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What to Know About Grafting a Lemon Tree

There’s nothing quite like picking a fresh lemon from a tree right in your own backyard.

Closeup of two lemons on a tree.

Growing lemon trees isn’t generally too challenging, but it’s important to start off right to have the best chance of getting beautiful and delicious lemons.

One of the best ways to do that is by grafting a lemon tree. Grafting is a method used to replicate proven genetics from a healthy tree and allows you to get a headstart in growth.

How does it work? Follow this guide to learn everything you need to know about grafting a lemon tree.

What Is Grafting?

Grafting is the process of taking a bud from one tree and essentially attaching it to the bark of a tree with an already established root system.

A graft on a tree.  Grafting a lemon tree can be several different ways.

The resulting lemon tree will be just like the one you took the bud from, with the distinct advantage of having strong, healthy roots right from the start.

You can often graft one type of tree onto the root system of another type of tree, although some are compatible and others aren’t.

Why You Should Graft a Lemon Tree

It can be really difficult to grow a lemon tree successfully from seed, and even more difficult to do so and expect lemons. It will also take much longer for your tree to reach maturity when it can bear fruit.

Grafting has been used to propagate fruit trees for many years and is a great way to get your lemon tree off to a great start.

A grafted lemon tree will be more reliable and consistent than a tree grown from seed. You can replicate a healthy, vigorous tree that’s already bearing fruit; you don’t have to worry about genetics and you’ll know what to expect as your grafted lemon tree matures.

You’ll be starting with a robust and established root system, which is incredibly important for growing a lemon tree successfully.

Grafting is such an incredible and valuable technique; you can even graft several different types of trees onto one, growing multiple fruits or flowers on a single tree simultaneously! If you’re just looking to graft a lemon tree, you can also use rootstock from a different type of citrus tree and it should work just fine.

A lemon and blossoms on a tree.

If the idea of having more than one variety of lemon on a single tree appeals to you, read our blog post on 12 Kinds of Lemon Trees.

The Best Time to Graft a Lemon Tree

Timing is important if you want to graft a lemon tree.

Collect the bud during the growing period, when the bark will be easiest to separate and contains the most nutrients. You can do this any time between April and November.

During the summer, between July and September, is when you should start the grafting process itself. This gives the new bud enough time to fully fuse to the host tree before winter hits.

Before You Get Started Grafting a Lemon Tree

Lemon tree grafting can be done in several different ways. They all include different techniques of cutting into the two trees you’ll be grafting together, but some are more advanced and intricate than others.

T-budding is generally regarded as the easiest and most reliable, especially for beginners, so that’s the method detailed in this lemon tree grafting guide.

If you have one, a greenhouse will help your grafted lemon tree grow in a low-stress environment. It’s especially important that your young tree has everything it needs to allow it to grow strong during this crucial period.

What You’ll Need

  • A clean, open space to work in
  • A healthy lemon tree to take the graft, or “budwood”, from; this is called a “scion”
  • A young host lemon tree with established roots, preferably one that will thrive in your climate; this is your “rootstock”
  • A grafting budding knife that’s been sanitized
  • Budding tape
  • Tree wound sealer
  • A Beginner Grafting Kit is relatively inexpensive and has most of this equipment too
  • And if you’re really serious, look at the Zenport ZJ60
Person using a knife to prepare for grafting.

How to Graft a Lemon Tree Step By Step

Select Your Budwood

Inspect the scion for a round, budding stem that is beginning to harden.

Using a very sharp, clean knife, cut it from the tree. Trim your budwood to between 8 and 12 inches in length and remove the leaves to help the cutting retain moisture.

Be ready to graft the budwood as soon as possible, preferably as soon as you’ve finished gathering it or within the same day.

However, if you can’t use it right away, you can store cut budwood in a sealed bag and keep it in the refrigerator. Check it regularly for mold or too much moisture, and be sure to use it within 3 months.

Prepare Your Rootstock

Carefully cut vertically one inch into the rootstock bark on a healthy stem about 6 inches up from the ground.

At the base of this cut, make another horizontal cut to form an upside-down “T”. You should cut just deep enough that you’ll be able to gently lift the two flaps of bark a little bit to expose the flesh of the tree.

Choose and Prepare a Bud

Select a bud from the budwood you cut and remove it with about an inch of wood and bark attached in one single, smooth cut.

This is important to minimize damage to the bud and give it the best chance of grafting successfully.

Join the Bud to the Rootstock

Push the extra inch of wood and bark of the bud under the flaps cut into the rootstock until the sliver of bark is fully enclosed in the “T”.

There should be as much contact between the bark and flesh of both plants as possible.

A diagram of the t-budding method of grafting.

Wrap the Grafted Area

With the budwood firmly inserted into the rootstock, wrap the graft with budding tape, leaving the bud itself exposed.

Make sure to go around a few times above and below the grafted area so it’s secure and there’s optimal constant contact between the flesh of the budwood and rootstock. This will allow the two plants to fuse completely, and the tape will keep moisture in while providing support to the fragile graft area.

The tape will also protect the exposed cut flesh from pests and diseases until the bark grows over it.

Monitor and Remove the Tape

Monitor your grafted lemon tree’s progress.

You’ll know the graft is working if the bud remains green and healthy, which tells you that it’s receiving moisture and nutrients from the rootstock.

Remove the budding tape within 30 days, at which point the graft should be healed over and complete.

Stimulate Growth

Measure about an inch and a half directly above the graft on the same side and cut the rootstock 2/3 of the way through. This will help stimulate the tree and graft to grow more vigorously.

Lean the rootstock over until it’s flat on the ground and let it continue to grow.

Trim the Rootstock

Once the grafted bud is about 3 to 4 inches long, cut the rootstock off about an inch above the graft so that the bud you grafted on will continue to grow as the main part of the tree.

Remove any rootstock buds that pop up so they don’t compete with your grafted tree.

Plant Your Grafted Lemon Tree

Plant your newly grafted lemon tree in a spot with plenty of sun, well-draining and fertilized soil, and protection from wildlife that will seek out the tender leaves and buds to munch on.

You want the tree to be well-prepared for winter if you live in an area where it gets cold so it can really thrive the following spring.

Congratulations, you’ve successfully grafted a lemon tree! Your new tree will still be small with a lot of growing to do, so it will likely be a couple of years before you can expect it to bear fruit.

Give Grafting Lemon Trees a Try

Lemon tree grafting might seem like something only professionals can do, but it’s much simpler than you might think.

Two lemons on a tree.

You can even practice the technique on any other woody plants with similar bark until you get the hang of it before getting to work with your grafted lemon tree.

If you’re lucky, maybe you have a friend with healthy lemon trees who will gift you rootstock and budwood so you can grow your own delicious lemons. Alternatively, contact local farms to see if they would be willing to sell you the budwood, rootstock, or both. They’ll likely have helpful advice for you as well.

Now that you’ve successfully learned how to graft a lemon tree, head over to our Lemon Trees page to read up on how to care for lemon trees and grow lemons at home!