Sunday, August 8, 2010

To Seed or Not to Seed

Wow, the debate between whether you can or can not grow Citrus from seed is amazing. I often wonder if the whole debate is so the average person will not try growing their own tree from the grocery store fruit and will be dependent on "Big Citrus" to get their trees and fruit. This is probably a little cynical on my part, but this is what I do know.
The current Florida citrus industry developed from 16th-century Spanish introductions of sour orange, sweet orange, lemon, lime, and citron from either seeds or seedlings. Citrus was spread further by Indians and by pioneers who settled the rivers and lakes of north Florida and the eastern Florida seaboard. Does this mean that all those citrus trees produced bad fruit? I don't think so.
Granted, the amount of time that a citrus tree will produce fruit is much longer than if you grafted one. The average wait time can be anywhere from 2-3 years upwards to 12+ years. The seedling trees will also tend to be very thorny. The biggest debate is whether they will come true to type. In other words, if you plant a good tasting sweet orange will it be the same? According to Dr. Carl Campbell at the University of Florida Extension research center, almost any sweet orange will come true from seed, as well as key limes, grapefruit, tangerine and tangelo. Two varieties that will not come true from seed are the temple orange and pomelo (Grapefruit grandfather). Meyer lemon also falls under this category.
There are some advantages to growing your trees from seed. One obvious advantage is that it is much less labor intensive to simply sow citrus seeds and eliminate the grafting step. Another advantage is that the seedling will most likely be free from viruses that sometimes get into the budwood that is used for grafting large numbers of trees.  There has never been an instance where a citrus disease has been proven to have been introduced by seed. My favorite advantage is price! You can buy a great tasting piece of fruit for what, fifty cents to a dollar, depending on time of year? If you get three seeds in it, that equals sixteen to thirty three cents a tree. Now if you compare that to twenty five to forty five dollars per tree, what kind of savings are we talking? It's a no brainer. Of course, this brings us back to the time issue again. Key Limes are your earliest producer from seed, averaging 2-3 years. Your oranges, lemons, Persian limes, tangerines will be in the 5-7 year ballpark. The grapefruit and pomelo will be the longest, taking anywhere from 8-12 years. So patience is most definitely a virtue.
Okay, so you found a fantastic orange that you just have to have more of in the future. It has five seeds in it and you want to try growing it. After extracting seeds, rinse them thoroughly in water and plant them as soon as possible. Citrus seeds do not do well drying out like most seeds, they rapidly lose their viability. You will want to use a good potting mix, keep it damp, not wet. I tell people that you want the consistency of a damp sponge. When planting, place seeds 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep in the pot.  Be sure the seeds get enough sunlight, warm soil temperatures, and stay moist. Under ideal conditions, seeds will take about two weeks to germinate.
Like I mentioned, seedling trees will be thorny. If these pose a problem, clip them off with nail clippers. This will not cause any harm to the tree.  As the tree gets older, the thorns will stop being a problem. 
Now, to be completely truthful, there is always the possibility that the fruit you will get may or may not be the exact same as the fruit you ate. Bees travel great distances to collect pollen. Most citrus that you get in the store have come from very large groves of the same variety. If the fruit you happen to be eating came from the fringe of the grove and a very busy bee was coming from a different grove, there is a slight chance of cross pollination.  Even thought there is a book out there, circa 1971, that suggests that if you plant a lemon seed you might get a grapefruit, the chances that you get what you want is pretty good. Besides, there are only three possibilities of what the fruit will taste like.....not as good, as good as, or better than.....two out of three ain't bad!
Happy Growing!
Darren

19 comments:

  1. This is a great post!!! I have never gotten a clear answer on this....I planted a seed back in 1997 from a juicy orange. It sprouted and grew from Wisconsin in a pot....my parents brought it back to me when I moved to Arizona. I rented and planted the orange tree outside in a pot. It grew and grew.....I then moved and transplanted the orange tree onto our property. It has always flowered and recovered from frost or pest attacks but never produced any fruit. It is still doing well and growing slowly....I am hoping it will have oranges this next year....thanks for the information!

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  2. Interesting... I purchased a Meyer's lemon from a guy selling on the side of a road. Perhaps a red flag should have entered my though process at that time! Anyhow' it has never flowered. It looks healthy, is in the ground now, has thorns and is probably 3 years old, pretty sure it is not grafted. Hmmmmmm, should I expect some flowering soon? I am looking for some scions to graft to it since it appears to be great fruit stock and I have not seen any flowering... But would like to believe your story and leave it alone!

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  3. I've recently started a couple of Kumquats from seeds, and I'm wondering what are the chances of me having a fruitful tree in a few years? Also are those the slowest growing citruses out there? I have some lemons and red grapefruits started from seeds, too, and they're developing much faster than Kumquats. Also the difference in leaves if noticable. Kumquats have somewhat oval, shiny, dark green leaves, while lemons and grapefruits have rather rounded and light green colored leaves.
    I guess you have some experiences with Nagami Kumquats. Thanks in advance!

    Igor

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  4. Specijalac, if you send me your e-mail address, I can send you some pictures of the different trees.
    Cactusmusic@netzero.com

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  5. Done. Thanks for making the effort!

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  6. Splendid article Mr. Sheriff, enjoyed it very much. May I ask you, what are the effects, if any, of growing varieties of citrus among one another. Have a container with sections of tangelos, tangerines, pomelo, ugli, lemons, limes,...
    Do the plants have faster growth, maturity (flowering), ?

    Looking forward to your response, good-day.

