Lemon Tree Growing Stages: A Concise Guide for Gardeners

  • By: Michael Barnes
  • Time to read: 11 min.

Lemon trees are a beautiful and practical addition to any garden, providing both delicious fruit and a pleasant fragrance when in bloom. These versatile plants can be grown from seeds or propagated through cutting and have an interesting growth cycle that takes place over several years. Understanding the different lemon tree growth stages can help gardeners provide the optimal conditions for their lemon trees to flourish, from seed germination to fruit harvest.

The growth of a lemon tree typically begins with germination, where seeds sprout into small plants under the right conditions. As seedlings emerge from the soil, they begin to form roots and leaves in a delicate balance of sunlight, water, and nutrients. Over time, these young plants will grow into more robust saplings, eventually maturing into fully-grown trees capable of producing bountiful lemon harvests.

Throughout its life, the lemon tree will pass through several notable growth stages, such as the critical bud breaking stage and the fruit-bearing period. Each stage requires particular care and attention, which can vary depending on the tree’s age and growing conditions. Familiarizing oneself with these stages will ensure a healthy, fruitful lemon tree and a more rewarding gardening experience.

Lemon Tree Growing Stages

Lemon Tree Growing Stages

Lemon trees are a popular citrus tree that undergo a series of growth stages throughout their lifecycle. In this section, we will explore the different stages of lemon tree development, from seed germination to maturation.

Seed Germination

The first stage of lemon tree growth starts with seed germination. Lemon tree seeds are small, smooth, and have a milky white hue. To germinate, these seeds need an optimal environment with consistent moisture and warmth. If the conditions are favorable, lemon seeds can germinate into a new plant in 5 to 7 days.

Seedling Stage

The second stage is the young seedling stage. At this phase, the young sapling begins to develop tiny roots and small leaves. The seedling relies heavily on the seed’s stored energy and nutrients to grow until it develops functional roots and leaves capable of photosynthesis.

Vegetative Growth Stage

As the young lemon tree enters the vegetative growth stage, it focuses on developing branches and leaves rather than producing flowers and fruits. This stage is essential for establishing a strong and healthy tree structure. Lemon trees generally remain in the vegetative growth stage for about 2 to 3 years, eventually reaching a height of 2-3 feet (60-90 cm).

During this stage, proper care is crucial to ensure a healthy tree. This includes:

  • Watering regularly but not overwatering
  • Providing adequate nutrition through fertilization
  • Pruning to shape the tree and encourage growth

Flowering and Fruiting Stage

After the vegetative growth stage, lemon trees will enter the flowering and fruiting stage. At this point, they start to produce fragrant blossoms, typically in clusters. As these flowers mature, the petals will begin to fall, revealing small green fruits that will gradually ripen into juicy lemons.

During the fruiting stage, it is vital to:

  • Monitor water levels to prevent fruit drop
  • Encourage pollination for better fruit set
  • Apply appropriate fertilizers to ensure bountiful fruit production


As the tree matures, it will continue to produce flowers and fruits annually. A lemon tree reaches its mature height of about 8-10 feet (243-304 cm) in 6 years. It can bear fruit for many years with proper care, including regular pruning, fertilization, and pest management.

In summary, lemon tree growth stages include seed germination, seedling development, vegetative growth, flowering, fruiting, and maturation. By understanding these stages and providing the proper care, lemon tree owners can ensure a healthy and productive citrus tree.

Lemon Tree Growing Stages

Ideal Growing Conditions

Climate and Sunlight

Lemon trees thrive in warm climates and are best suited for USDA hardiness zones 9 to 11. They are sensitive to frost and can be damaged by temperatures below 29°F (-1.7°C). Lemon trees prefer full sun and require at least 8 hours of direct sunlight per day for optimal growth and fruit production.

Soil Requirements

The ideal soil for lemon trees is a well-draining mix with a slightly acidic pH of 6.0 to 6.5. Well-draining soil is crucial to prevent root rot caused by excess moisture. If planting in a container, ensure the pot has sufficient drainage holes to prevent overwatering. You can enhance your soil’s drainage by adding organic matter, such as compost or coconut coir.

Watering and Drainage

Lemon trees require consistent watering to maintain healthy growth. Water them deeply and evenly every 7 to 14 days, depending on the climate and soil conditions. During hot weather or periods of low rainfall, lemon trees may require more frequent watering. However, overwatering can lead to root rot, so it’s crucial to avoid soggy soil. Monitor the soil’s moisture level and ensure it dries slightly between watering sessions.

Fertilizing and Nutrients

Proper fertilization is essential for lemon tree growth and fruit production. Lemon trees require a balanced fertilizer containing nitrogen, potassium, and other essential nutrients. Apply fertilizer every six to eight weeks during the growing season (spring and summer) and less frequently in the winter months when growth slows down. Be cautious not to over-fertilize, as too many nutrients can harm the tree.

