Lemons are the perfect fruit to have on hand, with their bright color, perfectly small size, and versatility in the kitchen. They’re beautifully fragrant and will almost certainly level up your cooking. Plus, you can grow a lemon tree yourself!
That might sound intimidating, but we’re here to show you it can be done and to also share the best practices when it comes to planting lemons.
Read on to learn everything you need to know about how to plant a lemon tree.
What to Consider Before Planting A Lemon Tree
As many home growers with experience planting lemon trees may tell you, lemon trees are one of the more forgiving citrus plants. They’re relatively low maintenance, as long as you can provide direct sunlight, good air circulation, and the right amount of nutrients.
Additionally, lemon trees are self-pollinating, so you only need one.
Lemon trees grow best in sub-tropical climates, with warm weather, full sun, and humidity. But, if this doesn’t sound like where you live, there are still plenty of ways you can plant them. Just keep in mind that planting lemon trees in a colder climate requires some extra materials and care.
How to Plant a Lemon Tree
1. Choose Your Lemon Tree
Choosing the right type of lemon tree is the first step to successfully growing the fruit. Different varieties offer different flavors and sizes, and they have distinct characteristics that may make them more suitable to one climate over another.
For more information on the different varieties to choose from, visit our blog about Different Types of Lemon Trees.
Before planting lemon trees, you should also decide whether to start with seeds or with a young tree that has already begun to grow. If you start from seeds, it will likely take anywhere from two to five years before your tree bears fruit. However, because of variations in the plant’s genes, it’s also possible that your tree never produces fruit. For these reasons, many home growers opt to purchase a lemon tree from a nursery instead of starting from scratch.
2. Choose Where to Plant Your Lemon Tree
When thinking about how to plant a lemon tree, it’s important to consider where you’re going to do so. Lemon trees can be grown outdoors, indoors, in the ground, or in a pot, so there are many options to choose from.
Planting a lemon tree outdoors is a great option for those in warmer climates and with longer growing seasons. These plants require full, direct sunlight and humidity, which is often easier to achieve outside.
On the flip side, planting lemon trees indoors may be preferable if you want more control over the climate, especially if you live somewhere cold or want to start growing your tree before spring arrives. It’s also a good option if you have limited space. Just make sure to pick a spot near a window that gets plenty of direct sunlight.
However, despite these benefits, there are key drawbacks. Lemon trees in containers are more susceptible to issues like drought, cold, and sucker branches, so you’ll want to keep a close eye on your plant and ensure it has the proper care it needs.
3. Decide When to Plant Your Tree
Lemon trees thrive in warmer weather, so it’s usually best to plant them in the spring. However, this timing can vary based on the climate you’re in, whether you plan to grow your tree indoors or outdoors, and the type of lemon tree you are growing.
Typically, if you’re planting a lemon tree outside, you should aim to plant it after the threat of frost has passed. However, if you live in places like Florida or Texas where it doesn’t get cold enough for frost, you can plant your tree any time of the year.
Similarly, if you choose to plant a lemon tree indoors, you won’t need to worry about frost and can plant it at any time.
Check out our guide on The Best Time to Plant a Lemon Tree for more in-depth information.
4. Plant Your Tree
Now that you’ve chosen a type of lemon tree, where to plant it, and when to plant it, you are ready to begin! Of course, how to plant a lemon tree will depend on all of these factors, but I’ll walk you through the main steps and considerations for each option.
If you’re starting with a potted tree and planting it outdoors, start by prepping the tree for this transition. Choose a spot that has direct sunlight and high ground (where the tree will be as warm as possible), and keep the potted plant there for at least two weeks, to allow it to get used to its new environment.
When you’re ready to transfer the tree to the ground, dig a hole that is as deep as the plant’s root ball. Place the tree in the hole, loosen the roots, and replace the soil you removed. Add compost, water it thoroughly, and apply a layer of mulch to keep the moisture in.
If you’re planting multiple lemon trees outdoors, plant them at least 12 feet apart to give them adequate space to grow.
But if the outside isn’t an option for you, you may be wondering how to plant a lemon tree indoors. Planting your lemon tree inside your home is similar, but you’ll need to start with a pot.
