The Lemon Tree’s bright yellow fruit and fresh, inviting smell make it a delightful addition to your garden.
Lemon Trees make excellent outdoor plants in USDA zones 9 to 11, where temperatures hover between 10°C to 28°C (50°F to 82.4°F). Thankfully for cold climate gardeners, this hardy tree also thrives as an indoor potted plant.
If you’re growing a Lemon Tree from seed, it can take a few years before it starts to produce fruit. Knowing the step-by-step Lemon Tree growth stages will help you properly care for your plant during this time.
The six growth stages of a Lemon Tree are germination, seedling, youth, bud formation, flowering, and fruiting.
Let’s take a closer look at what happens in each stage.
Lemon Tree Growth Stages
Germination is when the Lemon seed transforms from a seed into a plant. At this point, the plant will begin to grow roots and small green leaves.
After you plant your Lemon seed, it can take as little as 1 week for germination to occur. However, 2-3 weeks is more typical.
Once the seedling has outgrown its original pot, you can transplant it to a bigger pot or your garden bed. Ideally, the seedling should be several inches tall and have several leaves before you consider transplanting.
3. Young Tree
These are the “teenage years” of your Lemon Tree! At this stage, the tree will stand several feet high and have a sturdy trunk. It will also have several slender branches with leaves. Young Lemon Tree leaves often have a reddish tinge.
It’s essential to keep these young trees warm, as they are sensitive to temperature fluctuations. A stint of cold weather can easily kill them.
4. Maturity and Bud Formation
A Lemon Tree will hit maturity around the 2-3 year mark. Mature Lemon Trees have a thick trunk and green leaves and can tolerate colder temperatures.
Bud formation is the first sign that your tree has reached maturity. Buds usually begin to appear in the colder months—sometimes as early as November!
In early spring, the buds will produce fragrant flowers.
These flowers must be pollinated to get from the flowering stage to fruiting. Pollination occurs naturally in outdoor plants thanks to the wind and bees. But if you’re growing your Lemon Tree indoors, you’ll need to pollinate the tree yourself.
You can pollinate by hand using a paintbrush. Gather pollen from male flowers on the tip of your paintbrush and transfer it to female flowers (noted by their bulbous stigma). Repeat this step for as many blossoms as possible to give your plant the best chance of being pollinated!
A successfully pollinated flower will start to (finally!) produce fruit.
Sometimes it can take up to a year for the fruit on a Lemon Tree to turn yellow and mature. This is normal! Leave the fruit on the tree until it has fully ripened.
What Do Lemons Look Like When They First Start Growing?
You can tell lemons are on the way when you see a small pale fruit emerge from the ovary of a Lemon Tree flower.
Eventually, a tear-shaped green fruit will appear. As the fruit matures, it turns yellow, becomes bigger and rounder, and starts to resemble a lemon.
What Time of Year Do Lemon Trees Produce Fruit?
Lemon Trees blossom in the late winter or early spring and begin to produce fruit 4-6 months after they blossom. So generally, the fruit will appear in late spring/summer. Usually, the lemons are ready for harvest in the fall and early winter.
Lemons can be harvested when they’re about 2-3 inches in length. Taste test the fruit before you harvest them, as lemons don’t ripen much once they’re off the stem.
How Often Should I Water My Lemon Tree?
If your Lemon Tree is planted in the ground, it should be watered once a week.
Potted Lemon Trees don’t have as much access to water, so they require more frequent watering. Twice a week should be sufficient for your indoor potted Lemon Tree. This may vary depending on the amount of humidity and sunlight your tree receives.
Before you water your plant, stick your finger three inches into the soil to test the moisture level. If the soil feels moist, hold off watering until it dries out more.
Do Lemon Trees Need Full Sun?
As you can imagine, citrus trees love sunshine and warmth!
Indoor potted Lemon Trees require 6-8 hours of direct sunlight daily. To meet this requirement, keep your Lemon Tree in a warm, south-facing area of your home.
Outdoor Lemon Trees should be planted in an area of the garden that receives full sun. If you live in USDA zones 9 to 11, your Lemon Trees will get all the warmth and sunshine they need from their environment.
What is the Best Fertilizer for a Lemon Tree?
Citrus plants, like the Lemon Tree, require a balanced N-P-K fertilizer with a 6-6-6 ratio for optimal growth.
N-P-K refers to the three vital nutrients for plant growth: nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K). So a 6-6-6 fertilizer contains 6% nitrogen, 6% phosphorus and 6% potassium. The rest of the fertilizer comprises other micronutrients like magnesium, zinc, and copper.
Fertilizer is usually sold in liquid form and must be diluted with water. It’s best to feed your Lemon Tree liquid fertilizer the day after watering.
Lemon Trees need to be fertilized three times a year. Once in winter before the blossoms appear, and twice in the spring and summer during the growing season.
Why is My Lemon Tree Not Fruiting?
There are several reasons why a Lemon Tree may not produce fruit.
If you have blossoms but no fruit, make sure you are manually pollinating the tree. If you’re already doing this step, the issue may lie elsewhere. Here are some common fruiting problems and solutions.
Citrus trees like their soil moist but not soaking wet. Don’t allow the soil to go dry. When you water your Lemon Tree, make sure there is adequate drainage to prevent waterlogged soil.
Aphids, mealybugs, and whiteflies are the common nemesis of Lemon Trees. They like to suck the sap from its leaves, leaving unsightly holes. These bugs can be eliminated with insecticidal soap or horticultural oil spray.
Lack of Sunlight
As mentioned earlier, Lemon Trees love direct sunlight. They will not grow properly in indirect sunlight. Make sure your Lemon Tree is housed next to a window and receives at least six hours of direct sun daily.
Lemon Trees prefer 50% humidity, which can be hard to achieve indoors. It’s a good idea to bring your Lemon Tree outside when it’s warm to give it a reprieve from dry indoor air.
You can also improve humidity indoors by placing a saucer with rocks and water underneath your Lemon Tree pot. Humidity will rise from the water, while the stones elevate the pot to keep the roots safe from rot.
Why Does My Lemon Tree Have Flowers But No Leaves?
It’s natural for a Lemon Tree to drop some leaves when blossoming. The energy that the plant uses for its leaves simply gets redirected toward new blooms. Some leaf drop is normal, but a tree should not lose all its leaves. If this is happening, it is a symptom of a bigger problem.
The most common culprits of dropped leaves are nutrient deficiency, dry soil, or too much heat. Make sure you fertilize your Lemon Tree three times a year and water it 1-2 times a week. If you bring your potted Lemon Tree outdoors for some sunshine, keep it to a few hours maximum, so you don’t shock the plant.
Lemon Trees are a rewarding plant to grow indoors or outdoors. They are relatively easy to care for, produce fruit quicker than many other trees, and smell amazing.
Growing fruit trees from seed is a task that requires patience. It can take 2-3 years to reap the fruits of your labor. The growth process is a lengthy one and happens in six stages. The six growth stages of a Lemon Tree are germination, seedling, youth, bud formation, flowering, and fruiting.
The germination, seedling, and youth phases are where a Lemon Tree’s stems and leaves are formed and mature. Once it reaches maturity, the Lemon Tree can produce buds, flower, and finally grow fruit.
In the end, the time spent is worth it, as you will have your very own homegrown lemons to share and enjoy!