Growing limes from seed

Growing Lime Trees From Seed

In addition to nursery-grown plants, grafting is probably your best bet when growing lime trees. However, most citrus seeds are relatively easy to grow, including those from limes. While it’s possible to grow a lime tree from seed, don’t expect to see any fruit right away. The downside to growing lime trees from seed is that it can take anywhere from four to ten years before they produce fruit, if at all.

Growing Lime Trees from Seed

Since many lime seeds are obtained from purchased fruit, they’re most likely hybrids. Therefore, planting lime seeds from these fruits often will not produce identical limes. Polyembryonic seeds, or true seeds, will generally produce identical plants, however. These can normally be purchased from reputable nurseries specializing in citrus trees.

Keep in mind that other contributing factors, like climate and soil, also affect the overall production and taste of lime tree fruit.

How to Plant a Lime Seed

There are a couple of ways to grow a lime tree from seed and knowing how to plant a lime seed is important for success. You can plant the seed directly in a pot of soil or place it in a plastic bag. Before planting lime seeds, however, be sure to wash them and you may even want to allow them to dry for a couple days, then plant them as soon as possible. Plant seeds about ¼ to ½ inch deep in containers with well-draining soil.

Likewise, you can put seeds in a plastic baggie along with some moist soil. Regardless of the method you choose, keep the seeds moist (not soggy) and place them in a warm, sunny location. Germination usually occurs within a couple of weeks. Once seedlings have reached about 6 inches tall, they can be gently lifted and placed in individual pots. Be sure to provide winter protection, as lime trees are very cold sensitive.

If you don’t want to wait so long for lime fruit production, you may want to consider other means of growing lime trees, which will usually bear fruit within three years. However, growing lime trees from seed is an easy and fun alternative to experiment with, keeping in mind that as Forrest Gump would say, “like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get.”

Grow Citrus Plants from Seed

Can you save seeds from citrus fruit and grow them into plants? Yes. And it really is easy.

Whether the fruit came from a grocery store or farmer’s market, if it has seeds, you can grow them.

Orange, lemons including Meyer lemon, tangerine, clementine, mandarin, lime, kumquat, and grapefruit with seeds are all candidates.

The steps (below) show you how to prepare the seeds, germinate them, and plant them pots.

While citrus is a tropical plant, it can be grown in colder climates as a potted houseplant, spending summers outdoors and winters indoors.

Will they grow fruit?

Yes, it is possible. But only if the plant has just what it needs.

Citrus plants are slow-growing, so it will take several years with good growing conditions to flower and then fruit. Some may never flower.

Most of the citrus fruits we enjoy are hybrids. Grapefruit is a good example. It was an accidental hybrid created from sweet orange (C. sinensis) and pomelo (C. maxima) cross-pollinating.

And that means, while any viable citrus seeds you sow can become beautiful, productive plants, hybrid plants—if they produce fruit—the fruit will not be the same in taste or appearance as the one it came from. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it’s just different.

Satsuma tangerines are one of the few citrus plants that bears fruit similar to the parent when grown from seed.

To me, growing a plant from seed all the way to the fruiting stage is a big, fun accomplishment regardless of the taste.

How do commercial growers do it? How do they get the same fruit over and over again?

They use grafted plants. Cuttings are taken from the desired plant (scion) and attached to a rootstock from another citrus variety. This is cloning and it’s essentially the same plant making more fruit.

If you want to be sure your citrus tree grows fruit true to the parent, start with a grafted tree, or use species seeds (not hybrids).

TIP: Winter is a good time to germinate citrus seeds so you have the warmth and light of spring and summer to get the plants established.

Can’t I just toss seeds in some soil and get a plant that way?

Yes, absolutely! But, if you want a 100% success rate—and know ahead of time that the seeds will germinate and do so quickly—instead of waiting many weeks to discover it’s not going to work—do the extra steps listed (below).

How big will a potted citrus tree grow?

It’s up to you. Citrus trees in-ground get quite large but, by growing in containers, growth is somewhat inhibited.

As your plant grows, you can repot it into the next size container until it’s as large as you want it.

Often the weight of the container determines the stopping point because it gets too heavy to lug around.

Once the plant is as large as you want (years from now), you can root prune it to keep it healthy. This is just how it sounds: you remove the plant from the container, trim back the roots, replenish the potting mix, and repot it.

There are more tips on citrus plant care below.

