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How to Grow Citrus Trees from Seed - How to Get the Pips from Lemons or Oranges to Germinate

Updated on November 18, 2013
Lime tree
Lime tree

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!

Sprouting lemon

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.

One year old citrus seedling
One year old citrus seedling

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.

When they are joined, wrap the join well with grafting tape to create a seal, and let Mother Nature do the rest.

You will know your graft has taken when the grafted part grows new buds and leaves.

Had to take this picture really quickly as it is absolutely freezing just now!
Had to take this picture really quickly as it is absolutely freezing just now!


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?


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    • Lisabean2202 profile image

      Lisa Auger 

      16 hours ago from Las Vegas, NV

      This was a really neat article to read. Thanks! My neighbor has several lemon trees and I think the kids would love to sprout some of the seeds and try to grow one!

    • Deborah Minter profile image

      Deborah Minter 

      9 months ago from U.S, California

      Thank you! I've always wanted to know how to sprout lemon seeds. Good article!

    • Richard Peej profile image

      Richard Peej 

      16 months ago from Leicester Uk

      I've just put some lemon seeds in a warm and dark place. I wrapped them is some damp tissue paper and put them in a sealed plastic bag..hoping they sprout in about a week. Your plants are looking great.

    • IzzyM profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from UK

      wow! that was quite a find! I love growing pips into trees and I don't care if they never flower because they make beautiful plants :)

    • Sinea Pies profile image

      Sinea Pies 

      7 years ago from Northeastern United States

      When I was in college I was eating a grapefruit and one seed had germinated. I just put it in the dirt of a houseplant. In a few weeks time, it had to be transplanted for the growth. End of story, it finally was over 6 feet tall and beautiful. I had it in my home and finally gave it away to a friend with a sunporch, where it grew another few feet. They are beautiful plants.

    • profile image

      Well thanks 

      8 years ago

      Yes I just bought a bag of key limes from extra foods. Each one was packed with seeds! I just followed these steps but they seem to be dying now :S Im going to try moving it to a bigger pot this weekend.

    • IzzyM profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from UK

      You have seeds in your limes? I have searched everywhere to find a lime with a pip in it to no avail.

      I cannot possibly guess what is wrong with your plant. Overwatering? Underwatering? Pot-bound? Too great a temperature between day and night time? Or maybe it was a weak seedling anyway and not destined to survive. Sorry can't help further.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I sprouted a key lime from seed and it was doing well. However just now the ends of the leaves are turning yellow and withering? I live in Canada so that may be a problem but it's always nice and toasty in the kitchen. Any ideas?

    • IzzyM profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from UK

      Absolutely works with all citrus fruit! Before I left UK I had a 15 year old orange tree I called Jaffa. It never flowered in all that time. They'll be fine in the UK if they are kept in a largely frost-free environment - they can take a touch of frost, but not a severe one.I haven't noticed a fragrance of them, but then again mine weren't flowering.

    • profile image

      Indoor Greenhouse Guy 

      8 years ago

      Very interesting hub! Do you think this would work with other citrus such as orange? I'd love to try this out but i'm not sure that it'd survive in my mild climate (uk). Do any citrus plants give off a fragrance while they're young?

    • IzzyM profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from UK

      I'm probably your mother's age, and I'd never seen such a thing before!

      Growing pips into trees is basically a child's hobby, but we are all a child at heart, and it's great fun along the way! If you are into plants of course.

      Thanks for your comment :)

    • Aya Katz profile image

      Aya Katz 

      8 years ago from The Ozarks

      IzzyM, this is a great hub with wonderful potential as a child's science project. I myself don't have a green thumb, but my mother is a great gardener. She likes to grow trees from seeds. Amazing about those sprouts with no pips growing inside the lemon in the fridge!

    • IzzyM profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from UK

      Alyssa, if you're not already a member of Hubpages (and you're writing now from outside) join up and write some articles about this, with photos and everything. That'd be great because I'd love to see your seedlings, and I bet loads of people would be interested :)

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      A kumquat looks like a tiny orange, bigger than a grape, but smaller than a plum. The limes popped up with the shell of the seed still on it, and after a week or two it fell off and dark green leaves emerged. The kumquats came up very tall with two narrow leaves on top. It also looks like there are darker leaves coming just at the soil line. I wish I could show you pics, I don't know which one is "normal". I just have to wait and see what happens to them.

    • IzzyM profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from UK

      All citrus fruit trees I have grown from seed look the same hen they are tiny. I'm not sure what a kumquat fruit it. We get nisperos here in Spain which I think are either kumquat or loquat and their seedlings are entirely different form the lemon/oranges. Are kumquats citrus? I'm not sure will need to go look it up.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      My lemon tree smells awesome! It's my favorite thing about it! Well, it's not the tree that smells, it's the blossoms. I love it.

      I thought it was interesting that you said all citrus trees look the same. Is that only when they are older? I very recently plated some key lime seeds and kumquat seeds and the seedlings look completely different from one another. It's odd.

      Thanks for all the info!

    • IzzyM profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from UK

      Dunno who told you they give off fragrance, but it's not true. They make lovely plants all the same :)

    • 4FoodSafety profile image

      Kelly Kline Burnett 

      8 years ago from Fontana, WI

      Oh, I want to do this now! Great Hub! I heard lemon trees give off the best fragrance - I have never been near one - the mid western American girl here doesn't get out much or least not enough. Wonderful Hub!

