Horticulture Magazine

How To Grow A Lemon Tree

panoramic view of lemon fruits growing on a tree

Lemon Overview

Official Plant NameCitrus x limon
Common Name(s)Lemon Tree
Plant TypeTree
Native AreaSouth Asia
Hardiness RatingH2
ToxicityEdible Fruits
FoliageEvergreen
FlowersWhite or pink tinged blossom
When To SowYear-Round (move outside in June; bring indoors in September)
Flowering MonthsYear-Round
When To PruneFebruary, June, July, August
Sunlight

Preferred
Full Sun

Exposure
Sheltered

Size

Height
4 – 8M

Spread
1.5 – 2.5M

Bloom Time
Spring – Autumn

Soil

Preferred
Clay, loam, sand

Moisture
Moist but well drained

pH
Acidic / Neutral

If life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. Everyone knows that.

But what if life hasn’t given you lemons?

In this instance, you have to take it upon yourself to grow your own lemons. This way you’ll have a steady supply of the tangy citrus fruit we all love so much – yours to do whatever you want with, lemonade or not.

lemons hanging from branches
Plump, juicy, and sour as anything

If you’re wondering how to grow a lemon tree, this guide has got your back. We’ll introduce the plant, tell you everything you need to grow it, and include some fun facts along the way.

Let’s get started.

What is a lemon tree?

The word ‘lemon’ refers to the familiar yellow fruit, and to the small evergreen tree that gives rise to it. Both are native to India and other parts of South Asia, but have since journeyed around the world to be commonplace almost everywhere.

This tree grows well in the UK despite its warmer origins, and is a popular choice for British gardeners looking to bring the exotic into their backyard.

Why grow lemons?

Admittedly, a lemon tree probably isn’t on the top of your list of characteristically British plants. And that’s OK. Part of the fun of gardening is trying new things, exploring different influences, and creating exciting combinations. A lemon tree framed by some typically British plants like hydrangeas, honeysuckle, or forget-me-not creates an interesting and rewarding aesthetic.

And not only that: The fruit you’ll harvest from your lemon tree is almost reason enough to grow one. Lemons are delicious. While very few people can tolerate lemon by itself, the juice, flesh, and zest feature in thousands of recipes from around the globe, including sweet and savoury.

a ginger lemon tumeric shot, with the ingredients in the background
One of many lemon recipes you can enjoy

Growing a lemon tree guarantees you easy access to the culinary delights offered by this citrus superhero.

How to grow a lemon tree

Right, let’s get down to the practicalities of growing a lemon tree in your garden. This section will explore the wheres, whens, and hows of lemons.

Where to grow a lemon tree outdoors

This type of tree is more sensitive to cold than other fruit trees, and to other citrus trees. Choosing a south-facing aspect best positions the tree to enjoy sunlight and the warmer temperatures that accompany it. Choosing a spot close to your house will protect against frost, too.

Lemon trees aren’t fussy with soil type, but will appreciate a position with good drainage. Mildly acidic soil is best, but it’s not a disaster if you plant your tree in a spot with different pH levels.

Where to grow a lemon tree indoors

You don’t have to grow your lemon tree outdoors. With an expected height of around 1.5m, they’re definitely a viable size to grow indoors.

Growing indoors gives you more control over the soil as well, meaning you can provide your lemon tree with the perfect conditions. To recap: That’s moist, well-drained, slightly acidic soil. A temperature range of 13°c – 21°c is optimal.

Wherever you decide to grow your lemon tree, bear in mind that they may struggle to get enough light in winter. Indoors, it’s easy enough to rig up some specialised growing lamps to supplement the natural light they receive. This is less viable outdoors, so bear this in mind when choosing a spot for your tree.

Pollinating your lemon tree

If you’re growing outdoors, bees and other pollinators will take on the task of pollinating your lemon tree. Grow indoors, however, and you either need to pollinate yourself (fiddly: Not recommended!) or take your plant outside for a spell during warm weather.

Pollination is a vital part of the fruiting process, so if you’re aiming for a big citrus bounty, make sure to factor this in.

