Why is my lemon tree not growing any branches?

MajandraApril 2, 2011

I have two lemon trees on my balcony, about 1,5 year old that grew out of seeds (found sprouting seeds inside of a very large lemon from someones lemon tree). It was fun to watch them grow but I realized that they are not growing any lateral branches. One tree is about 4 feet tall and the other one is very small for some reason. What should I do to have them start growing side branches and hopefully bloom someday??I am new to gardening and only planted these lemon seeds because they were sprouting and I thought it would be fun to have lemon trees and see if they would actually grow out of those seeds. Now I am much more involved and would like to take a better care of them.

Thank you for all responses and advices:)

Here is a picture of my young lemon trees. Maybe it will help:

Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Fertilize and stuff like that works pretty well. Urine is great for increasing the branching and foliage, by the way, but after the tree has obtained a good size and is blooming, it could throw off the balance of roots/leaves. Not sure how to explain, but a little urine is great to get it going, if you have any available at your house.

    Bookmark   April 2, 2011 at 7:27PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Thank you kumquat1 for your advices. Urine sounds a little unexpected:) but whatever it takes to get these babies to grow. I heard about pruning lemon trees but I assume there is nothing to prune here. Unless just the top of the trees but I guess that could kill them...

    Bookmark   April 2, 2011 at 7:35PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I also wanted to ask if anyone have an idea what kind of lemon trees these could be? I used seeds from a very large lemons (actually the biggest i have seen so far) that my friend had at home. I don't know from what kind of lemon tree these lemons came. I am not sure but after seeing pictures of different lemon trees it seems like these will grow pretty big...

    Bookmark   April 2, 2011 at 8:10PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
raisefire(Zone 8)

Nice trees. Once the leaves fall off that are on there now they will generally start growing branches from those spots. Don't prune your trees because citrus require a certain amount of leaf nodes vertically ( amount of leaves on the tree) before producing fruit. Lemons with good care can start to produce fruit anywhere from 5 yrs to 10 yrs. Make sure they are in well drained potting mix. You can search this forum for a good mix. Also you need to fertilize them regularly. Search forums for fertilizers. About urin, I don't know much about it and personally wouldn't use it.

    Bookmark   April 3, 2011 at 8:36AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
puglvr1(9b central FL)

I am NOT suggesting you do this to your Lemon tree...but just wanted to share with you what I did to my Mango tree...when I wanted a tall lanky tree to be much shorter and bushier. I call this method "pugging" aka hard pruning.

Usually mango trees will branch out on their own...but I wanted to keep this tree "short" and it was already too tall for my liking so I chopped it off...a couple of months later I got a much shorter tree with nice branches, new growths emerged from the trunk and leaf nodes...

Here's some pictures (Mango tree) to show you what I mean...

This tree was almost 6ft tall...

Took it down to 2ft...

8-10 weeks later...

    Bookmark   April 3, 2011 at 9:13AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
andrewofthelemon(7b Central Arkansas)

lol, pugging makes me laugh everytime i see it...al my citrus have relatively good branching...except my little baby key lime >.> He might get pugged some day

    Bookmark   April 3, 2011 at 11:17AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Thank you for all advices. I will probably just wait and let the tree start growing branches on its own. will look for some fertilizers. I use some blue sticks that i put in the soil every 2 months and the are supposed to feed the trees. Not sure if these are fertilizers or just food for them.

puglvr1 really nice mango tree you have. This is more what i wpuld expect my lemon trees to look like but i will let them grow and see what happens. Unless the tall one just keeps growing tall. It's already about 4 ft tall.

    Bookmark   April 3, 2011 at 12:50PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

I strongly recommend against using fertilizer spikes.
They will often do more harm than good, and they are unreliable.


    Bookmark   April 3, 2011 at 1:31PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

The tall one will keep on growing and yes it will eventually branch at its peak, probably on the next major flush (next year). But lemons are notorious for growing tall non-branching trunks much later than other citrus.

Is waiting for natural branching OK? It depends on your goals from the tree. But unless you want a "standard form" tree with a thick straight trunk with little to no branching until 5 feet high, I would suggest you cut it back now. Consider carefully the height you would like side branches to grow from, then cut it a couple inches higher than that.