The instructions are also included in my book, which includes tutorials on growing avocado, mango, citrus fruits, pineapple, ginger, tomato, and bulbing onions.

How to grow a lemon tree from seed

When life gives you lemons, grow trees!

If you’ve ever seen a flowering lemon tree, you’ll understand why. For those of you who haven’t, allow me explain. Their lush, dark green, oval leaves have a glossy texture that shimmers in sunlight. Their delicate white flowers bloom with a citrus fragrance and are soft to the touch. Their exotic nature provides an alluring quality. And, finally, they bear the exciting possibility of fruit!

Typically, lemon trees flourish outdoors year-round in hot, sunny regions, but they can also thrive indoors as edible houseplants in cold-season climates. At the organic food store where I work we have a healthy lemon cutting producing massive fruit in a garage setting all year. It makes for an impressive sight during the dead of a Canadian winter!

This is the little tree with big fruit in the shop I work at.

And while rooting cuttings is a sensible option for fast fruit, lemon tree cuttings are not readily available in many parts of the world. But lemons are another story. And although it may take anywhere from 3-6 years for your tree to be capable of producing fruit, there is something extra rewarding about starting from seed. I currently have six strong little seedlings on the go, all of which were germinated in the middle of winter with very little effort. Watching them grow has been an exciting and fascinating experience and I know the best is yet to come.

Here is a step-by-step guide to growing your very own lemon tree from seed:

Things you’ll need:

1. A lemon. Make sure you purchase an organic lemon since some non-organic lemon seeds may be “duds”, incapable of germinating. Any organic lemon will do, but if you have climate or space restrictions, you may want to try looking for a specific variety called a “Meyer” lemon. Meyer lemons are a smaller type of lemon, often grown for ornamental purposes, and are thus better suited for indoor containers. I chose Meyer seeds for these reasons, but you can use any seed that makes sense for your situation.

This is a Meyer lemon!

2. Potting soil. I would guess that any potting soil will do, but I suggest using one with a blend of peat, perlite, vermiculite, and organic fertilizer. Every single one of the seeds I planted in this type of certified organic potting mix have sprouted beautifully, so I think it’s fair to say that it works.

3. Container/pot. A container (with drainage holes) that is 5-6” deep and a few inches in diameter will be sufficient for sprouting; however, the seedling will need to be re-potted into a much larger container. Mature lemon trees prefer a container that is wider rather than deeper, so I suggest planting your seedling in a pot that is 10-16” deep and 12-18” in diameter. Your baby tree will happily make itself at home in this larger container for the next few years, at which time you may want to upgrade again.

4. A grow light or lots of sun. Lemon trees need a lot of light, especially when they are sprouting and require 10-14 hours of it each day. If you don’t have a consistently sunny window (like me), get a grow light. They don’t cost much and will prove their worth in healthy green foliage.

Method for sprouting the lemon seed:

1. Pre-moisten your potting soil. Put some soil into a bucket and mix in some water until the soil is damp all the way through.

2. Fill your container with the pre-moistened soil. Leave about an inch of space below the rim of your container.

3. Slice open your lemon and choose a seed that looks completely full of life. Pop it into your mouth and suck on it until all the flesh is removed and the lemon flavour is gone. Do not allow the seed to dry out at any time. It needs to stay moist in order to germinate. I suggest keeping it in your mouth until you’re ready to plant.

4. Plant your seed! While it’s moist, plant your seed about 1/2″ below the soil level. Cover it completely with soil and water well with a squirt bottle or gentle watering can.

5. Cover your container with breathable plastic to keep your seeds warm and moist. I used a piece of clear garbage bag with holes poked into it and a rubber band to securely hold it in place.

6. Place the container in a warm location and observe for the next few days. Keep in mind: your seed needs warmth and moisture in order to germinate. Don’t allow the potting soil to dry out completely. Also take caution that you don’t cook your seed in its little greenhouse. Too much heat and moisture could lead to a rotten seed! You’re aiming to achieve a nice balance, so if you feel like the soil is warm enough without the plastic then it’s probably safest to remove it.

7. In about two weeks you may notice a sprout emerging from the soil. Once it appears, remove the plastic (if it’s still on) and place the little guy in a warm location with plenty of direct sunlight. Supplement sun with your grow light if needed.

Here are my little guys one month after planting.

At a little less than two months old, this little guy is upgrading to a larger home.