    • IzzyM profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from UK

      It's not even a great photo but if I'd waited until daylight it would have been fine!

      I'd never seen the like before either!

    • C.S.Alexis profile image


      8 years ago from NW Indiana

      I love to grow things and your photo above of the lemon pit was something I have never seen, thanks for taking pictures of it because i may never see this again. Look forward to all you write about plants and growing.

    • IzzyM profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from UK

      Chances are it's not looking well because it was grown originally in a protected environment, like a greenhouse with controlled air, temperature, watering etc and it got a bit of a shock being moved to a home.

      Last March, a year ago, well it is recovering from the shock and sounds like it's going to be OK.

      If the liquid feed is specified on the label as being good for citrus fruit, then apply a little and see how it goes. If the leaves are yellow and otherwise healthy looking, it may be a potassium deficiency. If they are yellow and dying, cut the branch off from where new green healthy shoots develop.

      Keep your tree on the patio once the spring equinox has passed (there may be storms then), and while orange trees don't need much water in hot dry weather, they do need more than their ground-planted compatriots when they are in a container, as those dry out really quickly plus being in a container, their roots can't seek out water, so keep it watered.

      Look for special citrus feeder, but you know I have never fed my trees and they have not died yet - well one did now that you come to mention it LOL, but I think it must have been enfermo when I bought it.

      WTG on the seedlings! One day they might surprise you, but until then they make attractive plants in their own right :)

    • maggs224 profile image


      8 years ago from Sunny Spain

      Hi Izzy I have three little citrus trees that I have grown from seed they must be about two or three years old now, about ten inches to a foot high and like you I will not know what they are until they one day hopefully produce some fruit.

      I also have two little vines growing from seeds of around the same age as the citrus trees. I thought they had died last year and luckily I had not got around to throwing them out when in the spring green leaves began to appear. They looked as good as dead until yesterday when I noticed a little bit of green had appeared on one of them, so hopefully the others will show signs of life soon too.

      I also had an apple tree growing from a pip but that one died after a year. I went through a phase when if I enjoyed a piece of fruit and it had pips in I tried to get the pips to sprout. I am surprised that the citrus trees are still alive because I don’t have a green thumb, in fact I normally kill stuff off when I try to look after it.

      My husband bought me a lovely Orange tree in a large terracotta planter for our 43rd wedding anniversary last March, it was covered in blossom when he gave it to me, but not long afterwards all the blossom fell off. It looks a lot worse now than it did when he gave it me some of the leaves look a little yellow some of the branches are dead. Can you recommend what I should use to feed it? I can see that there are quite a lot of buds forming it would be so lovely to get some fruit this year off it.

      I have got some liquid feed from Domti in Villa but I am afraid to give it to the tree in case I finish it off. I am really pants at gardening and I do so want my Orange tree to thrive.

    • IzzyM profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from UK

      You go girl! The seedling has died now I think anyway. It had no root system to sustain it.

      If you write it, link it here!

    • pigfish profile image


      8 years ago from Southwest Ohio

      I love this Hub, Izzy! It's educational and so personal. The best part about gardening is how gardeners share plants and info and joy. However, that seedling growing inside the lemon has me a little freaked out. Perhaps it's inspiration for a really freaky sci-fi story...

    • IzzyM profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from UK

      It's in a pot and to be honest it looks as if it is dying. Still, never know spring is almost here, it might perk up?

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 

      8 years ago from East Coast, United States

      My sister has a lemon tree that has grown so big, she needs help to bring it in for the winter. It makes a beautiful winter houseplant with its shiny, deep green leaves.

      The sprouting lemon is so cool! I've never seen such a thing. I wonder how it will do.

    • IzzyM profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from UK

      I can imagine! A tree grown from seed passed on to the next generation is a wonderful concept. It becomes so much more than just a tree!

      I think you can take cuttings from citrus fruit trees although I've never been successful myself. A clone of your parents' tree might be even better?

    • nadp profile image


      8 years ago from WEST PALM BEACH, FLORIDA

      I really enjoyed your hub. I have had grapefruit trees that my parents had planted from a seed. After my dad was gone his tree, and the fruit were really special to me.

      Thanks - I may try some of this

    • IzzyM profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from UK

      I've heard of them. just never seen or tried one. For all I know they are sold on the street markets here because there is always fruit I don't recognise for sale, and there is no point in asking their names because the market people don't speak English at all. I'll look them up on google - they sound interesting:)

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      LOL Paw Paws are a N. American citrus indigenous to here only. Kind of like a cross of banana and pear maybe. There is an old song about them.

    • IzzyM profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from UK

      You're welcome and I'm glad the information was useful to you,(your mum) x

    • Rose West profile image

      Rose West 

      9 years ago from Michigan

      Lots of good information! This is just what I needed...actually what my mom needed. She's been wanting to grow some citrus. I'll be sure to pass this article on to her! Thanks!

    • IzzyM profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from UK

      Cheers Charlie:) Bees wax is not something that is readily available where I live, so I just buy the grafting tape that is available. Paw paws? I've never grown them! What are they like?

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      I live too far north for them. Wish I could have them, but I will just settle for my Paw paw, apple trees and such. I like to use bees wax for grafting. Nice hub my Scottish friend and your thumb is most green.


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