Lemon trees, host plant for the giant swallowtail, are a fun addition to a butterfly garden and can easily be grown in pots. With a little patience, you can learn how to grow a lemon tree from lemons on your own!
Growing lemon trees from lemons is such a fun planting project. And a great lesson in germination. This is a project any gardener will appreciate, but it’s a particularly fun experiment with kids! It’s super simple to grow several lemon tree plants from one lemon, and you can use a normal lemon you find at any grocery store!
Which butterflies lay eggs on lemon trees?
Lemon trees and other citrus plants are one of the giant swallowtail butterfly’s host plants. The larvae are often called lemon tree caterpillars or California orangedogs. Giant swallowtail butterflies are the largest swallowtail species in the United States with a wingspan of up to 6 inches. You’ll also find giant swallowtail eggs and caterpillars on all citrus trees, wild lime, common rue, northern prickly ash, Hercules club and hoptree.
If you want to see actual lemons on your lemon trees, it may take several years. But don’t worry, lemons aren’t necessary to attract giant swallowtails! Lemon trees are self-pollinating, so you won’t need multiple trees to produce fruit, but they mostly rely on insects to do the pollinating. For this reason, indoor lemon trees aren’t likely to produce fruit.
Lemon trees do make great indoor trees during the winter months (or all year round if you aren’t trying to attract butterflies). They can definitely be a nice addition to your home decor! With several lemon seeds in each lemon, you’ll have enough to start indoor and outdoor trees if you like!
Supplies for growing a lemon tree from lemon seeds:
- Lemons (1 or 2 is enough – you’ll find plenty of seeds!)
- Sandwich bag
- Paper Towels
- Spray bottle with water (optional)
- Water bottles or other small planters to start your seeds
How to harvest the lemon seeds
Cut your lemons into quarters and gently remove the seeds. One or two lemons will provide more than enough seeds. This part of the process will be a little messy and the seeds will be slippery, so you may want to do it outside or on a towel.
Once all the seeds are removed, rinse the seeds then peel off the outer layer of skin. This will allow them to germinate more easily in the next step. Not all the seeds will germinate, so make sure you collect several. It may take a little practice to get them peeled. I found it easiest to start at the tip of the seed and pry the white skin apart there with my finger nails, then peel it off.
Use the paper towel method to germinate the lemon seeds
Next spread out the seeds on a paper towel and lightly spray them with water. Gently fold the paper towel a few times and spray it again to ensure the entire thing is wet.
Place the paper towel wrapped seeds inside a sandwich bag and seal it. Store it in a dark, warm spot and wait. I put mine on top of my countertop microwave. Just avoid storing your seeds anywhere cold or drafty.
Plant the germinated lemon seeds
Check on your seeds after 7-14 days. Gently unwrap the moist paper towel. If you see roots sprouting from the seeds, they’re ready to plant!
An easy way to plant the seeds is to use recycled water bottles. Cut the top of the water bottle about 3/4 of the way down and use scissors to poke holes in the bottom for drainage. Alternatively you can buy small plastic nursery pots, but the water bottles work perfectly fine!
Fill your makeshift planters with soil and place the seeds about an inch deep into the soil. Gently pat soil down on top of the seeds. I originally planted a couple seeds in each of my water bottle planters, so you can do that or just plant one per bottle.
Caring for your lemon tree
Keep your soil moist for the first few weeks and place your seeds near a window with filtered light. After a few weeks, you’ll see your lemon tree plant poking through the soil at last!
As your lemon tree grows, it will be happier in a full sun spot. Gradually move your tree to a sunnier location as it grows. Lemon trees are tropical plants that love a lot of sunlight and moisture, so also be sure to keep the soil moist as it grows, never letting it dry out completely.