Lemon tree seedling houseplant
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Issue: June 14, 2004

Lemon tree seedling houseplant

Question:

I planted a lemon seed about one year ago. It is in a 10-inch pot now and is about 3 inches tall. It doesn't get much sunlight, and I understand it needs a lot of that. I am going to change its location. The real reason I'm writing this letter is that I have no idea about how to graft it. I need a detailed description of exactly what to do. I am an impatient person and don't want to wait 10 years for a lemon. I don't mind not getting the lemons as much as I mind not getting the blossoms.

M. Wiest

Answer:

Your lemon tree is too small to try to graft right now, especially since you have never grafted a plant before and only have one plant. If you had several very small plants, you could use some techniques that might work, but with one plant caution is a better course of action. This year, you can begin practicing grafting with other plants. In one or two years when your lemon tree is larger, you can attempt to graft it.

Learning grafting techniques takes practice, so the time waiting for the small lemon tree to grow can be put to good use. I have always had greatest success with the technique called t-budding in which a "t-shaped" slit is cut in the bark of the lemon just deep enough to penetrate to the cambium layer that exists just below the bark. A single "bud shield" is cut from the scion branch that will provide the adult-phase top of the new plant. This bud shield consists of the bud and a small amount of bark above and below the bud. It is inserted under the flaps of the "t-shaped" cut through the bark. This is difficult to describe in words, so I will refer you to the many books that describe grafting and usually have excellent illustrations. These books can be purchased (some are not expensive), but you can also find them in the library. The greatest advantage of finding the books in the library is that you will find more books with more grafting techniques than if you purchased only one book.

Another important thing to do while your little lemon tree grows is find the source of scion wood. Perhaps someone in your town has a Meyers lemon, a common lemon tree grown as a houseplant. These are available through several catalog nurseries or in the houseplant section of a local garden center. This scion wood has already passed through the long juvenile phase common to lemons (to which you referred as you stated you didn't want to wait). Therefore, when this adult-phase wood is grafted onto the juvenile phase seedling, it remains in adult phase and is capable of flowering and producing fruit within a couple of years after successful grafting. Best wishes for success and an interesting learning experience.

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Curtis W. Smith, Ph.D., is an Extension Horticulture Specialist with New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service. New Mexico State University is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer and educator.