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Lemon Tree Growth Stages: A Quick and Easy Guide

Lemon Tree Growth Stages

We’ve all been taught, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” But we know that, in reality, enjoying this refreshing drink starts with growing a lemon tree right in your backyard!

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the different stages of growth of lemon trees and how you can support your tree’s optimum growth and development. 

7 Stages of Lemon Tree Growth

Stages of Lemon Tree Growth
Image: The Tree Center

1. Germination 

Image: Gardening Know How

A vibrant-looking lemon tree starts with tiny smooth, creamy white lemon seeds. You can probably harvest 7 to 15 seeds from one piece of lemon!

But not all these seeds will grow a lemon tree or produce fruits. It’s important that you choose the seeds that will turn green, as they’re the mature seeds that are ready for germination and planting. 

Image: Practical Self Reliance

In optimal conditions, lemon seeds can germinate within 5 to 7 days. During this time, you’ll see the small lemon plant develop its roots and first leaves. 

Here’s how to successfully germinate your lemon seeds!

Image: Kitchen Butterfly
DifficultyEasy ●○○○○
Duration1 to 2 hours
Things You Need

• Lemon
• Potting soil
• Water
• Compost or any natural fertilizer
• Seedling pot (24 x 12 inches)
• Plastic cover
How To Germinate Lemon Seeds:
1. Soak the mature seeds in water for at least 8 hours before planting.
2. Spray water on the potting soil until moist and damp.
3. Fill the small pot with 1 inch of soil below the rim. 
4. Plant the mature lemon seed half an inch deep in the middle of the small pot. 
5. Spray water on the soil above the seed and seal the small pot with a plastic cover. Make sure to poke some holes in the plastic cover. 
6. Place the small pot in a warm and sunny area.
7. Water the pot regularly until a seedling grows.
8. Wait 5 to 7 days for the lemon seed to germinate.

2. Lemon Seedling 

Lemon Seedling
Image: Southern Living

As tiny sprouts emerge from the soil after germination, the lemon plant will develop small stalks and tiny leaves. Congratulations, your seed has now become a seedling!

The young lemon seedling can be transplanted into a large container or garden bed within three months of planting. This will give them more space to grow and nutrition to absorb from the soil.

Planter’s Tips
• Make sure the lemon seedlings get enough water and sunlight to speed up and maximize plant growth. Keep the soil moist and provide the seedling plant with at least 4 hours of sunlight. 
• Apply pre-fertilizers or NPK fertilizers regularly to ensure healthy plant growth.
• Protect the soft stems and leaves of the seedlings against animals and strong winds. 

3. Young Lemon Plant

Young Lemon Plant
Image: Gardening Stack Exchange

Lemon seedlings will now grow into saplings. At this stage, you’ll see the plant grow at least 4 true leaves, thicker trunks, and thorns on branches. 

This is the perfect time to transplant the lemon seedling into a large container or a garden bed. In choosing the location, make sure that the lemon plant will get at least 6 hours of full and direct sunlight. 

Lemon plants don’t grow well in shaded areas, and they tend to produce fewer fruits in covered places. 

During the lemon tree’s first year, it can grow around 1 to 3 feet (12 to 36 inches) in height and has already established its roots underground. 

These seedlings will become mature plants within 1 to 2 years and will become ready to undergo the flowering process. 

Planter’s Tips
• Protect the saplings against frost. Although lemon plants tolerate cold weather, the saplings cannot withstand extremely hard frost. 
• The lemon tree should get constant watering, sunlight and fertilizer to encourage it to bear flowers and fruits.  
• Do not overwater the young lemon plant because this will lead to root rot and early death. When roots get damaged, they cannot transport water and nutrients, leaving the tree wilting and withering. 


Image: Gardening Nirvana

Bud formation during winter signals the beginning of the flowering stage. This stage usually happens between 2 to 5 years after planting. 

As the lemon tree forms these purple-white buds, it competes for carbohydrates and energy for its continued growth. That’s why it’s crucial to increase watering and fertilization of the lemon tree during this stage.

Image: My Nothern Garden

From early spring to early summer, these buds will bloom into little white velvety flowers around your lemon tree. As these buds open, you’ll see five white petals with a pistil and pollen-carrying stamens in the middle. 