When selecting a pot, there are a few considerations to keep in mind. First, select a deep pot that has holes that allow water to drain, so your plant doesn’t get waterlogged. Next, make sure to select the correct size for your pot. If you start with a young tree (as opposed to seeds), start with a pot that is eight to 12 inches in diameter. You should gradually increase the size of the pot as your tree grows and matures.
Once you’ve selected your pot, fill it about halfway with soil, making sure to lightly pack it down. This added soil will give your lemon tree support as it grows. Remove your tree from its nursery pot, loosen the roots, and place it in the new pot. Add more soil, leaving a couple of inches at the top for watering. Water your tree immediately.
Caring for Your Lemon Tree
Soil & Fertilizer
Lemon trees thrive in fertile soil with slight acidity. A proper fertilizer will ensure your plant has the right nutrients and pH level it needs to thrive.
Citrus fertilizer should be rich in nitrogen, so look for the NPK (Nitrogen-Phosphorous-Potassium) ratio on the packaging. The higher the number, the higher the concentration of these nutrients, so look for a fertilizer with the highest number first. Whichever you choose, the NPK ratio should not be any higher than 8-8-8.
To learn more about fertilizers and choose the best one, visit our Lemon Tree Fertilizer page.
Like other types of citrus trees, lemon trees need just the right amount of water. This makes things tricky because either too much or too little water can bring about your tree’s downfall.
The amount of water your tree needs depends on its age, where it’s planted, the type of lemon tree, and other conditions like humidity. But, generally speaking, you should water your tree every other day for the first two weeks after planting, and then water one to two times per week after that.
If your tree doesn’t have enough water, it will show signs of distress. When lemon trees dry out, the next time you water them, they will lose some leaves. The more leaves they lose, the more dried out they were.
Similarly, if your lemon tree has too much water, its leaves will turn yellow and fall off. Whether your tree is planted indoors or outdoors, ensure that it has proper drainage so it does not get bogged down by too much water.
Lemon trees are tropical fruits that need proper humidity to thrive. If you’re planting your tree indoors, a humidifier or humidity tray can help.
Humidifiers can be placed near the plant to keep the air moist. But, you may not want the rest of your space to be humid, too. In this case, a humidity tray may be a better option. To create a humidity tray, place a wide tray with pebbles underneath your pot. As the water evaporates from the tray, it will keep the area around your plant moist.
Lemon trees may need mild pruning from time to time, to ensure the plant stays strong and produces quality fruit. Remove leaves that turn brown and branches that appear weak. You may also consider removing taller branches that block light from the rest of the plant.
If you are pruning your lemon tree, I recommend doing so after the harvest, or when the plant is producing flowers (most likely in the early spring). This way, you’ll give your tree plenty of time to grow back before it bears fruit again.
Diseases & Pests
The downside to planting lemon trees is that they can be subject to diseases and pests.
Diseases to watch out for are citrus canker, mold, root rot, and fungi, which can all damage various parts of your plant. Lemon trees are also prone to pests like aphids and citrus leaf miners. Fortunately, many of these problems are treatable if you catch them in time, so make sure to familiarize yourself with common issues and keep a close eye on your trees.
For more information on diagnosing and treating diseases, read our explainer on Lemon Tree Diseases.
Harvesting Your Lemon Tree
As your tree grows fruit, you may start to wonder when to pick your lemons. Lemons are best picked when they are yellow-green in color, firm, and glossy on the outside. They will continue to ripen off the tree, so there’s no need to wait until it’s fully yellow. Wait until it’s completely yellow and becomes soft, and it may be too late.
If you’re still not sure about when to pick your lemons, visit our When to Pick Lemons page.
To harvest your lemons, pick the ripe fruits by gently twisting them until they break off from the tree. You can also use pruning shears if you prefer. Either way, be careful not to tug too hard, or you’ll risk damaging your plant.
For more details, check out our in-depth guide on How to Harvest Lemons.
Ready to Start Planting a Lemon Tree?
Now you know everything you need to know about how to plant a lemon tree, and you can get started on this beautiful, fragrant addition to your home garden!
Ready to dive even deeper into everything there is to know about lemon trees? Visit our lemon trees page for more tips, recipes, varieties, frequently asked questions, and more!