The typical advice for seedling care is to trunk prune them when they reach about 18 inches to 2 feet. This will then start lateral branching. Even if you prefer the standard form, not bushy, you can select or train a new "trunk" based on what grows from that point over the next couple years.

Also, citrus seedlings will grow a central Tap Root which will likely be circling the bottom of your container soon if it hasn't already. You also don't want this behavior. You want nice branching roots as well.

Gently remove the tree from the container (put it on it's side) and look for a long thick root growing toward the bottom -- cut it off so it isn't circling. It should start forming side shoots from the cut point and to about the previous 4 inches. You can put it back in the same container but I would certainly upsize (potup) the container next spring. At that time you probably want some fresh soil anyway.

If you're unsure about the tap root prune, take a pic of the tap root then put it back in the container and we can review the photo and discuss.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2011 at 1:07AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Thank you Cebury for your post and advice. I found out some interesting things. I didn;t know that its normal for lemon trees to grow tall first. I will try to figure out what to do with my lemons when i get a chance and will look at the root as well.
Wating for natural branches to grow is ok with me unless it will slow down the proces of getting fruit someday. Also I would not want this tree to grow too big because it will be on my balcony for a while, probably next couple of years.

Thank you again

Josh, I will look into different fertilizers. I used the spikes because they just seemed to be the easiest to use. I didnt know there are many disadvantages to them.

I also attached a picture of these very large lemons that I took the seeds from to grow my lemon trees (pic from 2009)

    Bookmark   April 4, 2011 at 1:50PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Pruning off the top 1 foot or so of that seedling won't slow down the fruiting (by anything noticeable that is). It's going to be a long while before you get fruit. Just don't prune much (if any, other than infrequent tip pruning to force sub-branching as advised) b/c that will certainly slow down the leaf node count and thus delay fruiting.

The leaves that are growing on the trunk are needed right now. But they are also shading the trunk and therefore no light is available and sub-branching is much less likely -- absent the trunk prune I'm suggesting. Those leaves can stay there for up to 2 years, so depending on how old they are it might be a while before you get a side branch.

If your goal is to keep it in a container, I'd strongly advise you to trunk prune it right now. If you want to plant it in the ground, just cut off the tip, at the 5th leaf node (there are 3 at top, then 2 on the sides). If this is an outdoor tree year-round, and you decide to do it later, don't do it after June -- wait until next Spring.

Given all that I've said, it can be a pleasurable experience watching a tree do "its own thing" and let Mother Nature take the wheel (as best as she can in a tight little container with the tree location & fert under our control). Just know the goals of MN aren't the same goals for us. The vast majority of trees (incl fruit trees) don't realize they are there to feed us humans with good tasting fruit, they are there to survive and reproduce.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2011 at 3:00PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I thought my lemon trees were 1,5 years old but I found old photos of these large lemons(I used the seeds to plant my trees) and they were taken in 2009 so my trees have to be around 2 years-2,5 old.

Cebury, what are some good fertilizers? Someone advised just to use urine and I also found out that spikes are not very good.

Also what about the smaller lemon tree? I guess I can just give it another year before pruning? Yes, my goal is to keep them in a container since I do not have a yard to keep them there.

Also can you tell me where to cut the tip off? how many inches from the top?

Thank you for all advices I appreciate help:)

    Bookmark   April 4, 2011 at 3:22PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I concur with Cebury's advice. If it were my plant, I'd cut the larger one back to about two or three leaf nodes above the red ball (or just a leaf node or two below what looks to be a more recent flush of growth).

The lemon looks like a Ponderosa, but I won't swear to that!

