How to Revive a Dying Lemon Tree


Why is my lemon tree dying

A dying lemon tree is usually because of overwatering, cold temperatures or transplant shock after being moved indoors. Overwatering causes lemon tree leaves to droop and turn yellow with a dying appearance. A dying lemon tree that has lost its leaves is due to temperatures cooler then 50°F or transplant shock.

Lemon tree leaves can curl inwards due to drought stress or a lack of fertilizer.

Keep reading for why a lemon tree’s leaves turn yellow, droop, drop off or curl inwards and to implement the solutions to revive your dying lemon tree

Lemon Tree Leaves Turning Yellow

  • Symptoms. Lemon tree with leaves drooping and turn yellow.
  • Causes. Overwatering, slow draining soils, drought, low nutrients, lack of sun and low temperatures.

The reasons lemon tree leaves turn yellow is usually overwatering or cold temperatures. Lemon trees require well draining soil and do not tolerate temperatures lower then 50°F. If the soil is boggy due to overwatering or lack of drainage then lemon trees can develop root rot which turns the leaves yellow with a dying appearance.

Lemon trees are native to Mediterranean climates where they thrive in full sun (more then 6 hours of direct sunlight), warm temperatures and prefer well draining soil that dries out slightly between bouts of watering.

Lemon trees are susceptible to root rot (which causes the leaves to turn yellow and droop with a dying appearance) if the roots are sat in consistently saturated soil which can be from:

  • Overwatering.
  • Slow draining soils (clay soils drain too slowly for lemon trees).
  • Pots without drainage holes in the base, causing water to pool around the roots.
  • Pots with saucers and trays underneath which collect water, and prevent the soil from draining properly.

If the leaves are just starting to turn yellow then this does not necessarily indicate root rot has developed.

However, too much water in the soil excludes oxygen from the soil which prevents root respiration and interferes with the roots ability to draw up moisture and nutrients properly.

If the roots cannot draw up water and nutrients the leaves turn yellow, droop and may even drop off.

Potted lemon trees also suffer from drought and a lack of nutrients more frequently, particularly if the pot is small as smaller pots dry out quickly in the Summer sun and also have a limited capacity for nutrients which turns the leaves yellow.

Lemon trees typically tolerate high temperatures very well (as long as they have access to moisture) but in temperatures of around or below 50°F (10°C) the lemon trees leaves can turn yellow and usually drop off.

Lemon trees are native to climates with mild Winters but can often be saved after brief exposure to cold. However in freezing temperatures usually the lemon tree dies back.

How to Revive Dying Lemon Trees with Yellow Leaves

  • Scale back the watering so that the top two inches of soil feels somewhat dry to the touch, then watering generously. Allowing the soil to dry followed by a thorough watering, creates the optimal balance of soil moisture for lemon trees to thrive. This allows the roots to function properly so they can draw up moisture and nutrients to revive the yellowing leaves.
  • Ensure the lemon tree has well draining soil amended with horticultural grit. In the Mediterranean, the lemon tree’s soil is slightly gritty or sandy which allows for good drainage. It is important to replicate these conditions by amending the planting area or pot with around 1/3 grit to 2/3’s compost. If your garden soil is naturally boggy and slow draining then this is contrary to the lemon trees preferred conditions and I recommend transferring it to a pot or another area of the garden with better drainage and add grit to the soil.
  • Potted lemon trees should have drainage holes in the base and any saucers or trays should be emptied regularly. Well draining conditions are imperative to reviving a dying lemon tree, so ensure the drainage holes are clear of any compacted soil and do not allow excess water to pool at the bottom of your lemon trees pot as this keeps the soil too damp. Ideally place lemon tree pots on feet or bricks to allow water to drain from the base more freely.
  • Always locate lemon trees in full sun. If your lemon tree is in too much shade the leaves fall off and the tree dies back. Cut back any overhanging tree limbs that cast shade on your lemon tree or transplant it to the sunniest location of your garden.
  • Add fertilizer to potted lemon trees during the Summer. Potted lemon tree roots in particular can exhaust the soil of nutrients which can turn the leaves yellow. Use a specialized citrus fertilizer once a month in the Spring and Summer which promotes fruiting and contains all the right nutrients to prevent yellowing leaves and your lemon tree to thrive.
  • Protect lemon trees with fleece or bring them indoors if temperatures go below 50°F (10°C). Lemon trees require mild Winter and do not tolerate the cold so always plant them in a pot and bring them indoors over Winter to protect them form the cold and to prevent the leaves turning yellow and dying back. If your tree is planted outdoors or the pot in impractical to bring indoors them protect your lemon tree with horticultural fleece which provides insulation from cold temperatures. Lemon trees can revive after brief exposure to cold but severe cold or extended periods of cold often cause the lemon tree to die back.

