How to Grow a Lemon Tree From Seed—So You Can Pick the Fragrant, Juicy Citrus in Your Own Backyard

You'll have to be patient, but there's nothing more rewarding than making lemonade with ingredients harvested from your garden.

As the saying goes, when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. We'd amend that slightly: When life hands you lemon seeds, plant a lemon tree. Yes, you absolutely can grow a thriving citrus tree from the seeds inside the mature fruit. It's well worth the effort, too: There's nothing like venturing into your own backyard to pluck a juicy, fragrant citrus—and you can use the lemons in all kinds of recipes, from pasta sauces and tarts to cocktails. 

While an older lemon tree, which you can purchase from your local nursery, will produce fruit faster, we think it's particularly rewarding to start from seed—especially if you're a new homeowner looking for a plant that will grow alongside your family. You'll need to be patient, since it can take anywhere from seven to 15 years for a lemon tree to mature and produce fruit (but when it does, you can expect a robust harvest). If you're in it for the long haul, we have you covered: Here, two experts share how to grow a lemon tree from seed. 

How to Plant Lemon Seeds

Seeds from any mature lemon fruit can be used to grow a lemon tree, says Justine Kandra, a horticulturist at Missouri Botanical Garden's Kemper Center for Home Gardening.  

Follow Kandra's steps to plant the lemon seeds: 

  1. After removing the seeds from the fruit, rinse them with water to clean off pulp.
  2. Plant the seeds 1-inch deep into fertilizer-free potting soil in a small pot or plug tray. "It is best to plant the seeds as soon as possible, because they do not tolerate being dried out for too long," says Kandra.
  3. Water the seeds thoroughly and keep them in warm conditions (at least 70 degrees Fahrenheit) to allow them to germinate. After a few weeks, the seeds will begin to sprout.
Martha Stewart near lemon tree

How to Grow and Care for Lemon Trees

Lemon trees can be planted permanently outdoors in USDA hardiness zones 9 to 11 or grown in planters indoors, says Kandra. Regardless of which method you use, the steps and requirements needed to grow and care for the trees are nearly the same.


Your lemon tree will need at least eight hours of full sun each day, says Steven Biggs, a horticulturist, founder of Food Garden Life Media, author of Grow Lemons Where You Think You Can’t, and creator and host of The Food Garden Life Show. It will grow best indoors if it has access to a south-facing, sunny window; you can use grow lights to supplement natural light if necessary, Kandra says. 

Soil and Water

All lemon trees need well-draining soil. This is especially important when planting outdoors, so make sure that the tree is also in an area that won't stay wet for extended periods of time after a heavy rain, says Kandra. Make sure that the tree's soil stays evenly moist. A good rule of thumb is to make sure the soil gets to the "dry side of moist" before watering again, says Biggs.


Apply an all-purpose fertilizer packed with micronutrients or a lemon tree-specific fertilizer during the growing season to encourage fruit production, the experts say. They recommend following the manufacturer directions to assess how often to fertilize your lemon tree. 

potted lemon tree plant
Oleg Porshakov / EyeEm / GETTY IMAGES

How to Repot Lemon Trees

Young lemon trees grown in containers will need to be repotted about every two years; mature ones should be repotted every three to four years. The best time to do so is in the spring, right ahead of the growing season, says Kandra.

Here are Kandra's steps to repot a lemon tree:  

  1. Gently remove the lemon tree from its original container and place it in a new one that is about 1 to 2 inches wider in diameter. 
  2. Apply new potting soil as needed in the pot and water thoroughly.

It's possible to keep your lemon trees in the same pot and reuse the container, but you will need to prune the roots first. Using pruners or a small hand saw, take 1/3 to 2/3 inches off the root ball. Replant in the same container with fresh potting soil. 

How to Harvest Lemons From a Lemon Tree

While it usually takes between seven to 15 years to grow a lemon tree from seed, it will be worth it once the mature tree produces fruit. Giggs said he had nearly 50 lemons on his tree ahead of a recent harvest. 

Lemons that are ready to be picked are firm and bright yellow—you should be able to easily take them off the plant with scissors. Lemons will stay ripe for weeks to months on a tree, so you also don’t have to worry about them going bad quickly, he says.

Common Problems With Lemon Trees

These are the common issues that arise when growing lemon trees—plus, how to remedy them.


 Mealy bugs, spider mites, and scale insects are common lemon tree pests. The best way to get rid of them is by dabbing them with a cotton round and rubbing alcohol, says Gibbs. He recommends growing your lemon tree in humid conditions, since these bugs don't survive in this type of environment.  

Root Rot

If your lemon tree has root rot, it is likely suffering from poor drainage. As noted above, make sure you plant an outdoor tree in a well-draining location. If you have planted a tree in a container indoors, make sure it has drainage holes.

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