Planter’s Tips
Increase watering and fertilization during the flowering stage. 
Water the lemon tree deeply at least once or twice a week. Apply a balanced organic fertilizer on the lemon tree every 4 to 6 weeks.
Protect the lemon tree from pests.
Common pests that attack lemon trees are aphids, spider mites, scale insects, worms and caterpillars that feed on the tree’s leaves, fruits and flowers. Apply neem oil on the leaves or pesticide to prevent infestation. 

5. Fruiting 

Image: Home Loans

Lemon trees take 2 to 5 years before they begin to develop those juicy lemons. Don’t worry because after the long waiting game, the tree will grow lemons annually! 

The good thing is that lemon trees are self-pollinators, so without help from other insects or animals, these flowers will turn into yellow lemon fruits. 

After the pollen reaches the pistil, the ovary becomes fertilized, and you’ll see a developing lemon at the center of a fully-opened flower. 

Logically, the more flowers in your lemon tree, the more fruits you should expect to harvest.

These developing fruits will expand their cells, grow rapidly and swell as they absorb more water. During this stage, make sure the lemon tree gets plenty of water and balanced organic fertilizers to produce more juicy lemons. 

Image: Couch to Homestead

You will also see some green, unripe lemons dropping on the ground. But stay calm because this is perfectly normal. 

What you’re witnessing is the lemon trees undergoing the Jone Drop process. It is a natural energy management strategy of the tree to conserve its energy and focus on developing mature lemons. 

By dropping these fruits, the tree will keep only the lemons it can support to maturity. So, a lemon tree can drop 50 half-ripe lemons and retain another 50 lemons that will ripen later. 

Once these lemons mature, they start giving off an intoxicating citrus scent. This blooming stage lasts for two months, and you’ll now see the (literal) fruits of your labor hanging on the lemon tree. 

Planter’s Tips
Look out for aphids.
Aphids, lemon’s most common attacker, can infest and prevent fruit production of your lemon tree. Immediately prune the affected leaves and branches and use pesticides. 
Provide 8 hours of full sun to the lemon tree
The fruiting stage requires a lemon tree to get 8 to 12 hours of full sunlight daily. Still, be careful, as sunlight exceeding 12 hours will cause sunscald on lemons. 

6. Harvesting 

Image: Minneopa Orchards

This is the part you’ve been waiting for – harvesting those juicy citrus lemon fruits! What a journey it has been, eh? 

On average, it takes around 4 to 6 months for lemons to ripen. You’ll know they are ready for harvesting when they develop large, oblong, smooth yellow skin.  

Keep in mind that green lemons are unripe, bitter and should not be harvested, while yellow lemons are good to go! Ripe yellow lemons usually grow about 3 to 4 inches in diameter before they’re ready for picking. 

How to Harvest Lemons
By picking
Lemons can easily be picked by hand. Hold the fruit and gently twist it to remove the lemon from the tree.
By cutting
Use pruning shears and gardening scissors to cut the stem ¼ inch above the fruit.

7. Drying 

Image: UCANR

We now come to the last stage of a lemon tree’s growth – the drying stage. 

During this phase, you’ll notice the lemons left on the tree eventually turning brown, drying up and falling off the tree. The tree trunk also gets thicker and darker, while the leaves decay and wither. 

Don’t worry because the lemon tree will continue to bear fruit until it grows old. In the meantime, you can save lemon seeds, start growing new trees, and start this fruitful cycle again!

Fruit Producing Conditions for Lemon Trees

Fruit Producing Conditions for Lemon Trees
Image: Pennington

At a glance, here are the planting conditions perfect for lemon trees:

LocationFull Sun
No Shade
SoilWell-drained soil
Soil pH: 5.5 to 6.5
WateringNewly planted trees: Every other day
Mature trees: Once or twice a week
FertilizerQuarter of a pound of 6-6-6 organic fertilizer
Every 2 to 3 months for the first five years
• 3 to 4 pounds of 6-6-6 organic fertilizer2 to 3 times a year after five years
Tree AppearanceRound open canopy
Evergreen oval leaves
White flowers
Oblong yellow fruit with smooth skin
Can grow up to 20 feet in height and width
Pests and DiseasesAphids
Citrus Scab
European brown rot
Scale insects

1. Location

Image: Tree Journey

Lemon trees grow in USDA Hardiness Zones 9, 10, 11, so if you’re living along these areas, then you can grow lemon trees all year round. 