Once you have corrected the environmental conditions that caused the leaves to turn yellow, with the right watering schedule, well draining soil and full sun the yellow leaves can revive or they drop off in which case new growth can emerge during Spring and Summer if the conditions are favorable.

(Read my article, how to water lemon trees, to learn how often to water your lemon tree according to your climate and conditions).

Lemon Tree Losing Leaves

  • Symptoms. Lemon tree leaves turning yellow, wilting and dropping. Leaves can drop all of a sudden, particularly when moved indoors for Winter.
  • Causes. Overwatering, drought, not enough light, too much wind, low temperatures, drought transplant shock when moved indoors

Lemon trees lose their leaves due to drought and too much wind drying out the leaves causing them to drop. Indoor lemon trees lose their leaves when moved indoors because of the contrast of light, temperature, humidity and watering.

When lemon trees lose their leaves suddenly, it is usually because of a sudden and significant drop in temperature lower then 50°F (10°C) or when they are brought indoors for Winter protection.

Lemon trees adapt to their range of conditions outdoors, adjusting to the cycle of watering or rainfall, temperature, light and humidity.

When brought indoors for the Winter, they do not have as much light or air circulation, the air is much less humid which saps moisture from the leaves, the lemon tree also has to adapt to the fluctuating temperature indoors which can be cooler during the day and warmer at night due to indoor heating (which is the opposite temperature cycle they experience outdoors).

All these factors can dry out the lemon tree much quicker causing the leaves to initially wilt and the shock of the change of conditions causes the leaves to drop.

If the lemon tree is outdoors then excess wind can sap too much moisture from your lemon tree causing the leaves to lose too much moisture, which results in the leaves dropping and the lemon tree dying back.

Lower levels of light and a lack of soil moisture also can contribute to the leaves dropping.

How to Revive a Dying Lemon Tree Losing its Leaves

  • Bring lemon trees indoors if the temperature is forecast to be lower then 50°F (10°C) or protect with horticultural fleece. Bringing lemon trees indoors can cause the leaves to drop but leaving them in the cold is likely to cause the tree to die back so always bring lemon trees indoors in climates with cold Winters.
  • Locate your indoor lemon tree in a sunny South facing window. Even in the Winter lemon trees prefer as much sun as possible so try always find the sunniest window in your house, or ideally, place in a heated greenhouse.
  • Keep the lemon tree away from sources of heat. If the lemon tree is too close to central heating or in the air current of forced air, then the plant is likely to dry out much quicker causing the leaves to wilt and drop. Try to locate your lemon tree in an area away from draughts.
  • Spray the lemon tree with a mist spray once a day to create a more humid micro-climate. The air outdoors is more humid then the air indoors so spraying any remaining leaves and the tree itself can somewhat reduce the contrast in humidity from outdoors to indoors and reduce water loss from the leaves, which is a major cause of leaf drop.
  • Even in Winter lemon trees require a generous soak. Water lemon trees thoroughly when brought indoors so that the roots have access to moisture to counteract the dryer conditions of an indoor climate.
  • Always water lemon trees thoroughly so that excess water trickles from the base of the pot or so the garden soil has had a good soak. This style of watering promotes the roots to grow deep in the soil so they can access moisture and nutrients, which makes them less vulnerable to drought. If water trickles from the base of the pot then the moisture should reach the roots where it is required and prevent leaves dropping due to drought. Watering too lightly causes the roots to grow shallow and increases the risk of the lemon suffering drought and losing leaves.
  • Allow the top two inches of the soil to dry somewhat between bouts of watering. Overwatering and slow draining soils typically turn the lemon tree’s leaves yellow and can contribute to the leaves dropping off. Allow the soil to dry slightly ensures the optimal balance of moisture and creates more favorable conditions for the leaves to grow back.
  • Create a wind break to revive outdoor lemon trees. Plant shrubs or trees nearby that do not shade the lemon tree but buffer the wind from sapping too much moisture from the leaves.

If the lemon trees leaves have all dropped after bringing it indoors then correct the indoor conditions so that they are more favorable for the lemon tree can revive (more light, humidity and keep away from sources of heat).

As long as the conditions are improve, the lemon tree can adapt to its new set of conditions and the leaves can regrow with new growth more likely to emerge in Spring and Summer.

Lemon Tree Leaves Curling

  • Symptoms. Lemon tree leaves curling inwards and possibly drooping downwards.
  • Causes. Most often associated with drought stress or too much wind. Small pots, low nutrient soil and aphid infestations can be contributing factors.

The reason for lemon tree leaves curling is usually because of dry soil or too much wind. If there is not enough moisture around the roots or it is too windy (which saps moisture from the leaves), then lemon tree leaves curl inwards to reduce their surface area which helps to conserve moisture.