In summary, lemon trees require a warm climate, full sun, well-draining acidic soil, consistent watering, and balanced fertilization for optimal growth and fruit production.

Lemon Tree Varieties and Characteristics

Common Lemon Tree Varieties

There are several popular lemon tree varieties to choose from, each with its unique features:

  • Meyer lemon tree (Citrus × meyeri): Known as the sweetest lemon variety, it is native to China (origin) and produces an abundance of fruit on compact trees, making it ideal for growing (indoors).
  • Eureka lemon tree (Citrus x limon ‘Eureka’): Widely available and known for its juicy, fleshy fruit with few to no seeds, it is ideal for gardens and backyard orchards.
  • Lisbon lemon tree (Citrus x limon ‘Lisbon’): Similar to Eureka, this (type) also produces juicy, seedless fruit.

Flower, Foliage, and Fruit Characteristics

Lemon trees are known for their lovely, fragrant flowers and attractive (foliage). Here are some common traits:

  • Flowers: Typically white or pale pink, their strong fragrance attracts pollinators.
  • Foliage: Rich green leaves are a key feature of lemon trees, with a glossy appearance and elliptical shape.
  • Fruit: Lemon fruit color ranges from light green to bright yellow, with a smooth or textured surface. The (size) of the fruit depends on the variety and growing conditions.

Growing Lemon Trees Indoors

Indoor lemon trees are becoming increasingly popular. Here are some tips:

  • Select a dwarf or semi-dwarf (variety) suited for indoor growth, such as the Meyer lemon tree.
  • Provide plenty of sunlight (at least 10-12 hours daily) or artificial grow lights.
  • Ensure proper humidity levels by misting leaves or using a humidifier.

Grafted vs Non-Grafted Lemon Trees

When choosing a lemon tree, it’s essential to understand the difference between grafted and non-grafted trees:

  • Grafted: Involves joining a desirable lemon tree variety (scion) with a rootstock of a different (type). This process can provide specific benefits, such as faster fruit production or increased resistance to diseases.
  • Non-Grafted: These trees grow from a seed or cutting and stay true to their genetic (origin). They may have slower growth and remain vulnerable to diseases or pests, compared to grafted trees.

Overall, it’s crucial to consider the variety, characteristics, and growth method when selecting a lemon tree.

Planting and Transplanting

Selecting Quality Lemon Seeds and Saplings

When starting your lemon tree journey, it’s important to choose high-quality lemon seeds or saplings. For seeds, ensure they are fresh and sourced from healthy fruit trees, preferably from a reputable supplier. Germination rates are more successful with fresh seeds. For saplings, choose plants with healthy green leaves and sturdy root systems. This will help establish your citrus tree much quicker.

Planting Lemon Trees Outdoors

To plant a lemon tree outdoors:

  1. Choose a location with well-draining soil and full sunlight exposure, as lemon trees require 8-12 hours of sunlight daily.
  2. Dig a hole twice as wide and deep as the root ball. This allows the roots to expand easily and access nutrients in the soil. Make sure your hole depth matches the depth of the root ball. If the sapling’s root is bound, cut across the ball a few times to loosen the roots and encourage growth.
  3. Carefully place the sapling inside the hole, ensuring the top of the root ball is level with the ground.
  4. Fill the hole with soil, gently pressing it down to keep the sapling in place.
  5. Water your newly planted lemon tree deeply – this will encourage the roots to grow down into the soil.

Planting and Transplanting Lemon Trees Indoors

Planting lemon trees indoors allows those in colder climates the opportunity to enjoy fresh lemons at home. Follow these steps for successful indoor planting:

  1. Choose a suitable container, ideally 12 to 15 inches in diameter, with drainage holes to avoid root rot.
  2. Fill the container with a well-draining, slightly acidic potting mix, which is ideal for citrus trees.
  3. Gently remove the lemon sapling from its original container and place it into the new pot, ensuring the root system is covered and the top of the root ball is slightly below the rim of the pot.
  4. Water the sapling thoroughly and place the pot in a location that receives at least 6-8 hours of sunshine daily.

If you need to transplant an already-established indoor lemon tree, wait until it has grown a robust root system (usually 4-6 months) before attempting the move. Ensure the new pot has ample room for the roots to grow and continue to provide proper care, including regular watering and ample sunlight.

Pruning and Maintenance

When and How to Prune Lemon Trees

The best time to prune lemon trees is between late winter and early spring when the trees are starting to grow, after most of the lemons have been harvested but before the new buds begin to bloom. This timing ensures that there is healthy growth on the lemon tree before pruning. To prune your lemon tree properly, first, remove any dead or damaged branches, as well as any branches growing at odd angles or rubbing against other branches. Then, thin out crowded areas to encourage better air circulation and light penetration. Regular pruning will help the lemon tree produce better and make it easier to harvest.

