Lemon tree fruiting cycle

Lemon Tree Life Cycle: How Long Do Lemon Trees Live

If you live in a tropical or subtropical climate where frosts are mild and infrequent, you can grow a lemon tree. These trees are not only beautiful, but they also fill the garden with delightfully fresh fragrance. Read on to find out about lemon tree lifespans and what you can do to get as many years as possible from your tree.

Lemon Tree Life Cycle

The average lifespan of lemon trees is over 50 years. With proper care and disease prevention practices, a vigorous tree can live over 100 years. Diseases can shorten the life of a lemon tree, but good care leads to a strong, healthy tree less susceptible to diseases. Here are a few tips to help you extend the life of your tree:

Plant lemon trees in a location with eight or more hours of direct sunlight each day. Choose a site with loose, well-drained soil.

Water the tree often enough to keep the soil from drying out until it is well-established in its new home. An established lemon tree has bright, shiny foliage, and it shows signs of new growth. Once established, the tree only needs water during prolonged dry spells.

Fertilize the tree with a citrus fertilizer. This type of fertilizer provides everything a citrus tree needs, including all of the essential micronutrients.

Prune the tree just enough to allow sunlight to reach the lower branches. Failure to thin the tree can lead to diseases. Watch the tree for broken or diseased branches and prune to remove problems as they occur.

The lemon tree life cycle is simple. Two to five years after planting, the trees bloom with fragrant flowers capable of fertilization. Each branch holds both male and female flowers. Bees are the primary pollinators, and if pollination is successful, the resulting fruit contains seeds.

How Long Do Lemon Trees live In Containers?

Lemon trees can live almost as long in containers as in the ground. For long container life, repot the tree into a larger container every one to one-and-a-half years. It is important to use fresh soil when planting in a new pot. When the tree reaches its maximum size, it won’t need a larger pot but it still needs fresh soil.

“It’s an emergency,” I said.

“Hang on, I’m pulling over onto the shoulder,” Mr. Vega said.

I detailed the symptoms of Bill Stock’s ailing trees. “All he wants is for his trees to look as good as the ones you grow indoors at the Conservatory,” I concluded.

“Actually,” Mr. Vega said, clearing his throat, “we don’t grow them indoors. We grow them outdoors and then bring them in when they’re show-worthy.”

The truth about indoor citrus trees, it turns out, is they really would rather be outdoors. There are several reasons why, Mr. Vega explained.

Above: Photograph by Tom Kubik for Gardenista.

Secret No. 1: Humidity.

“Indoors, there is a lack of humidity,” said Mr. Vega. “Most indoor environments have like 10 percent humidity, whereas most plants including citrus trees that thrive in the outdoors need closer to 50 percent humidity and above.”

“So Bill needs to increase the humidity in his solarium?” I asked. “Like, with a humidifier?”

But the answer wasn’t that easy. “There are lots of ways to increase indoor humidity, but the question is, would you want to?” Mr. Vega said. “You could bring on a whole host of things you don’t want to encourage in an indoor environment: mold, mildew, paint peeling,” he said.

One way to increase the humidity level without damaging an indoor environment is with a humidity tray.

Above: Photograph via Terrain.

“You know those little saucers you put under potted plants to catch the runoff water?” Mr. Vega said. “Fill a little tray with pebbles and leave the runoff water in there. As the water slowly evaporates, it will raise the humidity enough to improve conditions for the plant.”

An even better solution, though, would be for Bill to move his trees outdoors in warm weather because the air indoors gets stale. To make it easier to move large potted plants, put them on wheels with one of our favorite Rolling Plant Stands.

Secret No. 2: Air Movement.

“Buildings tend to be airtight, particularly newer buildings. In them, the air becomes quite stagnant,” said Mr. Vega. “You have plenty of air movement outdoors, which is good for plants. So move your citrus trees outdoors when you can.”

Best careful, though, not to overdo it on the first day of spring. “A plant that has been indoors all winter is like a fair-skinned person. Too much sun exposure too fast and it will get sunburn,” said Mr. Vega. “Move it to sunnier locations gradually and for shorter periods at first, as it puts out new leaves.”

If you have no outdoor space, open doors or at least a window in warm weather to improve air circulation for citrus trees.

The addition of Saturaid re-wetting granules to citrus growing in containers is highly recommended.

This product should be applied annually. It channels water to the root zone where it is needed most. It promotes even water distribution so there is less water run off and dry spots in potting mix and soils.