8. Care for your new baby and watch it grow! Provide it with:

  • Water. Ensure that the soil is damp at all times, especially when your lemon tree is young. Do not allow it to sit in a puddle of stagnant water though; those drainage holes are there for good reason.
  • Sunlight. Place it in a warm sunny window where it will receive eight hours of direct sunlight each day, or supplement some sun for a grow light. Since Toronto rarely seems to get any sun in the winter, my sprouts reside in a well-lit window under the warm rays of a grow light for 12 hours each day.
  • Food. In order to keep your lemon tree healthy and growing the soil will eventually need to be replenished with nutrients. I suggest feeding it an organic fertilizer, such as compost or vermicompost, once it has developed a nice little set of leaves. Dig a little trench around the base of your tree, fill it with compost and water it well. Or, serve it up as compost tea. Try feeding it twice a year or as needed, but do not overfeed! When it comes to fertilizing, less it best; so if in doubt, put it off a bit longer. (Another option is to start your seed in potting soil with vermicompost or worm castings mixed into it).
  • Love. Spend some time looking at your new citrus friend. Pay attention to its growth. Feel it, talk to it, sing to it, but don’t try to dance with it. Get into the habit of watching for browning leaves and checking the underside of leaves for pests. Just like us, our plants can fall victim to bugs and disease and may sometimes require some extra love and affection.

Lime Growing Guide

Plant

Like building a house a good foundation is the key to success in your garden. The better the soil, the better your plants will grow. If you are starting with an existing garden bed dig in organic matter like Tui Sheep Pellets and Tui Compost to your soil. Then you can add a layer of Tui Citrus & Fruit Mix. If planting in pots and containers, fill with Tui Citrus & Fruit Mix.

The best times to plant are early in the morning or late in the day, so the plants aren’t exposed to the hot sun straight away. Always water plants well before and after planting.

Planting in the garden:

  • Soak your tree in a bucket of Tui Organic Seaweed Plant Tonic before planting and allow to drain. This will help prevent transplant shock and give your lime a healthy start.
  • Add a layer of Tui Citrus & Fruit Mix to the planting area.
  • Dig a hole, approximately twice the depth and width of the root ball of your plant.
  • Gently take the plant from the current container, loosen the root ball and remove any loose or dead plant material and roots.
  • Fill in with Tui Citrus & Fruit Mix. Press mix gently around the base of the plant.
  • It is a good idea to stake when planting, as citrus don’t like having their roots disturbed – this will help support the tree.
  • Water your plant well and continue to water regularly.

Planting in pots and containers:

  • Soak your tree in a bucket of Tui Organic Seaweed Plant Tonic before planting and allow to drain. This will help prevent transplant shock and give your lime a healthy start.
  • Half fill your container with Tui Citrus & Fruit Mix.
  • Gently take the plant from the current container, loosen the root ball and remove any loose or dead plant material and roots.
  • Position the plant in the centre of the new container and fill with Tui Citrus & Fruit Mix up to 3cm from the top.
  • Gently firm the mix around the base of the plant. The mix should be at the same level on the plant as it was in the previous container.
  • Water your plant well and continue to water regularly.

In the first year after planting your lime tree, remove any fruit that sets. This allows the tree to establish itself and encourages better fruiting in the following seasons.

Nourish
Replenishing nutrients used by your lime tree ensures they will grow to their full potential, producing abundant and juicy crops. Feed your lime tree in spring and summer to encourage maximum fruiting and flowering. Citrus require higher levels of potassium and magnesium, and Tui Citrus Food is specially blended with all the nutrients needed for citrus planted in gardens. Feed lime trees planted in containers with Tui NovaTec Premium fertiliser.

Magnesium deficiencies can be common in citrus, shown by yellowing leaves. Apply Tui Epsom Salts around the drip line of the lime tree (where the leaves extend to), to correct the deficiency.

Citrus require more watering over the summer months – and well watered, well nourished lime tree will have a better chance of keeping insect pests and diseases at bay.

The weather, weeds, pest insects and diseases can all impact on the success of your citrus. Protect your plants from the elements with layers of mulch, to help keep their roots moist. Keep the area around your citrus weed free.

Prune if you need to for either a desired shape, to remove any diseased stems, or to improve air circulation. Remember leaves are the life of the tree, so don’t cut unnecessarily, particularly before the tree has matured. If you are pruning avoid September/October as you run the risk of lemon tree borer laying eggs in the fresh cuts.

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