Thorns and Thicker Foliage

Lemon trees are known for their sharp thorns, which grow along the branches and are an important defense mechanism against pests. When pruning, you may need to cut back some thorns to reduce the risk of injury while working on the tree. Be careful while handling branches with thorns and wear protective gloves to avoid injury.

Additionally, pruning can help reduce any overly thick foliage, which can hinder the tree’s ability to grow and produce fruit, as well as promote the growth of pests and diseases. By pruning strategically, you can maintain a healthy balance of leaves and branches, allowing your lemon tree to grow optimally.

Managing Pests and Diseases

Lemon trees may face various pests and diseases, such as aphids, which can damage the tree’s foliage and stunt its growth. To help control these issues, you can:

  • Introduce beneficial insects: Pollinators like bees and other natural predators, like ladybugs, can help control aphid populations and improve the overall health of your lemon tree.
  • Use pesticides judiciously: If necessary, use pesticides selectively and sparingly, targeting only the affected areas to avoid harming beneficial insects and pollinators. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully.
  • Monitor regularly: Regularly inspect your lemon tree for signs of pests or diseases, like discolored, distorted, or wilting leaves, and address these issues promptly to prevent further spread.

By taking proper care of your lemon tree through pruning, maintenance, and effective pest and disease management, you can ensure its healthy growth and bountiful harvests for years to come.

Harvesting and Ripening

Recognizing Fruit Ripeness

Lemons are ready to be harvested when they turn a deep yellow, when they measure 2 to 3 inches in diameter, and when they feel slightly soft when squeezed. You may also notice that ripe lemons have a more fragrant smell than unripe ones. In general, lemons are ready to be harvested 6 to 9 months after the tree first starts to bloom.

Proper Harvesting Techniques

When harvesting ripe lemons, it is important to:

  • Use clean and sharp pruning shears or scissors.
  • Cut the stem about 1/4 inch above the fruit, being careful not to damage the fruit or remaining stem.
  • Avoid picking fruit by pulling or twisting, as this can damage the tree and cause bruising to the fruit.

Keep in mind that Meyer lemons, a popular variety of lemon trees, tend to bear fruit year-round, which means that you will need to monitor the ripeness and quality of the fruit continuously for optimal results.

Speeding Up Fruit Ripening Process

If you’re eager to speed up the ripening process, consider the following tips:

  • Expose the tree to more sunlight. Lemon trees need at least 8 hours of direct sunlight per day to encourage fruit development. Ensure the tree receives adequate sunlight by pruning branches that may be blocking sunlight or consider moving potted trees to a sunnier location.
  • Maintain consistent watering. Lemon trees require consistently moist soil to ensure proper fruit ripening. Water the tree deeply and regularly, ensuring the soil does not dry out between waterings.
  • Provide adequate nutrients. A well-balanced fertilizer, specifically designed for citrus trees, will aid in proper fruit development. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations on the frequency of application.

Remember that patience is key when it comes to fruit ripening. By providing the ideal conditions mentioned above, your lemon tree will reward you with high-quality, flavorful fruits when they are ready to be harvested.

Lemon Tree Lifecycle

Youth and Vegetative Growth

The lemon tree lifecycle begins with the germination of the lemon seeds in optimal environmental conditions. It typically takes around 5 to 7 days for germination to occur, with roots and small leaves starting to develop. In its youth, the tree will focus on vegetative growth, producing new shoots and leaves to maximize its ability to perform photosynthesis, which is essential for its development.

It’s crucial to keep the soil moist during this stage, but not too wet, to encourage healthy root growth. As it reaches a few months old, lemon trees will enter the young seedling stage, where further leaf, root, and shoot growth occurs, setting the stage for future fruit production.

Maturity and Fruit Production

After 2-4 years, the tree reaches the maturity stage and starts producing flower buds that will eventually become white flowers. At this point, the lemon tree stands at around 2-3 feet (60-90 cm) tall. The tree will continue growing, reaching a height of 3-3.5 feet (90-106 cm) at 4 years old, and 8-10 feet (243-304 cm) by the time it is 6 years old.

During this period, fruit production becomes a priority as the tree’s energy is divided between vegetative growth and producing the highly sought-after lemons. Maintaining good soil moisture levels is important in this stage as well, as it enables the tree to stay healthy and produce high-quality fruit. During the fruit production phase, the tree relies on a balance between new shoot growth and fruit development, ensuring a constant supply of lemons over several years.

Stress and Decline

As lemon trees age or experience stress, such as unfavorable environmental conditions, pests, or diseases, they may enter a decline phase. In this stage, the tree may produce fewer fruits, lose leaves, or show signs of poor health. In some cases, the tree may experience dieback or need pruning to maintain its structure and productivity.

To mitigate stress, care should be given to maintaining optimal soil moisture, providing adequate sunlight, and protecting the tree from pests and diseases. Proper management and care can extend the life of a lemon tree and ensure it continues to thrive for many years, yielding delicious and nutritious fruit for as long as possible.

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