Mad About Berries

Lemon Tree Stages of Growth

Growing lemon trees (Citrus limon) is a rewarding endeavor that brings beauty to your garden and zest to your kitchen.

Understanding the stages of growth for a lemon tree is crucial for providing the right care at the right time.

Published: March 6, 2024.

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Quick Intro to Propagating Lemon Trees

Lemon trees can be grown from seeds, from cuttings, or they can be grafted. While growing lemons from seeds require the most time, it is also the most rewarding.

Growing from cuttings is an excellent method of getting several plants quickly from the lemon tree that we, for example, like a lot.

Grafting method ensures that lemon tree grows on strong rootstock plant, although lemons have very strong root system on their own.

In the end, if you are in a hurry, young lemon trees ready for transplanting can be found in most garden centers, or they can be ordered from online shops.

We will cover lemon tree growth stages when the lemon trees are grown from seeds, with a few notes on other methods as well.

Seed Germination

Timeframe: 2-4 weeks

  • Process: Lemon tree growth begins with a seed. For best results, use fresh seeds extracted from a ripe lemon. Wash the seeds to remove any sticky residue, and plant them in a moist, well-draining potting mix. Keep the soil consistently moist and in a warm, sunny location. Germination typically occurs within two to four weeks, when you'll see the first sprouts emerge.
  • Care Tips: Maintain soil moisture without overwatering to avoid rot. Ensure the pot has good drainage and is placed in a warm area with indirect light.

Seedling Development

Timeframe: 6 months to 1 year

  • Process: After germination, the seedling will start to develop its first true leaves, distinct from the initial sprouts. This stage is critical as the plant begins to photosynthesize more efficiently, requiring adequate sunlight and water.
  • Care Tips: Gradually acclimate your lemon tree seedling to more direct sunlight. Water when the top inch of soil feels dry. Begin to introduce a balanced, water-soluble fertilizer monthly.

lemon seedling

Juvenile Phase

Timeframe: 1-3 years

  • Process: During this stage, the lemon tree will focus on vegetative growth, developing a stronger trunk and branching out. This is when the tree builds the framework for future fruit production.
  • Care Tips: Continue regular watering, allowing the soil to dry slightly between waterings. Increase fertilization to every other month with a citrus-specific formula to support growth. Pruning is minimal at this stage, focusing only on removing dead or damaged branches.

Flowering and Initial Fruit Set

Timeframe: 3-5 years

  • Process: Lemon trees typically start flowering in spring, with the potential for a second bloom in fall if conditions are favorable. The first flowers may not always result in fruit set, or the tree may drop young fruit to conserve energy.
  • Care Tips: Water deeply and less frequently to encourage strong root development. Adjust fertilization to include higher phosphorus content to promote blooming. Support pollination by gently brushing between flowers with a soft brush if bees are scarce.

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Fruit Development and Maturation

Timeframe: 6-9 months after flowering

  • Process: Once pollinated, flowers will develop into fruit. Lemons grow over several months, transitioning from green to yellow as they mature. Depending on the climate and conditions, lemon trees can produce fruit year-round.
  • Care Tips: Continue consistent watering to prevent stress, which can lead to fruit drop. Fertilize every other month, ensuring a balance of nutrients to support both fruit development and overall tree health. Implement pest and disease management practices as needed.

young lemon trees

Harvesting

Timeframe: Depends on climate and variety

  • Process: Lemons are typically ready for harvest when they are fully colored and slightly soft to the touch. Gently twist the fruit to detach it from the tree.
  • Care Tips: Harvest lemons as they mature to encourage continuous production. Post-harvest, prune the tree selectively to remove any dead or overcrowded branches, facilitating light penetration and air circulation.

Mature Tree Maintenance

Timeframe: 5+ years

  • Process: Mature lemon trees require ongoing care to remain productive. They can produce fruit for 20 years or more, with proper maintenance.
  • Care Tips: Maintain a regular watering, fertilization, and pruning schedule. Monitor for pests and diseases, treating them as necessary. Mulch around the base of the tree to conserve moisture and regulate soil temperature.

Additional Considerations

When growing lemon trees, there are few other things to consider, including:

  • Climate and Location: Lemon trees thrive in USDA zones 9 to 11 but can be grown in pots in cooler climates if brought indoors during winter.
  • Soil Requirements: Well-draining, slightly acidic soil is ideal. Amend heavy clay or sandy soils as needed.
  • Watering: Deep, infrequent watering is preferable to shallow, frequent watering.
  • Fertilization: Use a balanced, slow-release fertilizer formulated for citrus trees. Adjust based on the tree's growth stage and soil fertility.
  • Pest and Disease Management: Regularly inspect for signs of pests or diseases. Treat with organic or chemical controls as appropriate for the issue.

Rooting Lemon Cuttings and Grafting Lemon Trees

Lemon trees can be grafted, and their cuttings can also be rooted, both of which are common practices for propagating citrus trees, including lemons. Here’s a brief overview of each method:

Rooting Lemon Tree Cuttings

Rooting cuttings is a propagation method where a piece of the stem or branch from a mature plant is encouraged to grow roots.

For lemon trees, semi-hardwood cuttings are often used. These cuttings are taken in late spring through early summer and are treated with a rooting hormone to encourage root development.

The cuttings are then placed in a suitable growing medium under high humidity and indirect light until they root and can be transplanted.

This method allows for the propagation of an identical clone of the parent plant.

Grafting Lemon Trees

Grafting involves joining the tissues of two plants so that they grow together.

In the case of lemon trees, a scion (a cutting from a desired lemon tree variety) is typically grafted onto a rootstock (the bottom part of a plant, including the roots).

This method is popular because it allows growers to combine the best characteristics of two varieties, such as disease resistance from the rootstock and the fruit quality of the scion.

Grafting can also result in earlier fruit production compared to trees grown from seed.

Both methods have their advantages and are used depending on the desired outcome, resources available, and specific circumstances of the grower.

Grafting can provide a tree with improved vigor and disease resistance, while rooting cuttings is often seen as a simpler way to replicate a specific variety.


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Growing lemon trees is a process that requires patience, care, and a bit of knowledge about their growth stages.

All in all, lemon trees are tough plants that don't require much care and are resistant to many pests and diseases. But, with proper care, they can provide a surprisingly large number of lemon fruits.



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