How to Grow Citrus Trees from Seed - How to Get the Pips from Lemons or Oranges to Germinate
Did you ever try growing plants from the pips found in lemons and oranges? It's talked about in kids books as a fun thing to try. I started doing it as a kid and I've grown all sorts of citrus trees all my life, but I have no fruiting trees to show for it because I moved house so much I kept giving them away!
Those past couple of years I have been been growing them again, seeing I now live in a country where they have every chance of fruiting as the outdoor conditions are ideal for them.
In my garden, I have 5 grafted citrus trees growing quite happily (shop bought) so when my citrus seedlings are big enough I can graft a good fruiting variety on to them if they don't show any signs of flowering themselves.
The lime tree in this picture has to be grown by grafting; limes do not have seeds.
What is the best way to grow seedlings from pips?
I have always found the best way is to soak the seeds in water until they sprout. This may mean several changes of water until this happens. There is no point leaving seeds in water that has clouded and gone smelly as they would likely die if they tried to germinate in that.
Some seeds will never sprout because they were not mature enough when taken from the fruit. Others come out of the fruit already sprouted.
Some seeds in this picture have sprouted, but they are apple seeds. That's another story!
The most amazing sight I ever saw was when I cut open a lemon last week to find I had accidentally cut a green shoot inside the lemon in half.
But there was another one there undamaged. I took those photographs. Unfortunately the resolution is poor but theshoot can still be clearly seen. I carefully cut it away from the fruit to find the shoot is growing from the fleshy pith with no sign of a pip. Strange!
I've potted it up anyway but I don't expect it to survive.
A neighbour gave me the lemon from one of his trees and it spent a couple of weeks in the fridge before I opened it.
This lemon also contained pips from which green leaves were bursting forth. I have them in water right now and will plant them when I see a root shoot being sent out.
To be honest, I have never seen this happening before. I have another lemon in the fridge from the same batch, and I am dying to open it to see if the same surprise is inside it.
So you seeds have sprouted, what now?
Plant it in a smallish pot with potting compost and keep well-watered. They can handle drying out between waterings, but not drought. Underwatered they will quickly shrivel and die.
I never know whether I am growing a lemon or an orange, or even a mandarin, because I always forget which seeds are which. The pips look the same, and so do the plants, so if if you really want to know you will need to label them, right from when you first put the seeds in a container of water.
If you plan to grow the seedlings only as rootstock on which to graft a known fruiting variety, then it is really not going to matter what seedling you have. All citrus fruits are interchangeable. They can all be grafted on to each other.
It is possible to have a single tree that fruits lemons, oranges, grapefruit, mandarins,clementines and limes. In fact I have read about one person in America who has a tree with 200 different varieties of citrus fruits grafted on to it.
How to graft citrus trees?
The ideal time to graft is when your seedlings are about pencil thick. Take a section of a fruiting plant - difficult if you do not live in a area where they grow, but there are dwarf citrus trees cultivated to grow in conservatories for sale practically anywhere in the world now - and cut the bark the same way as shown here.
There are various methods. The idea is to join the cambium from one stalk, to the cambium from another. They must be exactly aligned. The cambium is the part inside the stalk or stem where the juices flow that keep the tree alive. You will need to cut through the outer bark to reach it.
There are various methods of joins, read the link below to learn about them. All I would add here is that the join must be done quickly as the cambium starts to dry from the moment it is exposed to air.
You will know your graft has taken when the grafted part grows new buds and leaves.
Of course it may be you don't want to graft and just let nature take it's course. I had an 18 year old orange tree in my last house that I had grown from seed. He was maybe 4 feet high and never flowered, but we named him Jaffa and he was part of the family. Unfortunately we had to leave him behind when we moved abroad due to restrictions on plant movements.
I have a new Jaffa now that I bought as a young grafted plant 6 years ago. He has only ever produced one fruit in all that time, so would probably benefit from a fresh graft from a good fruiting plant.
Winter is the best time to graft when the plants are dormant.
Citrus tree care
Frost will kill your citrus trees, so keep them in a warm place, keep them well-watered with lots of sunshine, and they will eventually reward you with fresh fruit year after year.
Slices of lemon, orange and lime can all be added to alcoholic drinks for added zest, or make your own freshly squeezed fruit juices for the family.
A half lemon placed inside a roasting chicken keeps it moist, and how can you make lemon meringue pie without lemons?