seed tail down in damp soil and cover over with a shallow bit of soil. If your seed is planted too deep, the growing sprout may never reach sunlight and will die or become stunted. Keep in a warm, sunny window or in a bright place. Growing Lemon Seeds And then you will have lemon trees! Depending on your variety of lemon, they may be able to withstand temperatures as low as freezing. Keeping them in a greenhouse or a sheltered place is a good idea. I keep mine in an atrium that is about 10 degrees warmer than outside, and they are thriving. You won’t need to water them much at all in the wintertime, as the soil won’t dry out. Growing Lemon Trees Your trees will not produce fruit for 10 or more years, unless you decide to graft from a mature lemon tree, which you can do in about five years. But even without fruit, the trees are beautiful and add an exotic mediterranean element to your home. Happy growing! Growing Lemon Trees From Seeds **Note – these same principles apply also to any other type of citrus tree your would like to grow – oranges, limes, grapefruits, etc. Lemon tree at two years old (5′ 6″ tall) Lemon tree at two years old


1 Comment

  1. Roger Smith

    When do you expose them to direct sun light after they germinated from seeds? Do they stay indoor or you bring them outdoor during the day? Are they wind tolerant?

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