It makes watering, rainfall and fertilisers more effective. It can also be used in the garden even in sandy, clay or compacted soils.

The most common problem with citrus is usually sooty mould, a black sticky substance on the leaves and stems.

This is actually a secondary problem caused by the presence of scale and aphids which, while sucking the goodness from the tree, secrete a sugary substance upon which the mould grows. The sugary substance is also attractive to ants.

The good news is this is easily controlled with a spray of a suitable insecticide such as Growsafe Enspray 99, an organically certified spraying oil. If you are unsure then take some sample leaves into a garden centre for advice.

As mentioned above, avoid any pruning between the early spring to midsummer period to reduce the risk of attack from borer beetle.

If you do prune be sure to seal cuts with pruning paste. The tell-tale sign of a borer attack is sawdust piles on and around the plant from holes in the stems/trunk where the beetles are active.

This can be controlled with the use of No Borer Spray Injector into the holes. They can be difficult to control so prevention is better than trying to fix later.

Here are some good varieties to grow here in Wanganui:

* Mandarin Satsuma Silverhill: Do you love those big seedless, mandarins with the soft puffy easy to peel skin? Then plant a mandarin silverhill. This is an early ripening satsuma variety that has think skinned, easy peel, sweet juicy fruit with segments that easily separate. This variety grows well in cooler areas.

* Lemon Lemonade: A very juicy, lemon-like fruit with a mild, refreshing grapefruit-like flavour. Fruit can be eaten fresh or juiced. Fruit has a very strong scent. A heavy cropper.

* Lime Bearss: A hardier selection of Tahitian lime with small, thin skinned, deep green seedless fruit which turns lime yellow at maturity. Protect from frost. Tree habit is vigorous and spreading.

* Orange Harwoods Late: A New Zealand selection with high yields of juicy, thin skinned fruit with excellent flavour. Larger grower.

* Tangor Kiyomi: For something different try this hybrid citrus fruit – it’s a cross between a mandarin and orange. It has large fruit like an orange, with the easy peel of a mandarin. It’s very juicy, thick skinned and seedless when self pollinated.

– Gareth Carter is General Manager of Springvale Garden Centre.

Lemon tree is a rather easy citrus to grow. It looks magnificent, too!

A summary of Lemon tree facts

Name – Citrus limon
Family – Rutaceae (Rue family)
Type – fruit tree

Height – 10 to 16 feet(3 to 5 meters)
Exposure – full sun
Soil – well-drained

Foliage – evergreen
Flowering – January to December

Planting, caring and pruning it are steps that help enhance fruit-bearing and avoid diseases.

  • Health: health benefits and therapeutic properties of lemons

Planting a lemon tree

The planting of the lemon tree is an important step that influences its further development, lemon production, and lifespan.

Lemon trees are demanding trees that require well drained and rich soil to develop well.

Planting lemon tree in the ground

Planting lemon trees in the ground is possible only in mild-wintered areas. They are vulnerable to freezing and need temperatures that never drop below 41 to 44°F (5 to 7°C) in winter.

  • Plant your lemon tree preferably in spring, after the last frost spells.
  • Choose a sheltered spot well-endowed with sunlight to support its growth and produce nice lemons.
  • Dig a hole about 3 times as deep and wide as the soil clump is.
  • Place a drainage layer at the bottom of the hole with gravel or clay pebbles.
  • Mix garden soil with planting soil mix.
  • Fill the hole in with this mix and press it down.
  • Water and press down again.

After that, it will be necessary to water regularly over the 2 first years, but not too much so that roots don’t get flooded.

Potted lemon tree

If it freezes in your area, try to grow them in pots with shelter for winter.

Lemon trees can’t survive indoors in winter, so they will need an outside unheated greenhouse, or horticultural fleece if the climate stays mild enough.

  • Growing potted trees is best for all your citrus if ever it freezes in your area.
  • You’ll have to bring them indoors from October to May.
  • Re-pot upon purchasing and then every 2 or 3 years in spring.
  • For larger pots, topdressing is easier.
  • For more advice on growing potted lemon trees .

Pruning a lemon tree

Pruning isn’t really needed, but if you don’t prune it, your lemon tree will quickly grow very large.

Yellow lemon trees are particularly vigorous, and require pruning, especially if grown in pots.

Season for lemon tree pruning

Pruning is best in spring, ideally during the months of March, April or May.

You should never prune before or during winter, this would make the plant vulnerable to freezing.

