Issue: April 8, 2000

Lemon Tree from Seed


How can I grow and get lemons from seeds? Cyndi Little via Internet.


You can collect the seeds from a lemon that you eat to grow new lemon trees. It is important that you plant them immediately after you take them from the lemon fruit. They will not tolerate drying like our common garden seeds. This is true of many other tropical fruit seeds. If the seeds have dried a little while, they may still germinate, but the chances decrease rapidly with the increase in time that the seeds have been dry.

Once you collect the seeds, wash them well to remove sugar that may still cling to the seed coat. The sugar will encourage fungal attack. Fungi may then kill the young plant as the seed germinates. Plant the seeds while still moist in a pot filled with potting soil that has been pasteurized by heat to kill disease organisms.

If the bag has been opened for a while, or if you make your own potting soil from homemade compost, you may want to pasteurize it yourself. You can do this by heating the moistened soil to a temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit and holding that temperature for 30 minutes after the center of the soil reaches 160 degrees.

Plant the seeds approximately one-half inch deep in the potting soil, moisten the soil slightly, then cover the top of the pot in which you planted it with plastic wrap to reduce evaporation so that the seed and soil will not rapidly dry out. As the soil begins to dry, add a little water, but be sure the soil does not become soggy. The pot in which you planted the seed should have drainage holes so that surplus water may drain away when you irrigate your seed and later the seedling.

Keep the pot with seeds in a warm location, such as the top of your refrigerator, until the seeds germinate. For this first period light is not necessary, but once the seedlings begin to appear, they will need light. If they are in a dark location, move them to a location which receives several hours of bright light each day. Direct sunlight is not necessary, but bright light is necessary.

A interesting thing about citrus seeds is that you may get several seedlings from each seed. One of these will be from the embryo formed due to pollination in the orchard, but the others will be "apomictic" seedlings which are vegetatively produced. That means that the apomictic seedlings will be exact genetic reproductions of the tree on which the fruit was formed, they are clonal seedlings. The one seedling produced by pollination will not be clonal as it will carry genetic material from the pollen parent (father) as well as the seed parent (mother). In any case, you should have a lemon tree, and it will very likely produce tasty lemons in about 15 years! I thought you would want to know that it will take a long time unless you graft from the seedling to a mature lemon tree. A mature tree may often be purchased at a nursery in the house plant section. There are dwarf house plant lemons from which you may also choose. Grafting may reduce the time for fruit production to only 5 years or so.

Marisa Y. Thompson, PhD, is the Extension Horticulture Specialist, in the Department of Extension Plant Sciences at the New Mexico State University Los Lunas Agricultural Science Center, email:, office: 505-865-7340, ext. 113.


For more gardening information, visit the NMSU Extension Horticulture page at Desert Blooms and the NMSU Horticulture Publications page.

Send gardening questions to Southwest Yard and Garden - Attn: Dr. Marisa Thompson at, or at the Desert Blooms Facebook.

Please copy your County Extension Agent and indicate your county of residence when you submit your question!