How to plant a lemon tree

Our recommendation would be to buy and grow an established lemon tree, as this gives you all the benefits without the need to grow from seed, which can be fiddly. Lemon trees from seed also take over a decade to start fruiting – so prepare yourself for the long haul!

If you opt for an already-established plant, you can buy them in containers from garden centres and other plant shops, and it’s just a case of transplanting into your garden or moving the pot into your house.

If you decide to grow a lemon tree from seed, however, here’s how to do it –

  • Allow the seeds to dry for a couple of weeks.
  • Plant into potting soil to a depth of 2-3cm.
  • Use cling film or a similar transparent plastic to cover the pot: This seals the heat in.
  • Place the pot in a spot with plenty of sunlight Wait until there’s at least 15-30cm of growth before planting out.

After reading this section, maybe you’re wondering whether you can grow a lemon tree from a seed taken directly from a lemon? The answer is yes!

You’ll want to find a plump, healthy, tasty lemon. Remove and thoroughly wash the seeds, making sure to dislodge all flesh: The sugar inside can cause damage to your seed by providing ideal conditions for fungal growth.

While the first step with bought seeds is to dry them out, seeds taken directly from a lemon should be planted straight away to best facilitate growth.

Caring for your sapling

Once your seeds are planted, you’ll want to keep them in ideal conditions to maximise the chance of germination. Here’s how to do that –

  • Aim for four hours or more of direct sunlight every day.
  • Aim for temperatures of 15-21°c.

You should see growth within a few days to a week. If not, this may mean that your seeds haven’t germinated, and that you might need to try again.

a lemon sapling in a ceramic pot
A young lemon sapling showing healthy growth

Once you see growth, remove the plastic cover and move to a position with more light, if possible. Once they begin to establish, you can move your lemon sapling to larger pots containing potting medium. Fertilising with high-potassium fertiliser every few weeks will provide your lemon tree with optimal nutrition and stimulate healthy growth.

Transplanting your sapling outdoors

Lemon trees should be planted slightly higher than the surrounding soil, so dig a hole that’s a little less deep than the root ball. Place the lemon tree in the hole, cover over, then water lightly and leave to establish.

Be vigilant and cover the base of your lemon tree with fleece or other similar garden material on particularly cold nights. While lemon can tolerate UK weather, extreme cold will cause damage, and maybe even kill it. So keep a lookout!

Fertilising your lemon tree

This citrus is a fussy eater, requiring regular nitrogen compost from late spring to early autumn, and winter feed tailored specially to citrus. Ask at your local garden centre if you’re unsure which type of compost to use, and they’ll be able to point you in the direction of the ones most beneficial to your plant.

Pruning

Citrus trees generally don’t need much pruning, but your lemon tree will benefit from a little TLC. You can prune back crowded branches with secateurs, or pinch the end of particularly enthusiastic branches to slow them down.

Harvesting lemons

Once your tree is mature it will start to fruit. Lemon boasts a long harvest season as well, with fruit available between July and April. With such a long harvest period it’s often best to only pick lemons as and when you need them, as they’ll remain healthy and fresh if kept on the tree.

Troubleshooting lemon problems

We’ve already written about insulating the base of your lemon tree during cold snaps, as extreme cold can damage or kill the plant.

You also need to water carefully, as over-watering is a frequent cause of issues for lemon trees. Make sure water can drain away, and that the plant is in a position which allows excess water on leaves to evaporate away.

Give yourself lemons

After reading this guide, hopefully it’s apparent that you don’t need to wait for life to give you lemons any more: You can grow and harvest your own with relative ease!

Many people don’t expect lemons to be able to grow in the UK, so bringing a lemon tree to your garden is a great way to stand out from the crowd. Not only will you have tasty, plump lemons on demand for most of the year, but you’ll have a guaranteed conversation starter for when friends and family visit.

Lemon is easy to grow, too, making it a great all-rounder for budding British gardeners. Whether you grow indoors or outdoors, from seed or from a container, a lemon tree will make a fine addition to your garden credentials.

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