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Growing Lemon Trees in Pots (Quick-start Guide)

For some, the ultimate goal of a garden is to produce a copious harvest of fruit. Those gardeners often rely on citrus trees to achieve that dream. Among those citrus trees, lemon trees are one of the best options as they tend to perform very well even when they grow in containers. In this article, we will take you through a quick guide to help you when you are growing lemon trees in pots. 

Growing Lemon Trees in Pots

How to Plant a Lemon Tree

We’ll start by covering a few methods you can use to plant a lemon tree. If you purchase a tree that is already somewhat mature, the planting process is the same as it would be for any other type of woody plant. But there are two other ways that you can plant a lemon tree in containers, which we will describe in the next sections.

Planting Lemon Seeds

Growing a lemon tree from seed can require some patience but the technique for doing so is much easier than you might expect. To begin that process, you need to get your hands on some lemon seeds. Finding viable lemon seeds is as easy as cutting open a store-bought lemon. Alternatively, you can purchase packets of individual lemon seeds.

How to Germinate Lemon Seeds

Once you have your seeds, follow these steps on how to grow a lemon tree from a seed:

  • Fill a small container with healthy soil
  • Plant the seeds about half an inch deep
  • Moisten the soil lightly

After completing those steps, you should store your planted seeds in a warm area. Any place at or above 70 degrees Fahrenheit should work. With those conditions in place, all that is left for you to do is wait. Remember that it may take several years for your seed to transform into a fruit-bearing tree.

Lemon Trees from Cuttings

If you have access to a lemon tree that is already mature, there is another way you can go about propagating a new one. What you’ll need to do is remove a cutting from the existing lemon tree. Then plant and care for that cutting until it develops into a full-sized lemon tree. When selecting a cutting, you should look for healthy new growth that has:

  • No flowers present
  • No fruits present
  • Multiple nodes on the stem

Use a clean knife to cut a stem that meets that description from your mature lemon tree. After that, you should plant the stem in a container with good drainage and nutrient-rich soil. At this stage, you might consider using a root hormone to help your cutting develop extensive roots.

For a young lemon tree, humidity is vital. That is why some gardeners choose to use plastic coverings for their containers. Those coverings help to trap moisture in the air surrounding your lemon tree cutting. 

Selecting a Container

The planting process is crucial to the success of your lemon tree. But so is the container in which your tree grows. Without selecting a proper container, you may begin wondering why your lemon tree is not growing the way you expect.

There are two primary concerns you must address when selecting a pot for your lemon tree. The first is the overall size of the pot. The second concern relates to the pot’s drainage capabilities. 

Make sure that the container you select is large enough to accommodate the roots of your lemon tree. If those roots run out of space to expand, your plant can easily become rootbound. Once that occurs, your tree can begin to decline quickly.

An equally important feature of a good container is drainage. Lemon trees show a clear preference for soil that can drain water quickly.

How to Take Care of a Lemon Tree

Once your lemon tree is in its container, your work is far from over. Now it is time to maintain your lemon tree and give it the care that will help it produce the most fruit. Read on to learn what you can do to give your lemon tree the best chance of success.

Lemon Tree Soil Preference

The soil preference of a lemon tree is similar to the taste you experience when you eat one. Lemon trees enjoy growing in soils that are moderately acidic. The ideal soil pH for one of these trees is between 5.5 and 6.5.

Beyond that, lemon tree soil should also have great drainage. That means that the container you choose for your lemon tree should also allow water to permeate out. In general, a loamy or sandy soil in a pot that lets water escape is ideal for a lemon tree. 

Fertilizing a Lemon Tree

In general, lemon tree fertilizer should have a high nitrogen content. But there are some other parameters you should remember as well.

One of the best ways to know if a fertilizer will work for your lemon tree is to look at the NKP, a series of three numbers that represent the concentrations of nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium present in the fertilizer. For lemon trees, those concentrations do not need to be high. In fact, none of those numbers should be above eight.

Once you find a fertilizer that meets that description, you need to figure out your fertilizing frequency. We suggest applying fertilizer once every two months during the growing season.  

Lemon Tree Sunlight and Temperature Needs

Lemon trees have distinct requirements related to sunlight and air temperature. Like many other fruit trees, lemon trees need plenty of sunlight to thrive. Typically, five hours serves as a good benchmark. This sunlight need can be difficult to meet for those growing lemon trees in pots indoors. But if you have a sunny window, that may do the trick.

Along with sunlight needs, lemon trees also desire a relatively warm climate. That means you should do your best to make sure that your lemon tree does not endure cold weather. The best lowest temperature that a lemon tree can tolerate is 50 degrees Fahrenheit. That means that outdoor lemon trees can only survive in hardiness zones 9 through 11.

If you don’t live in one of the hardiness zones, you will need to grow your lemon trees indoors. Just make sure you set your thermostat to an adequate temperature in the colder months.

When and How to Prune a Lemon Tree

Pruning is another important aspect of lemon tree care. To help you with this task, here are a few tips to help you understand how you should approach the lemon tree pruning process:

  • Prune in winter or early spring
  • Don’t remove more than one-third of the plant at a time
  • Remove the branch, but leave the collar so the wound can heal

Pruning is a chore that many beginner gardeners are hesitant to take on. But when done correctly, pruning will make your plants healthier than ever before.

Common Issues When Growing Lemon Trees in Pots

As you attempt to raise a healthy lemon tree in a pot, you may come across a few common issues. Some of these issues are specific to growing lemon trees. Others are relevant to any tree that grows in a container. Read on to learn about these standard problems and to get an idea of how you can avoid them.

Lemon Trees Can Produce Suckers

Many fruit trees, including lemon trees, have a habit of growing shoots from the base of their trunks. This behavior is called suckering.

Be sure to remove any suckers that appear on your lemon tree. Suckers can detract from a tree’s overall structure as they draw energy away from the tree’s most important branches. If you want your lemon tree to be as strong as possible, cut these shoots as soon as they appear.

Lemon Tree Pests and Diseases

As is the case with many trees, diseases and pests are something you will need to watch out for when caring for a lemon tree. These trees are often susceptible to several diseases, including these:

  • Citrus canker
  • Root rot
  • Sooty mold

In addition to those diseases, lemon trees can also fall victim to several different infestations. Here are a few of the most common pests that will afflict a lemon tree:

  • Aphids
  • Citrus whitefly
  • Brown soft scale
  • Mites
  • Snails

Those two lists reveal the relative vulnerability of lemon trees. When growing lemon trees in pots, remain vigilant and do your best to curb the effects of these diseases and pests.

Containers Give Roots Limited Space

This last challenge is not specific to lemon trees. Instead, it is an obstacle for any plant that grows in a container. Containers have limited space for root expansion. If the roots reach the edge of that space, the plant can become rootbound.

Rootbound plants will begin to decline in health and eventually die off. The best way to avoid this is to transplant your lemon tree to a larger pot as soon as it gets large enough to do so.

Final Thoughts on Growing Lemon Trees in Pots

Growing a lemon tree in a pot is one of the most reliable ways to cultivate fruit in your garden. These plants are relatively easy to plant and to care for throughout their lifespan. But if you run into any issues while you attempt to grow a lemon tree, refer to this guide for some useful assistance.


Fertilizer Labels: What N-P-K Numbers Mean

Suckers On Lemon Trees: What Are Tree Shoots At Base Of Lemon Tree

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