Dwarf Lemon tree in pot grown from seed

Do you fancy growing your own little lemon tree?  If you do, you'll need quite a bit of patience.  From planting your pip, it will take around 3 years before it flowers and fruits.  But then the effort you put in to grow a lemon tree will be rewarded with delightful perfumed white flowers, glossy green leaves and brightly coloured fruit. 

One key thing you will need, if you want to grow your own lemon trees in the UK, is some indoor space.  Lemon trees can go outside in summer but need to be inside all winter.  Ideally an unheated conservatory as they love light and don't like central heating.  

What variety of Lemon Tree to Choose

If you want to buy a tree rather than planting lemons from seed, then you need to buy the right one.  Pot grown lemon trees will never get as large as those grown in the ground. But it is still best to choose a dwarf variety for growing lemons in containers. "Improved Meyer" or "Ponderosa," are good varieties to choose. Most dwarf trees only reach 1–1.5m (3–5ft) tall in a pot.

If you are trying to grow lemons from seed the first thing to do is to find a lemon that has pips as these days not all of them do (this was discovered the hard way when trying to film my little lemon planting Reel!) Once you have a lemon with pips in I am afraid that there is no way to tell if the tree it came from was a dwarf one.  Dwarf lemon trees produce full size fruits (who knew?)  So, you will just have to take your chances with your pip and see what size tree you get!

The good news is that lemon trees are self-fertile, so a single plant is able to produce fruit. So no need for a lemon orchard!

Growing lemons form seed lemon design spacer bar

What pot to use for a Lemon Tree

When you grow a lemon tree in a pot, the first thing you need to get right is the drainage. Lemon trees do not like waterlogged roots, so don't fall for a pretty pot with no drainage holes!

For small trees, a 30cm (12") diameter container is a good place to begin.  As your trees grow you will need to gradually increase the size of the pot to eventually 45cm to 60cm (18" to 24"). 

Any pot material will do - plastic, metal, ceramic and terracotta are all suitable but remember you will need to move it.  A pot full of compost, complete with tree, will be heavy, and decorative pots such as terracotta will add weight.

Planting a Lemon seed

Start with a lemon, a warm, sunny windowsill - your little lemon will want at least eight full hours of light per day as it grows - and a small pot.

Compost

There are specially formulated citrus composts but any potting medium will work. Add to it up to 20% sharp sand or grit to ensure good drainage. 

How to plant a lemon pip

lemon tree grown from seedFill your pot with the compost mix and moisten until it is damp. You can also do this in Rootrainers for super strong roots - Deep Rootrainers will be fine as the tree will not get large.

Prep your lemon seed by removing all of the pulp from its surface just before you are ready to plant. The easy way to do this is to suck it.  

Whilst the seed is still moist, plant about 1 1/2 cm (1/2") deep and cover. 

Spray the soil again with water - place the pot in a clear plastic bag with a few holes punched in the top. And put it in your warm, sunny location. 

Spray on more water occasionally, not allowing the soil to dry out. 

The seedling should emerge after about 2 weeks.  At this point you can take it out of the plastic bag.   

Look after it by keeping the soil damp and by giving it organic fertiliser. Watch over it to ensure it is not attacked by bugs or diseases. Prune off any dead leaves when necessary.

Repotting Lemons

Whether you have a tree or a seedling you will need to repot it each year around March time. As with most plants it is good to go up the pot sizes gradually so don't jump from a 3" to a 18" in one go.  The procedure for repotting is much the same as that outlined above for planting a seed. If you can't repot - it will get trickier as your lemon tree gets bigger - then at least refresh the pot by replacing the top 5cm (2") of growing medium with fresh compost.

Growing Lemons in Vigoroot 

Lemon Trees grow well in Vigoroot pots because they air prune the roots of the plant.  This means that they never get pot bounding . You can start them in a 5L pot.

But Vigoroot pots aren't the prettiest so if you want to use one indoors then you may want to put it in a decorative pot.  If you do this then ensure that there is at least an inch gap all round so that the roots can air prune.  And also put some big stones in the bottom.  This will allow your lemon tree to grow in a much smaller volume of compost than in a standard pot.  It will also ensure that it keeps fruiting in years to come.  Fruit trees will stop fruiting if they become pot bound and this is often irreversible.    

Check out this blog for How to Care for a lemon tree and discover how to feed it, when and how to prune your lemon tree, how to harvest lemons and what lemon tree pests and diseases to look out for.

Sarah Talbot

Comments

We have a small Meyer lemon tree in a pot indoors, but are going away for most of April. What will give it the best chance of surviving — putting the pot outdoors, or giving it plenty of water and keeping it indoors? Thank you.

— C.

Hello Harry, not yet it might be another year before it needs pinching out otherwise you will have a very small tree. One tip to remember when you do decide to do it , is that pinching out needs to be done in summer when the tree is actively growing, Check out our other lemon tree blog for further tips on caring for your lemon tree.

https://www.haxnicks.co.uk/blogs/grow-at-home/how-to-care-for-a-lemon-tree-in-the-uk

— Haxnicks

Hi, we have a lemon tree grown from a pip, it’s a single stem, healthy and new leaves being produced at the top. Its about 35cm tall. There are no side branches showing, should the new top growth be nipped off to promote side shoots?

— Harry

Hello Bob, where are the shoots coming from? If they are coming out low down on the stem below the graft then definitely remove them as they will sap the plant’s strength. Even if they are higher we would be inclined to pinch these back to allow the plant to concentrate its energy on the fruit. Many plants have been fooled into putting on growth by the warmer than usual autumn temperatures and a sudden drop will come as a nasty surprise to them. We do hope this helps and you get lovely lemons!

— Haxnicks

My lemon tree has been on holiday in a sunny spot in the garden until last week when I bought it inside.

It has several green lemons on it and looks pretty healthy, but I am now seeing loads of new shoots and flower buds all over it.

Should I leave it to do its thing, or should I pinch the shoots out?

— Bob Hughes

Hi Catherine, I am afraid that patience is needed! Lemons can take up to 9 months to ripen. They don’t ripen like other fruit but slowly mature and get sweeter. There are other things apart from time that might stop it ripening though. It needs lots of sunlight (a bit lacking this year!) Try pruning a few of the leaves off around the fruit and turn it so the fruit is facing the light. Also keep the watering regular so the tree isn’t stressed at any point. Hope that helps!

— Haxnicks

Good morning and thanks for the great information. I bought a lemon tree which had one green fruit back in March, kept it in the conservatory and put it outside mid June, the leaves appear to be bushier but the fruit hasn’t changed at all, how long does it take to turn yellow please and is it a gradual change through the colours over months or more instant, we live in the North West!

— Catherine

Hi Hilary, It pains me to say it but your husband is right! It could really sap your trees strength not to mention break the branches if there are too many fruits. So it is best to thin them out. That way you will have fewer bigger fruits rather than many smaller ones.

— Haxnicks

HI, my pot grown lemon tree has a lot of fruit which is weighing down some of the branches. My husband thinks I should thin out the fruit to avoid putting the tree under stress. What would you advise?

— Hilary Bedford

Its a pleasure Patrick – hope you have success growing your first lemon!

— Haxnicks

Thankyou very much for your information on growing and caring for the lemon tree very helpful

— Patrick mcdonnell