I use Peters Professional (now called Jack's Professional, I think), but that is in part because I live in Connecticut, where citrus-specific fertilizer is not usually available. Miracle-gro's general purpose fertilizer would probably also be fine. Other people will have very different opinions! Make sure, whichever fertilizer you use, that it is appropriate for a containerized plant (granular fertilizer for plants in the ground is not good for trees in containers). Water soluble fertilizer won't burn the roots of the tree by sitting on the surface and can be applied in small doses during the growing season--every two or three weeks (if it calls for a tablespoon per gallon, I use a teaspoon). Basically, you want a water-soluble fertilizer that contains all the necessary micro-nutrients (iron, zinc, manganese, boron, etc.). I happen to use Peters for acid-loving plants, but I don't think this is actually necessary.

One suggestion: if your pots have built in saucers you should replace them with more functional saucers that allow you to easily see if water needs to be emptied from their catch trays. For a pot with a base diameter of 10 inches, I would use a saucer with a base diameter of about 11 inches. The goal is to be able to water the rootball till it is wet through, and then not water it again till the soil at the top of the container is almost dry to the touch. If the water can't drain out the bottom of the pot, you will almost certainly either over or underwater the trees.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2011 at 9:03PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

don_in_ct thank you for your message.
I just googled ponderosa lemons and i found big similarity to the lemons I used for seeds. Thanks fore that:)

I will cut the top in an advised spot. How long should I expect to wait for branches to show?

Yes, these pots have built in saucers. I liked the idea thats why i got them but didn't know that a separate one and bigger would be much better.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2011 at 9:48PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Majandra, I'd say the new growth will begin fairly quickly--a couple of weeks would not surprise me. Cut on a angle about an 1/8 an inch above the leaf you choose to be at the top of the cut. The new branches will typically form at the leaf nodes, with the largest new branch showing first and at the upmost leaf. I'd guess you may get new branches at three or four nodes.

You originally asked why your lemon tree was not growing any branches. The answer is basically that the actively growing tip suppresses branching below it, since it produces auxins--hormones that control bud formation--which move down the tree and basically tell the lower nodes not to send out branches (it's a bit more complex than that, but I think this gives you the basic sense of things). As long as this tip is actively growing, new branches will not be likely to develop. Eventually, if you don't cut the tip, it will either stop actively growing, and this will allow other branches to sprout, or it will grow long enough that leaf nodes lower down will not receive enough of the auxins to prevent bud growth.

When you cut off the growing tip, you basically shut down the production of auxins for a time, and thus the nodes below the cut will no longer receive the auxins that tell them not to grow. However, as soon as a bud begins growing, usually at the top leaf node, it will again begin sending auxins down to the lower nodes, and buds will again be suppressed. Of course, if three or four nodes manage to send out new growth before appreciable amounts of auxins are being received, they will continue to grow.

Yes about the built-in saucers: they look great, but really are not particularly helpful for keeping plants happy. I use the large and relatively inexpensive plastic pots sold at the home improvement stores around here, and the first thing I do when I get them home is to remove the saucers.

I then reuse the saucers by putting them under smaller pots or for other purposes.

One trick that works with the line of saucers I use is to use a pruning shears to cut off the locking nibs that protrude upwards (and create problems when I try to fit a smaller pot into the saucer). Most of these nibs are solid, so clipping them off does not create holes in the saucer. On a few of my saucers, however, the nibs have been hollow, and when I've cut them off I can't use them for their intended purpose.

The saucers also make good holding trays for seeds in peat or coir pellets: if you ever buy cakes with round plastic covers, you can literally reuse the covers to cover the pellets in the saucers.

    Bookmark   April 7, 2011 at 9:07AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo


I have planted this Lemon tree from a seedling just over a year ago. I have pruned all the leaves about 4 months ago and it now seems to be branching and becoming thicker. Should I prune the leaves again? It looks as thought it has split into two branches now and am just wondering if you recommend me to do this again to keep it more bushy as an indoor plant. I appreciate all your help!

    Bookmark   November 8, 2014 at 5:28AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
hoosierquilt USDA 10A Sunset 23 Vista CA(10b Sunset 23)

Why on earth did you prune all the leaves off?? T I would leave it alone and let it grow. Yes, seedlings do tend to grow straight up, and you can top the tree when it gets to be about 3' tall, but for now, leave it alone so it can grow. Removing leaves (especially ALL the leaves) could end up killing your little tree. And, it may not cause lateral branch growth. Be patient, let it grow some more, and then top the tree when it reaches about 3' if you want to encourage lateral branching. I would do that in early spring, when you can bring the tree back outside, and the temps have warmed up, encouraging more growth.

