Sunday, March 8, 2015

Lemon Plant Propagation Experiment

I started an exciting (to me), yet elementary, experiment in early February of propagating a lemon plant from seeds saved from store-bought lemons. I'm now sharing the step-by-step tutorial of the process and progress of that lemon plant experiment.
I mentioned in an earlier garden post that I was trying this experiment. Why a lemon plant experiment? A number of reasons: 1) the plant is supposed to be super fragrant in the home; 2) it was a good, indoor winter garden project; 3) it was a cheap way to start my own plant since I buy lemons for my drinking water anyway; and 4) there's a little bit of a science nerd wanting to challenge herself to see if it can grow to more than just a houseplant (as in, could it bear fruit?).

Day 1: The process to get the lemon seed germination started was fairly simple, but tedious. It took about 1 hr to yield 20 or so seeds. From the photo below, I'll take you through the steps.
Preparing Lemon Seeds for Germination
Step 1: Slice your lemons to yield your starting seeds. I cut two lemons every 2-3 days, and not all of them yield seeds, but these two had many. I started with about 24, expecting to lose a few while preparing for germination.

Step 2: Lay seeds out, cleaning lemon away as best as you can.

Step 3: This is where it gets tricky because the seeds are still slippery, even after cleaning. Using a sharp knife tip (I used my Swiss pocket knife), carefully hold the seed body, and snip the pointed edge of the seed to break the outer, woody covering.

Step 4: With either your fingernail (or edge of the knife blade), carefully peel back the outer layer of the seed covering. You should then see a second seed covering, brown in color.

Step 5: With either your fingernail or knife edge, carefully scratch the brown, second seed covering. I used my fingernail for this. You have to be careful, especially at this point, so as not to cut the actual seed or split it. I broke a few.

Step 6: Wet a paper towel (I used half of one, select-a-size), and lay the peeled seeds in a row on one half of the wet paper towel. Fold the other half of the paper towel, covering the seeds. Place the paper towel in a gallon-sized plastic bag that seals with a zip-type close. Place the sealed, plastic bag on a flat surface, in a sunny, temperature-controlled room for at least 3 hours of sunlight daily.

Those are the steps for germinating your seeds. It is important to place the seeds in a sunny, warm room, where they're exposed to sunlight at least 3 hours or more daily. Even though it was mid-winter with freezing temps, I placed mine in my south-facing, heated sunroom, where the ceiling is all windows.

I checked my seeds each week for the next two weeks. Below is a photo of the germination progress from week-to-week.
Progression of Germinating Lemon Seedlings
Day 8: As you can see by the photo, the seeds were already showing signs of sprouts within the first week (2-11-15). When the seed opens to what looks like two green leaves, those are actually called the embryonic leaves, or cotyledon.

Day 15: By the second week (2-18-15), a few sprouts were gaining some healthy growth, and a few more were showing first signs similar to the prior week's progress. At no point did I need to add water to the paper towel. It remained wet inside the plastic bag the entire first two weeks.

Day 17: I planted the seedlings. The photo collage below shows, in sequence (counterclockwise, starting from the postage stamp photos at top, right), the steps taken. Keys to planting success: a good soil (I used organic soil suitable for vegetables or house plants), and containers with drainage (I used clay pots with two styrofoam peanuts in the base to keep soil from falling through, and also an egg crate with drainage holes poked in the bottom).
Planting Lemon Seedlings Day 17
I had 20 seedlings (all 20 of my original seeds sprouted!), some with longer roots than others, but I proceeded to plant all of them. I placed the clay pots in a copper tray with some tiny gravel pebbles to sit upon. For the egg crate, I simply placed the bottom half inside the lid (cut to separate) as the underplate. I put just a tad bit of water in each underplate as a source of moisture to evaporate around the starter pots. I placed them back in our temperature-controlled, southern facing sunroom, with plenty of light.

Day 18: I suspected what would happen - the clay pots were pretty dry within 12 hours (surprisingly, the styrofoam seedlings were not!), and I knew remembering to water daily was going to be a chore. I have an antique bell cloche with a fairly wide base. So, I set the 4 clay pots on an old dinner plate, placed the cloche over it, and left the styrofoam crate out (since it was still holding moisture).
Lemon Seedlings Day 18 - Cloche Placement
Day 19: The photos below show growth already, in just 24 hrs of placing under the cloche. Look at the center of the embryonic leaves (cotyledon). That's the beginning of real leaves!
Lemon Seedlings Day 19 & 20 - Moisture Under Cloche
Day 20: Success with the cloche was already apparent, and the egg crate seedlings appeared slightly dry. I decided to cut up the crate sections and squeeze them under the cloche also.
Lemon Seedlings Day 20 - Remaining Seedlings Placed Under Cloche
I made sure my pots were moist, returned the cloche to cover them again, and continued checking my seedlings daily. Since the cloche has no air holes, I knew I needed to allow air to circulate to avoid the chance of mold growth.
Lemon Seedlings Day 20 - All Seedlings Under Cloche
Day 22: After a few daily checks of the seedlings under the cloche, I noticed one clay pot looked to be showing the beginning of mold growth around its edge, above the soil line. I removed the cloche lid, carefully scraped the inside of that pot with a wet rag, and left the cloche off of the seedlings. I continued monitoring the seedlings daily.
Lemon Seedlings Day 22 - Removal of Cloche
Day 31: I removed seedlings from the styrofoam egg crate and planted them into two additional clay pots. These were originally my runts of the seeds, but they all seem to be doing fine. I placed all of the clay pots on the copper tray I originally started with. I'm misting/watering all seedlings daily (keeping top soil moist) since removing the cloche on Day 22. Despite the cold temps outside, throughout this experiment my sunroom is warm, dry & light, so the soil tends to dry at the surface each day.
Lemon Seedlings Day 33 - Growing!
Keep in mind that these seedlings are not the lemon balm herb plant. Friends have told me the lemon herb plant, like mint, can be quite invasive in the garden, even when planted in containers, as the seeds become airborne and spread unwantedly. I'll place these babies outdoors once the weather warms beyond threat of frost in my Zone 7a region. My plants should end up being tree-form specimens (ha, in a few years, maybe).

Or, I could just order one plant from Williams Sonoma and pay $69.95 +S&H (2015 pricing).
Williams Sonoma Bare Root Meyer Lemon Tree, 18-24"
Like I said in my earlier garden post, houseplants can be really needy, and I may just get tired of babysitting, so I'm not about to spend that much on buying one that may not survive indoors. I'll keep you posted on the outcome of my experiment. Until then, this has kept me occupied while the garden sleeps. Spring, Come Soon!

What have you been doing to pass the time of this [seemingly] never-ending winter? Or are you one of the lucky readers living in a more temperate climate?
Rita C. at Panoply
A note of thanks to those who commented or sent emails with your concerns re: Mother Nature's Wicked Encore. Our home is fine, as is my daughter's. Several people in our surrounding communities were/are, however, flooded or suffered mudslides, and many are still without power. Winter 2015 won't soon be forgotten.

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