Lemon Tree Growth Stages: A Detailed Guide

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Lemon trees are grown throughout the Mediterranean region as well as in other parts of the world with a similar climate, including California, Florida, and Arizona. There are many distinct varieties ranging from tart Bearss lemons to beautifully sweet Meyer lemons. If you live in the south of the U.S., in USDA Hardiness Zones 8-11, you will find that a Bearss, Eureka, Lisbon, or Meyer lemon tree will flourish in your garden. 

Like all plants, the lemon tree starts out as a seed, develops into a sapling, and then grows into a young tree. After a few years, it will start to flower and begin bearing fruit. Your lemons will then mature and ripen. Once they are ripe, you can harvest the mature lemon fruit. Then all that’s left is to squeeze the juice, eat the fruit, or perhaps make lemon marmalade.  

What is a Lemon Tree

A lemon tree is a small to medium-sized evergreen tree that is cultivated for its fruit. It belongs to the Rutaceae family and is scientifically known as Citrus limon

Lemon trees are native to Asia, specifically northeast India, and were introduced and distributed throughout the Mediterranean region thousands of years ago (around 1000 AD). Today, they are grown in various parts of the world with suitable climates.

Lemon trees require a warm and sunny climate to thrive, preferably with mild winters. They are now commonly grown in Mediterranean regions and other subtropical or tropical areas. 

They can also be cultivated in containers and brought indoors in colder climates. Proper care, including regular watering, fertilization, and protection from frost, is essential for healthy growth and fruit production.

A paper written by Jonathan H. Crane, published by the University of Florida Extention’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF IFAS Extension), discusses lemon growing in the Florida home landscape. He states that lemons were introduced to America’s oldest city, St. Augustine in Florida, during the first settlement in the 16th century. 

Sometime between 1751-1768, the lemon tree was introduced into California, where most of the country’s commercial lemon fruit is produced today. Some lemons are grown commercially in Arizona and a very small number in southern Florida. 

Lemon Tree Quick Guide

Growing a lemon tree can be moderately challenging, but it is certainly achievable with the right knowledge and care. Here’s a quick guide to help you know what to expect when growing lemon trees. 

Factors affecting plant growthWhat to know when you grow lemon trees at home
DifficultyModerately difficult but achievable with basic knowledge. 
ClimateWarm subtropical and tropical regions.
SoilWell-drained slightly acidic to neutral soil.
SunlightAt least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight is required daily.
PlantingPlant a healthy nursery-grown tree to ensure you get fruit as quickly as possible. 
WateringRequires regular watering but must not be over-watered. Too much water leads to root rot. 
FertilizerFertilizer regularly with a balanced citrus fertilizer with an NPK ratio of 2:1:1 or 3:1:1.
PruningPrune annually in late winter or early spring to maintain the shape, size, and overall health of your lemon tree.
Pests & diseasesLemon trees are susceptible to various pests and diseases including aphids, scale insects, citrus leaf miners, and fungal diseases. Monitor your tree regularly and treat it as soon as you can. 
HarvestingOnly harvest lemons when they are mature and ripe. 

6 Stages of Lemon Tree Growth

While the life cycle of a lemon tree starts with a seed that germinates and grows into a sapling, it’s a relatively lengthy process that can take as long as one or two years. Then it’s going to take another three to five years of lemon tree growth before it starts bearing fruit.

Also, the seed may not produce a plant that is identical to the parent tree. Lemon trees are usually propagated through grafting or budding to ensure desired traits and characteristics. 

Growing from seed can be fun, but for more consistent results, it is best to buy a lemon sapling from a reputable nursery. Nevertheless, we have included all the lemon tree growing stages from germination of the seed to harvesting the fruit. 

If you decide to plant seeds, plant them in seed trays or pots in well-draining soil.  

No. 1 Germination Stage

The time it takes for a lemon seed to germinate and grow into a sapling can vary. On average, it takes about 2 to 6 weeks, but they may start to germinate within a week. 

Once the seed has germinated, it will start developing into a sapling with roots, a stem, and leaves. After germination, the growth rate of the sapling can also vary depending on various factors, such as growing conditions, temperature, and care provided. 

No. 2 Seedling and Sapling Stages

Generally, it takes several months for a lemon seedling to develop, though it does depend on the specific lemon tree variety. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, or Minnesota DNR, explains that a young seedling is a tree with a diameter of no more than one inch at a point 4½  feet off the ground.

Saplings are larger than those in the seedling stage, with a diameter of one to five inches at a point that is 4½ feet from the ground. Lemon seedlings are usually bare-rooted and contained in plastic bags with foam cells or wet newspaper, while saplings are usually contained in a ball of soil that is wrapped in burlap.

