Subscribe for 33¢ / day

You can't plant a lemon seed to grow a lemon tree. Sure, that seed will grow, but it probably won't produce fruit. Yet day after day I see these ideas online, presented as though they were viable options. Perhaps it's just young folks with little gardening under their belts hoping to find a trendy new way to grow things.

Fruit seed is the result of sexual reproduction in plants, which, like human children, are each a unique creation. Asexual propagation of a fruit tree is making a copy of the original that is genetically identical, just like a clone. Here's why you need to understand the difference:

Let's say that seed came from a Meyer lemon, which was discovered by Frank Meyer around 1908. Plants were brought from China to the U.S., where they were grown to yield lots of cuttings for identical copies of the original plant. Often these are grafted onto a rootstock to create marketable plants using less plant material.

While this lemon plant produces consistently good fruit, the seed inside that fruit should be considered a whole new variety that is yet unknown. Each seed will contain an unpredictable collection of genetic traits gleaned from a much larger gene pool. These characteristics may include wickedly barbed branches, bitter citronlike flesh and marble-sized fruit. Every seed from that Meyer lemon will yield a different tree altogether.

So growing a fruit tree from fruit seed is unlikely to produce a plant that will yield edible fruit. Fruit varieties grown today are the results of years, even decades, of breeding to create that supersweet apricot or seedless grape.

Nearly every fruit tree sold today is grafted, including Meyer lemons. This begins with a rootstock, which growers like for its vigor and rooting strength as well as its resistance to certain diseases. If left to grow, it would be rank, lanky, thorny and may not produce any fruit. But whack off the top of that rootstock and insert a piece, or "scion," of Meyer into the cleft and they'll grow together.

Everything above this graft point is going to produce Meyer lemons. Everything that grows below it will be rootstock and should be cut off promptly so it does not draw off energy that should be going to the Meyer part of the tree. If left to siphon away the life from the Meyer portion, this scion will die and the rootstock takes over.

Many new gardeners who think they can grow a lemon from seed also wonder why their older trees aren't producing. The truth is the trees are often the thriving rootstock that survived while the scion died out long ago; they will never yield edible fruit.

With so much gardening information floating around on the Internet, be careful what you believe. Strive to obtain your knowledge from local experts who have a life of experience in your microclimate. Otherwise you may wait many years for that lemon tree to produce fruit, only to discover that it never will.

Maureen Gilmer is an author, horticulturist and landscape designer. Learn more at Contact her at or P.O. Box 891, Morongo Valley, CA 92256.

Subscribe to Breaking News

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Load comments