Lemon Plant Propagation Experiment

I've said before that I wish I could grow my own lemon tree, but I only live in Zone 7a climate, so the chances of a tree lasting through a nasty winter like these last two are slim. I'm enough of a science nerd to try growing my own lemon plant while the garden sleeps with - get this - seeds salvaged from my grocery store lemons!
Not ready to call it a tree by any means, but it sure beats the $69.95 price for an 18-24" plant from Williams Sonoma! The hope is to have the fragrance of lemon wafting in my home by summer (oh, okay, I want lemons - ha, maybe in a few years??)
These lemon babies are ready to grow!
Day 1: The process to get the lemon seed germination started was fairly simple, but tedious. It took about 1 hr to yield 20 or so seeds. From the photo below, I'll take you through the steps.
Step 1: Slice your lemons to yield your starting seeds. I cut two lemons every 2-3 days, and not all of them yield seeds, but these two had many. I started with about 24, expecting to lose a few while preparing for germination.
Step 2: Lay seeds out, cleaning lemon away as best as you can.
Step 3: This is where it gets tricky because the seeds are still slippery, even after cleaning. Using a sharp knife tip (I used my Swiss pocket knife), carefully hold the seed body, and snip the pointed edge of the seed to break the outer, woody covering.
Step 4: With either your fingernail (or edge of the knife blade), carefully peel back the outer layer of the seed covering. You should then see a second seed covering, brown in color.
Step 5: With either your fingernail or knife edge, carefully scratch the brown, second seed covering. I used my fingernail for this. You have to be careful, especially at this point, so as not to cut the actual seed or split it. I broke a few.
Step 6: Wet a paper towel (I used half of one, select-a-size), and lay the peeled seeds in a row on one half of the wet paper towel. Fold the other half of the paper towel, covering the seeds. Place the paper towel in a gallon-sized plastic bag that seals with a zip-type close. Place the sealed, plastic bag on a flat surface, in a sunny, temperature-controlled room for at least 3 hours of sunlight daily.
It is important to place the seeds in a sunny, warm room, where they're exposed to sunlight at least 3 hours or more daily. Even though it was mid-winter with freezing temps, I placed mine in my south-facing, heated sunroom, where the ceiling is all windows.
I checked my seeds each week for the next two weeks. Above is a photo of the germination progress from week-to-week, through day 15.
Day 17: I planted the seedlings. The photo collage above shows the sequence (counterclockwise, starting from the postage stamp photos at top, right). Keys to planting success: a good soil, and containers with drainage.
Day 18: I set the 4 clay pots on an old dinner plate, placed a cloche over it, and left the styrofoam crate out (since it was still holding moisture).
Day 19: The photo above shows growth already, in just 24 hrs of placing under the cloche. Look at the center of the embryonic leaves (cotyledon). That's the beginning of real leaves!
Day 22: After a few daily checks of the seedlings under the cloche, I noticed one clay pot looked to be showing the beginning of mold growth around its edge, above the soil line. I removed the cloche lid, carefully scraped the inside of that pot with a wet rag, and left the cloche off of the seedlings. I continued monitoring the seedlings daily.
Day 31: I removed seedlings from the styrofoam egg crate and planted them into two additional clay pots. The above photo is day 33, and these babies are just waiting for no-freeze temps to be able to grow outside! I'll keep you posted on the progress.
Keep in mind that these seedlings are not the invasive lemon balm herb plant. If you want to see more about how my garden grows in Zone 7a, go to my blog link below.

Rita C. - Panoply
Want more details about this and other DIY projects? Check out my blog post!

Frequently asked questions

Have a question about this project?

  2 questions
  • Ten32809610 Ten32809610 on Jul 28, 2018

    Have you ever sprayed a light coat of peroxide on the wet paper towel to help the seeds germinate?

  • Ten32809610 Ten32809610 on Jul 28, 2018

    There are no lemon trees in Costa Rica and I,m thinking of starting one there. I have heard that a 50 50 water peroxide mix helps the seeds germinate in the wet paper towel. What do you think?


Join the conversation

4 of 8 comments
  • Mariann Mariann on Mar 10, 2015
    My lovely little mango tree got to about a foot high....but....the tasty seed beneath the soil was scavenged by a squirrel and the little tree was destroyed! I never had the heart to try all over again. My Dad's mango tree was forcibly removed by the State of Florida as they were fighting some disease. All gone.

    • Rita C. - Panoply Rita C. - Panoply on Mar 11, 2015
      @Mariann, squirrels are pests here too, and I don't feed them (knowingly) like many people do. What a shame with the disease and your Dad's mango.

  • Gina Gina on May 14, 2017
    I started seeds last year and now have a 14" baby tree (two actually). I will have to keep it in a pot because in my area of AZ (HOA rules) I can't plant in the ground anything not native, but I have done this before and ended up with a nice tree about 3' tall.