Lemon trees require a well draining soil with lots of organic matter (compost) which helps to hold some moisture, yet retains a well draining structure that allows excess water to drain away from the roots, so they are not sat in waterlogged soil.

If the soil dries out too quickly then the leaves curl inwards to save moisture which is a survival strategy against drought and a sign of stress.

This is more common in potted lemon trees as pots dry out more quickly then garden soil, particularly if the pot is too small as smaller pots have less capacity for soil and therefore less capacity to retain moisture.

However curling leaves occurs in any lemon tree that is suffering drought stress. Wind also saps moisture from the leaves quicker then it can be drawn up at the roots, causing the leaves to curl.

If the lemon tree is planted in poor soil or has been in the same pot for too long, without any fertilizer then the roots can exhaust the soil of available nutrients which causes the leaves to curl and turn yellow.

Aphid infestations can also be a problem in the growing season as they draw sap out of the leaves and stems (particularly the young and tender leaves) in Spring which causes the leaves to curl.

How to Revive a Dying Lemon Tree with Curling Leaves

  • Always water thoroughly in Spring and Summer, so that excess water escapes from the base of the pot. This ensures the soil is evenly moist and mitigates the drought stress that causes the leaves to curl. Watering too lightly causes the top inch or so of the soil to become moist and the water does not reach the roots where it is required.
  • Water your lemon tree thoroughly when the top two inches start to dry out. To establish the correct watering schedule from your lemon tree in your climate, monitor the soils moisture by feeling it so you can detect the point at which the top two inches of soil beginning to dry out. This helps to establish the correct watering frequency, so that the lemon tree has enough moisture to prevent the leaves curling, yet the soil drains sufficiently to prevent root rot.
  • Create a wind break to buffer excess wind. To prevent the leaves curling due to wind plant large shrubs or trees near your lemon tree or if it is potted, move the pot to a more shelter position to help the tree retain more moisture.
  • Replant potted lemon trees in a pot then next size up. If the pot is proportionately small to the size of the lemon tree or you notice that the roots look pot bound the repot your lemon tree. A larger pot has more capacity for soil and therefore can retain more moisture, so that it does not dry out as quickly to revive the curling drought stressed leaves.
  • Use a special citrus fertilizer in the Spring and Summer to add nutrients to the soil. Both lemon trees planted in garden soil and those in pots benefit from the use of fertilizer in order to encourage flowering and fruiting and also to provide the correct balance of nutrients to support the healthy growth of the lemon tree and address the nutrient deficit in the soil that causing the leaves to curl.
  • Address aphid infestations quickly to revive curling leaves. The most effective way to tackle an aphid infestation is by manually disturbing the insects by hand. If your disturb the aphids this not only deals with the problem quickly but also causes the aphid colony to send out a alarm response pheromone which can attracts naturally predators such as ladybirds and the garden ecology re-balances the population of aphids to mitigate their affect on your lemon trees. Aphids are most often seen attacking new growth in the Spring and Summer.

To revive a lemon tree with curling, dying leaves, it is important to ensure the roots have enough access to moisture and that they are protect from drying winds. With fertilizer applications in the Spring and Summer, the lemon tree has enough nutrients for the leaves to grow healthy rather then curl inwards.

If the cause of the curling leaves is drought stress then the lemon tree should start to recover in the next few days whereas the lemon tree should from a nutrients deficit in the following weeks.

Key Takeaways:

  • The reason for a lemon tree dying is usually the roots are too wet or too dry which causes the leaves to turn yellow, curl inwards and drop off. Indoor lemon trees can drop their leaves with a dying appearance in Winter when brought indoors due to a sudden contrast in temperature, light and soil moisture.
  • Usually lemon tree leaves turn yellow because the roots are in waterlogged soil. Lemon trees require good soil drainage. If the soil is boggy then this causes root rot which prevents the roots from drawing up moisture and nutrients and turns the leaves yellow.
  • Lemon trees can lose their leaves suddenly when the temperature drops below 50°F. Lemon trees are adapted to warm temperatures and climates with mild Winters. Freezing temperatures is often the cause of a dying lemon tree in Winter. The contrast in conditions when bringing a lemon tree indoors for Winter protection also causes leaves to drop.
  • Lemon tree leaves curl inwards because of dry soil or too much wind. Lemon trees require a thorough watering in Spring and Summer so that the soil is evenly moist. If the soil dries out too quickly the leaves curl inwards as a survival strategy to conserve moisture.
  • To revive a dying lemon tree, replicate the conditions of its native Mediterranean environment with full sun, moist soil with good drainage, protect the tree from wind and use a special citrus fertilizer to ensure the lemon tree has the nutrient it requires.

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