The 6 Lemon Growth Stages

Lemons are only hardy in USDA zones 8-11, so most parts of the country can’t grow them outside. There is a long tradition of growing lemon trees indoors, however, so don’t despair if you live in a cold area. Most people grow ‘Ponderosa’ or ‘Meyer’ lemons indoors. I will use Meyer lemons for this guide. 

Important Lemon Facts

Scientific Name Citrus × meyeri 
Type of plant Tree 
Part Eaten fruit 
Days to Harvest Nine months from bloom 
Season Grown Spring, Summer, Fall 
Cooked or raw either 
Optimal pH 5.5-6.5 
Germinate at  70 F 
Optimal Temperature for growth Minimum of 65 F day, 55F night 

Lemons grow on a tree. There are dwarf versions that are small enough to grow indoors in a pot. Most people put the pot outdoors when it warms up in the spring, then bring it back in when it starts to get cold. A lemon takes five to nine months from flower to harvest. Lemons are acid-loving plants, so use a potting mix with peat moss in it to acidify it. Use fertilizers for acid-loving plants. 

The 6 Lemon Growth Stages

Growth Stage Days after Planting For the Stage to Start* 
Seedling 5-14 days 
Sapling 365 days 
Flowering 1470 days + (about three to four years old) 
Fruit Development 1480 days + 
Harvest Five to nine months from flowering 

*The exact time depends on the variety. 

Germinating A Lemon Tree

You can grow a lemon seed into a plant. The plant will not be exactly like its parent because lemons under cultivation are hybrids. In addition, plants grown from seed seldom grow up and have lemons. They remain stunted and rarely flower. For this reason, most lemon trees are reproduced by cuttings or bought as saplings.  

However, if you want to start with a seed, plant it ¼ inch deep in a soilless potting mix for acid-loving plants. It can take up to six weeks for the seed to germinate. Keep the potting mix moist and in a warm place. I cover the pot with clear plastic wrap to keep the humidity high. Check the pot every day after one week and remove the plastic wrap as soon as you see a seedling. 

Lemon Seedlings

A seedling is less than an inch in diameter at four feet off the ground. Lemon trees stay seedlings for about a year. Many people buy bare-root seedlings to plant when they are one year old. These plants are dormant and need to be planted when it is cold outside. You should only plant a lemon tree outside if you live where the winters are warm (no colder than 22F), such as Florida or parts of California and Texas.  

Otherwise, you can buy a potted dwarf lemon that is a seedling or a sapling to grow inside in the winter and outside in the summer. Both seedlings and saplings will be grafted. Seedlings should be protected from rabbits and other animals who might eat the tender bark. Their growth rate depends on temperature, watering, and fertilizer. Remove any sprouts on the trunk under the graft. Seedlings do not need much pruning. Cut out dead or crossing branches, and you are good for the year. 

Lemon Saplings

Once the lemon tree is over an inch in diameter at four feet off the ground, it is a sapling. Meyer lemon trees, and other lemons, will develop very sharp thorns at this time. Be careful to wear thick gloves and handle the tree carefully, or you will get stabbed. It will take the sapling three to five years to start producing flowers. While you wait, be sure to water the tree enough to keep the soil moist and fertilize it with a fertilizer for acid-loving plants. Many people buy a four-foot grafted tree so they can skip this and previous steps and go directly to flowering. Saplings do not need much pruning either. Cutting out dead, diseased, or crossing branches is sufficient for plant health. 

Smell the Heavenly Aroma of Lemon Flowers

Lemons start flowering when they are three to five years old. They flower any time of the year on indoor trees. Most blossoms are in the spring, however. The blossoms smell very nice and are white and pretty.  

Lemon flowers are self-fertile, so you only need one lemon tree for the flowers to produce fruit. If you place your lemon tree outside during the summer, insects will pollinate the flowers for you. If you keep the tree in the house all the time, you will have to run a small paintbrush over the flower clusters to spread the pollen. Many of the blossoms will fall off without forming a lemon. This is normal. Lemon trees do not like change, so moving blooming trees causes many of the flowers to fall off.  

Fruit Development Takes Five to Nine Months

Once the flower is pollinated, it will set the fruit, which will start growing. Lemon trees have many more small fruits than they can bring to maturity, so many fruits will end up on the ground. This is normal. Bringing all these fruits to harvest would overload the branches and break them.  

The fruit will take from five to nine months to grow and mature, depending on growing conditions. It will change color from green to a bright yellow when it is ready to be harvested. Until then, try to minimize the changes in water, fertilizer, and temperature so the tree doesn’t drop the fruit. Harden the tree off before moving it outside for the summer. When you move the tree inside, place it where it gets bright sun at least six hours a day.  

If your house has low humidity, misting the leaves will add humidity around the tree. You can also put a pebble tray under the pot. Use a saucer bigger around than the pot the tree is in. Fill it with pebbles. Pour enough water into the saucer to only leave the tops of the pebbles visible. As the water evaporates, it creates a humid microclimate that the lemon tree will appreciate. Remember to add more water as it evaporates to keep the humidity high. 

Harvesting Your Lemons

When the lemon is a bright yellow, cut the lemon stem off the tree as close to the lemon as possible. Pulling the lemons off may damage the branch and may make flowers and fruit on it fall. You may have lemons in many different sizes and ripeness on the tree at the same time. The tree may even be flowering while ripe lemons are on it.  

Storage Instructions

Meyer lemons have a thinner skin than other lemons. Lemons may be stored on the counter for up to two weeks. They will last in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to six weeks. Warm lemons produce more juice, so let them come up to room temperature before using them. Meyer lemons make a nice lemon pie as they are not as acidic as other lemons. 

Collecting Seeds

If you want lemon seeds to plant, just save some when you cut the ripe lemon open to use it. Wash them off and allow them to dry on a paper towel. Store them in a glass jar or a paper envelope in a cool, dry place until you plant them. Remember, lemons are hybrids, so the seeds will not produce a plant just like the parent. They germinate easily, however, so are a good seed for a child to plant. 

In conclusion, lemon trees go through six stages, from germination to harvest. Lemon trees do not like cold weather. Many people buy potted dwarf lemons to grow inside when it is cold and outside in the summer. Lemon trees are usually three to five years old before they have lemons. Many lemons fall from the tree before ripening. Only a few will make it all the way to harvest. 

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Stephanie Suesan Smith

Stephanie Suesan Smith has a Ph.D. in psychology that she mainly uses to train her dog. She has been a freelance writer since 1991. She has been writing for the web since 2010. Dr. Smith has been a master gardener since 2001 and writes extensively on gardening. She has advanced training in vegetables and entomology but learned to garden from her father. You can see her writing samples at, and her vegetable blog at

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