Lemon Tree Growth Stages

Understanding the life cycle of a lemon tree will help you be a better gardener. What are its growth stages?

Lemon trees mature faster than other citrus trees and can start bearing fruit a few years after planting. A lemon tree’s growth stages generally start from seed germination until fruiting. It’s crucial to understand the growth of a lemon tree so that you know what to expect during each period. 


The cream-colored yellow or greenish seeds are tiny, have pointy ends, and are smooth. Lemon seeds can germinate in as little as a week if conditions are favorable. Germination can be seen in as little as five days.

The germination of the seed marks the beginning of the growth of your lemon tree and is when the seed begins to develop roots and tiny leaves.

Young Seedling 

Lemon seeds sprout as they develop into small plants, forming roots, reasonably soft stalks, and more leaves. 

The lemon tree begins to produce more mature, green leaves at this point, and the stalk becomes stronger. Young seedlings need three months to mature before being transplanted into the garden or a larger container.

young lemon seedling in a paper cup for germination


Lemon tree seedlings will grow steadily as saplings and should be protected from the cold. They grow stronger trunks, thicker foliage, and thorns on their branches as they mature. 

After one or two years, the seedling grows into a mature plant and prepares to undergo the flowering process. Lemon trees can bear fruit in their second year; they don’t stay young for long.

young lemon plant in the garden

Bud Formation

When the tree is between two and five years old, it will begin to generate buds that will develop into flowers. The buds emerge during the winter and will bloom when the weather warms up in the spring.

The light purple and white flower buds open to reveal five white petals, a female-gendered pistil, and numerous pollen-carrying stamens. 

flowering and budding lemon plant

Flowering and Fruiting

A lemon tree is usually between three and five years old when it begins to develop fruit. The flowering and fruiting stages happen annually after the tree matures.

Flowers appear above the leaves on sun-drenched branches in spring and early summer. These self-fertile flowers will eventually produce fruits. The more blooms on your tree, the more fruits you will be able to harvest. 

Shortly after pollen reaches the pistil, the ovary is fertilized. A developing lemon can be seen peeking out from the center of the flower when it is fully opened.

little white lemon flower

Cell Expansion

The fruit grows rapidly for four to six months as the fruit’s cells take in more water and swell. Many fleshy, juice-filled segments with seeds form in the fruit. The peel or rind is green at first, similar to the leaves, but it progressively turns yellow as it grows to about 3 to 4 inches in diameter.


Lemons can mature in four months to a year, depending on where they are planted. When fully ripe, it turns a yellow color,  its shape changes, and its skin becomes smooth. At this point, the lemons should be ready for picking. In the winter, the mature tree’s fruiting phase will slow.

ripe lemons ready for harvest


The lemon tree will continue growing and producing lemons until it reaches old age. Fruits turn brown at the final stage of lemon tree development. The fruits will fall off the tree if you do not pluck them. Finally, the leaves will deteriorate, the fruits will wither, and the tree trunk also becomes darker in color.

Alaine Connolly
Alaine has been working way too hard in horticulture since 1992, beautifying golf courses, resorts, and hotels. She is a part time landscape designer who works full time caring for a 28,000 square foot public garden. At home, she maintains her own 400 square feet plot. Alaine lives in northern Illinois - zone 5b.
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