How to prune your lemon tree

Using a disinfected hand pruner, cut each new shoot back to more or less half its length, taking great care to cut just above a leaf.

  • You must cut just above a bud facing outwards (the bud is located at the base of a leaf).
  • This will result in your tree keeping a nice, tight shape.
  • You might need to do this several times a year.

Remove dead wood regularly and clear the inside branches to let light penetrate to the center.

Watering lemon tree

If planted outdoors, normal rainfall should be enough to provide for the lemon tree’s needs, especially if the climate in your area is wet.

However, in case of high temperatures or prolonged dry spells, it is best to water from time to time.

  • You know if your lemon trees need water when their leaves start drooping or bending over.
  • Water sparingly because lemon trees are vulnerable to excess water.
  • It is best to water with collected rain water, because they are vulnerable to calcium ions in water, and tap water often has many.

In pots, water as soon as the soil is dry, without flooding the pots.

Avoid all heat sources such as nearby radiators, because this could dry your tree out.

Caring for your lemon tree

Like most citrus, lemon trees are quite difficult to grow directly in the ground when winters are cold.

Regularly give them citrus-specific organic fertilizers to give them the best chances of developing well.

Growing them in pots is most adapted, because that makes it possible to bring the lemon trees to a spot where it doesn’t freeze in the winter.

Lemon trees aren’t indoor plants, and can’t bear staying in a heated environment all year round. They need relatively lower temperatures from October to May, especially during the night.

  • If you’re looking for citrus plants that cope well with growing indoors, check out calamondin trees, or kumquat, one of the calamondin’s ancestors.

Diseases commonly found on lemon trees

Lemon tree diseases and parasites are the same that would attack most citrus plants.

Rotting fruit, aphids or scale insects don’t spare lemon trees and you’ll find proof of their presence on leaves.

  • European brown rot – lemons rot while still on the tree
  • Scale insects – whitish masses colonize leaves
  • Aphids – leaves curl up and fall off

Learn more about the lemon tree

A close relative Citron, one of the three original citrus, lemon has long been grown in many civilizations. Lemon health benefits are renowned, and in culinary use it has thousands of applications.

In the garden, too, you can use lemon to repel ants and keep them from climbing up your fruit trees where they tend to aphids. Simply cut the fruit into slices and tie them around a tree trunk. Block all passways by overlapping the slices a little.

Smart tip about lemon tree

Pick the lemons as soon as they easily break off from their branch.

Learn more about citrus plants

Credits for images shared to Nature & Garden (all edits by Gaspard Lorthiois):
Lemons on tree by John Englart under © CC BY-SA 2.0
Lemon tree flower by Ulrike Leone under license
Unripe lemons by Free Photos under license

Growth Stages of a Lemon Tree

lemon image by Henryk Olszewski from Fotolia.com

Lemon trees tend to mature more quickly than other citrus trees, and may start producing fruit within the few years of their life cycle. As a result, a lemon tree’s growth cycle is based around its fruiting and development, and the growth stages of a lemon tree are repeated each year and, if they live indoors or in a warm climate, possibly multiple times throughout the year.


Lemon trees can start growing fruit as soon as their second year, so their youth is relatively short lived. As saplings, they grow relatively quickly and should be kept warm since cold weather can kill them. Once they reach maturity, however, with stouter trunks, thick foliage and often thorns on their branches, they can live outside as long as temperatures do not plunge below 20 degrees F. However, if it gets below freezing, you will likely lose blooms and fruit.

Bud Induction

This is the period of time that determines how many flowers a tree will have (and, ultimately, what volume of fruit it will produce). This happens during the early part of the growing season during cool months, and if a lemon tree is slightly stressed for water during this time, it will produce more flowers.

Flowering and Fruit

This growth stage involves the actual blooming of flowers and their subsequent development into fruit. This happens as the weather warms.The flower buds open and after the flowers bloom, the fruit forms. During this period, lemon trees need plenty of water so that the fruit will be full and juicy.

Cell Expansion

During this time, the fruit continues to grow. The tree needs plenty of water, but you must be careful not to over-water or it may develop root rot. Keep the soil well-drained and make sure that it is damp but not muddy. As the cells in the tree expand, the fruit grows along with the rest of the tree.


At this stage, the lemons should be a rich yellow and ready to pick. The tree will be getting ready to enter either a dormant stage, if you live in an area with four distinct seasons, or getting ready to start the process over if you live in a climate that is warm year-round.

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