When you buy a sapling from a nursery, it will usually be supplied in a plastic growing bag or a pot. Commonly, young nursery lemon trees are grown in 3-gallon containers and are sold when the tree stands two to four feet from the soil. 

Avoid buying large lemon trees that are in small containers because there’s a good chance they will be “root bound” and may not grow properly once you plant them in the ground. Also, inspect the tree or trees you buy for pests and diseases.  

No. 3 Planting Stage

Even if you are growing your lemon tree from seed, you will want to wait until the seedling or sapling growth stage to plant it in the ground. If you buy a young nursery tree, the same advice is valid. 

Your first step will be to find a suitable location to plant your lemon tree. Jonathan Crane of the UF Extension IFAS recommends planting lemon trees in full sun, at least 15-25 feet away from buildings and other trees. Lemon trees are vigorous growers and crowding can increase disease and insect issues. 

Also, be sure that the spot you choose isn’t prone to flooding or permanently moist soil. The site should have good air circulation but should be protected from cold north winds. 

No. 4 Flowering Stage

The transition from a sapling to a young tree takes anything from three to five years. By this time, tree growth will be obvious, and the tree will be taller and more robust. 

It will also have a well-established root system and a fuller canopy of branches and foliage. The young tree will then be ready to enter the flowering stage. 

It is at this stage that the tree produces fragrant white flowers. These are usually in the form of clusters. 

Pollination is an important part of the flowering stage. However, lemon trees don’t require cross-pollination to set fruit.

Nevertheless, you’ll notice that honey bees and various other insects often visit and feed from open flowers. When they do this, they carry pollen from flower to flower on one tree. 

No. 5 Fruit Development Stage

After successful pollination, the flowers of the lemon tree begin to develop into fruit. Initially, small green fruit forms, and over time, the lemons grow larger and change color. 

The fruit slowly ripens and gains its characteristic yellow color.

No. 6 Harvesting Stage

Lemon trees often have fruit at different stages of their development. This means that lemons will mature at different times. 

Only harvest mature, ripe fruit. 

Lemon Tree Care and Maintenance

Proper care and maintenance are crucial for the health and productivity of lemon trees. Our quick guide gives an indication of what is required for care and maintenance. 

When it comes to fertilization, be aware that lemons generally require more nitrogen for foliage growth. This is why the experts recommend using a fertilizer with an NPK (nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium) ratio of around 2:1:1 or 3:1:1.

Citrus fertilizers typically have a nutrient ratio that suits the nutritional needs of lemon trees. In addition to NPK, they also contain micronutrients like iron, manganese, zinc, and magnesium, which are all essential for healthy lemon tree growth and fruit production.

Mulching is something the quick guide doesn’t mention. It’s a good idea to apply a layer of organic mulch, like wood chips or straw, around the base of the lemon tree to conserve moisture, suppress weeds, and regulate soil temperature. 

In addition to checking for pests and diseases, also check your lemon tree during all the tree growing stages for signs of nutrient deficiencies, diseases, or other issues. Early detection and intervention can help prevent problems from escalating.

How long does it take for a lemon tree to grow?

The time it takes for a lemon tree to grow and reach maturity can vary depending on various factors, including the specific lemon tree variety, growing conditions, and cultural practices. Generally, it takes about three to five years for a lemon tree to reach a stage where it can start producing fruit. 

It is, however, important to realize that significant fruit production may take a few more years. Lemon trees typically reach a stage of maturity where they produce consistent fruit yields.

How do you know when a lemon tree is done growing?

A healthy lemon tree will continue to grow, and produce new leaves, flowers, and fruit year after year. With proper care and maintenance, a mature lemon tree can provide a steady supply of lemons for many years.

If your lemon tree has been consistently producing fruit for several years and there are no significant changes in fruit production or tree size, it may indicate that the tree has finished its primary growth. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that it has “done growing.” 

Many lemons trees will undergo secondary growth, including the development of new shoots, leaves, flowers, and fruit each year. Ongoing care and maintenance such as pruning and providing proper nutrition, are necessary to ensure the continued health and productivity of the tree.

Amazingly, well-cared-for trees have the potential to continue yielding fruit for several decades under optimal growing conditions.

How many lemons do you get per plant?

The number of lemons you can expect from a lemon tree varies depending on many factors including the tree’s age, size, health, variety, and growing conditions. Mature lemon trees in good health and with optimal growing conditions can produce anywhere from 50 to 200 or more lemons in one year, depending on the variety.


The tree growth stages that result in delicious lemons take time. Even if you plant a healthy young, well-established tree, it can take as many as five to eight years before it starts bearing fruit. 

But producing your own fruit is wonderfully rewarding, and can be worth the wait. Why not give it a try?

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