Patty S.

1 Like    Bookmark   November 8, 2014 at 5:05PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
Shawn Turnage

Why is my tree not growing it's been in this pot for a few months and all I got is this

    Bookmark   March 12, 2015 at 5:34PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
Dave in NoVA • 7a • Northern VA

I'm sure I'm sounding like a broken record, but in all honesty, I would say to Majandra that there is a very strong likelihood that your seedlings will never fruit. I say that because most citrus from seed have a very long juvenile period -- especially grapefruit, but not sure about lemons, and they need to grow very tall or wide (lots of nodes) before they develop mature-enough wood to bloom.

Any clipping or pruning you do reduces it back to its immature wood. You will likely just run out of growing space before yours attain the necessary size.

I don't think I've yet read a post from someone who has grown lemons to fruiting in a container, in a colder climate from seed. I hope I'm wrong.

I had several citrumelos that I grew from seed and they attained over 14 feet of height (these were outdoors in the ground) in about 7 years. They never bloomed. Then they froze and are gone.

So likely you would need to have a conservatory or at least a room with 14+ foot ceilings AND lots of light, and a huge pot for it to attain that level of maturity. Then consider the exertion of moving it in and out each summer at that size.

I would suggest that you enjoy it as an attractive foliage plant with aromatic leaves, never expecting fruit. Then you can prune it to encourage branching and maybe keep it more compact and a more 'portable' size.

If you really want fruit, buy a plant that is either grafted or cutting-grown from a reputable source. By the time you have spend years on taking care of that seedling, and spent money on soils, containers, etc., you'd have been much further ahead with a purchased plant -- if fruit is one of your goals, that is.

Don't get me wrong, I LOVE to grow citrus from seed, but not with any false hopes that I can get fruit in my lifetime.

Now some citrus, such as kumquats, calamondins, key lime, perhaps mandarins, etc. can bloom earlier and have shorter juvenile periods, I've heard.

    Bookmark   March 13, 2015 at 10:46AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

Ponderosa lemon can fruit in as little as 3 years.


    Bookmark   March 14, 2015 at 11:26AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Normally seedling trees are topped at 28 inches. Doing so removes the tree's apical dominance and induces side branching.

1 Like    Bookmark   March 14, 2015 at 11:39AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Normally seedling trees are topped at 28 inches. Doing so removes the tree's apical dominance and induces side branching.

    Bookmark   March 14, 2015 at 11:40AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
Steve, Z (6Bground,5B roof) Cincy,OH


How is your lemon tree now

    Bookmark   March 14, 2015 at 1:52PM
Sign Up to comment
More Discussions
Please share recents pic of your potted citrus with us.
Here is just a few of miine larger and smaller ones.. I...
BUGS 17 :-)
HI all 16 had over 300 post so started this one. Trace...
tcamp30144(7B N.ATLANTA)
How to prune a Gold Nugget tree
I have a young Gold Nugget tree and, searching information...
axier - Z10, Basque Country (Spain)
Dekopon on its way
Well I just paid Harris for it. $38 shipped. We will...
mksmth zone 6b Tulsa Oklahoma
Meyer Lemon has sticky leaves - is this good?
Happy Winter everyone. I am new to growing my meyer...
Sponsored Products
Arteriors Home - Krista Floor Lamp - 72053-278
Great Furniture Deal
18-Inch Redand Ivory Decorative Pillows -Set of Two
$41.95 | Bellacor
Linden Green Branches Drum Shade Ovo Table Lamp
Lamps Plus
Reed and Barton Equinox 10 in. Crystal Vase - 6005/1040
$100.00 | Hayneedle
Nest Lounge & Ottoman Set in Blue
$899.99 | Dot & Bo
Home Decorators Runner: Appollo Rust 2' 6" x 10'
Home Depot
People viewed this after searching for:
© 2015 Houzz Inc. Houzz® The new way to design your home™