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    1. Hello Amino,
      Thank You for the kind words.
      The only effects that growing different varieties among each other are:
      1) In a couple of varieties, cross pollination will produce a larger fruit set.
      2) If you plant the seeds, you may get some kind of hybrid.
      There is no faster growth, maturity or anything like that.
      If you need more information, please send me an e-mail at TheCitrusGuy@netzero.com
      Thanks for reading!

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  7. Hi Darren,
    I planted seeds from my parents very large (over 12 foot), very mature Meyer lemon tree from California here in Brooklyn. They are now healthy plants (about 24!) that range from 2-10 inches tall. Do I need to graft them or have them grafted in order for them to produce fruit?
    Also, they seem to have a lot of 'suckers' shooting up (one is almost 2 feet tall) - these have double leaves. Does this sound normal on ungrafted plants? should I cut those suckers off?
    I'd like these to remain indoor plants and to bear fruit as soon as possible.
    Thanks!
    Meyer in Brooklyn

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    1. Yvete, Please send me an e-mail.
      My answer will probably be too long for this forum, plus there are other questions I need to ask you.
      TheCitrusGuy@netzero.com

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    2. I think I have the same question and will want the same answer since I may encounter a similar situation. I have some Meyer Lemon seedlings from lemons I picked from a mature tree. I want to know if they will bear fruit and how long will it take? What will happen if I root a cutting to make a new tree? Can that be done and will it mature faster, and fruit faster than a tree grown from seed? Is there a chance that this could not be an Improved Meyer lemon tree (seedlings)? I live in Los Angeles and the (about) 8 foot tall tree is in the yard of a very old building.

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    3. Hello Anonymous,
      Yes, you will get fruit from your Meyer Lemon seeds. What exactly you will get, unknown.
      It could be a Meyer, it may revert back to its Lemon or Orange parents, or you may get something else yet, depends on what pollinated it.
      I would expect fruit in 5-7 years depending on how well you take care of it, sun, water, fertilizer, etc.
      As for rooting a cutting. Yes, you will get fruit faster. The notion of a Meyer and an Improved Meyer is beyond me. I really can not nor do not know if there really is any difference.
      Hope this helps!
      Happy Growing!
      Darren

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  8. Hi there, great info, do my pomelo from seeds will not give fruit or will it after 12 years? I'm so sad lol

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  9. Hello Anonymous,
    Your Pomelo will give you fruit. You will probably have to wait the 10-12 years, depending on your horticultural practices. If there is good light, water and food, it might be on the lesser end of that time. Of course longer if not.
    Also keep in mind, Pomelo will not always come true to type....You might get something as good as the fruit it came from, better than the fruit it came from or maybe not quite as good.....two out of three ain't bad!
    Happy Growing!
    Darren

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  10. Great article, thank you!
    I am going to grow some lemon and oranges from seeds that I obtained off my grandads lemon and orange fruits from his trees.
    His tree branches over 40 years old and split into two branches, does that sound like it has been grafted many years ago?

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    1. Thank You Lisa!
      It will be very nice for you to have a tree and eventually fruit from your Grandads tree.
      As for the age and splitting and grafting, it could go either way.
      If you can send or post a picture of the trunk of the tree, say from the ground up to about 10 inches, I could give you a better answer.
      You can send it to TheCitrusGuy@netzero.com
      Happy Growing!
      Darren

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  11. Darren,

    This is the best/real answer to the question I have ever seen. I am a newbie to growing citrus here in Toronto. I wish I would of seen this post earlier. I totally agree with your theory on "big citrus" and think it happens more often than people would like to think. I do have a question if you wouldn't mind answering. I have sowed some different varieties from store bought citrus (blood orange, minneola) and others. They trees are all around the 9 inch mark now. So I understand they may or may not come true and time factors thanks to your post but if I clip say a minneola or blood orange cutting that I mentioned above and graft it onto some flying dragon, will I get minneola's and blood oranges? This is the only question I can't figure out haha. Thanks in advance!!! Great site!!

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    1. Hello Juventus,
      Thank You for the kind words, I really do apprciate it.
      If I am understanding your question correctly, you are wanting to take your seedlings and graft them?
      Unfortunately, this will not change what the seedling will be.
      If you take a scion from a tree, that will remain true, but the seedling will be what it will be.
      The chances are pretty good that you will get what you planted, like I mentioned in the article. You might end up with something even better too!
      Hope that helps!
      Let me know if I missed the mark.
      Thanks!
      Happy Growing!
      Darren

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  12. Hi Darren, I'm new to citrus growing. We just moved to Indio California. We have a pomelo tree in our yard thats about 5 feet tall. It was newly planted in September and it had about 10 pomelos already on it. I enjoyed eating all of them in Feb. In March the tree had lots of flowers. I've been fertilizing it with a citrus and avocado formula. It doesnt seem any fruit has set for next year. Is it too soon to start fruit? I've noticed grapefruit trees in the area already have fruit about the size of key limes. Do I need 2 trees? I'm hoping you can give me some advice. Thank you.
    Nancy

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    1. Hi Nancy,
      Welcome to the world of Citruholics!
      First off, no you don't need two. That was the easy part.
      If it had fruit on it already, it is not too young to fruit.
      There are a couple of things that could be going on as to why you don't have any fruit....or do you?
      Watch it very closely, there might still be fruit forming, you just don't see it yet.
      Another possibility is, the tree is still adjusting to its new surroundings and doesn't feel that it is able to carry the fruit yet. They are smarter than we are, they know what they can do.
      One last possibility is, you may not have had any bees around to pollinate the flowers.
      Is it still flowering?
      Hope that helps?
      If you have any other questions, drop me a line at: TheCitrusGuy@netzero.com

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