This plant also needs to be placed in an area with full access to sunlight. Place your lemon tree away from structures or other trees that can cover it with shade.

Lemon trees grown in shaded areas tend to produce less fruit than those under direct sunlight. So, for optimal lemon tree growth, give it all the sun that it needs by choosing the right location.

2. Soil

Image: Alabama A&M University

Lemon trees grow best in well-drained soil, such as sandy loam soil, with a pH level between 5.5 to 6.5 pH.

These types of soil let the excess water drain at a medium pace and ensure that the tree has enough time to absorb all the water from the soil. They also hold enough nutrients and moisture for the lemon tree. 

You can also add organic mulch, like wood mulch, to the soil to protect the plant’s root system and retain soil moisture. 

3. Watering

Image: Hydrangea Guide

Newly-planted lemon trees need to be watered every other day since they are still trying to establish their roots, while mature trees in their flowering and fruiting stages need only occasional watering once or twice a week. 

During the rainy season, refrain from watering your lemon tree because overwatering might just hinder its development and even cause its roots to rot. 

You should also prevent splashing water on the leaves, flowers and fruits of the lemon tree. This creates humid conditions that are habitable for bacteria, fungi or other viruses that may cause your tree plant diseases. 

4. Fertilizer Needs

Fertilizer Needs
Image: Bob Vila

Lemon trees love fertilizers. They absorb as much as they can to use these nutrients for optimum growth and production of fruits and flowers. 

That’s why you’ll need to apply a pound of fertilizer, with a 6-6-6 blend, to your lemon tree every 2 to 3 months in its first 5 years. Afterward, increase the amount of fertilizer to 3 to 4 pounds every 2 to 3 times in the following years.

These fertilizers will make sure your lemon tree grows strong, healthy and as tall as 20 feet in height and spread. 

5. Tree Appearance

Tree Appearance
Image: Trees

From afar, you’ll see a mature lemon tree with a round, open canopy covered with evergreen oval leaves. Now, that’s a refreshing sight to behold. 

The tree will first bloom small clusters of white flowers during early spring. They each have 4 to 5 white petals with purple undersides.

After self-pollination, these flowers will turn into large, oblong, smooth and yellow-skinned delicious lemon fruits ready to be turned into lemonade.

6. Pests and Diseases

Pests and Diseases
Image: Minneopa Orchards

To further keep your lemon tree healthy, watch out for these common pests and diseases and know how to treat them below. 

AphidsLeaves curl and fall offHorticultural oil spray
Citrus ScabDefoliation of leavesCopper-based spray
Foliar treatment with horticultural oil and copper
European brown rotSmall leathery lesions on the surface of the lowest hanging fruitCopper salts or fungicides
Scale insectsLarge white masses on leavesHorticultural oil spray

FAQs on Lemon Tree Growth Stages

How long does it take to grow a lemon tree?

Lemon trees typically grow between 2 to 5 years. In optimal conditions, a healthy lemon tree can start bearing lemons as early as 2 years from planting.

What is the best environment for lemon trees to grow in?

Lemon trees grow best in warm climates, moist soil, plenty of sunlight, and adequate nutrients and fertilizers to encourage development and fruit production. 

What is the difference between an immature lemon and a mature lemon?

Immature lemons are small, green, and without any citrus fragrance, while mature lemons are large, oblong, with smooth yellow skin and citrus fragrance. 

Do lemons like sun or shade?

Lemon trees grow best under at least 8 hours of full sun. Shaded areas, on the other hand, slow down and reduce the tree’s fruit-producing capabilities. 

Can lemons grow in hot weather?

Lemon trees grow well in warm and humid weather with temperatures between 77 to 86 °F (25 to 30°C). 

How do you grow a lemon tree from a seed?

You can grow a lemon tree from a seed by planting mature green seeds in your chosen pot or garden bed. 

How do you take care of a lemon tree?

Mature lemon trees need regular application of balanced fertilizers and watering once to twice a week to ensure optimum growth and fruit production.

How can I make a lemon tree grow faster?

Lemon trees grow faster when they are placed in an area full of sunlight and are regularly fed with fertilizers to provide nutrition and boost the development of flowers and fruits.  

How many lemons do you get per tree?

A small lemon tree can produce 50 to 100 lemons every year, while large lemon trees can bear up to 1,500 lemons annually. 

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