How to Revive a Dying Orange Tree

How to revive a dying orange tree

A dying orange tree is usually because of cold temperatures, drought or overwatering. Orange trees lose their leaves and die back if exposed to temperatures lower then 50°F (10°C) for too long. Orange tree leaves turn yellow with a dying appearance due to dry soil and high winds or because of root rot.

Orange tree leaves curl due to drought stress, lack of nutrients or aphid infestation.

To revive a dying orange tree, recreate the conditions of its natural environment with full sun, moist soil with good drainage, shelter the tree from wind and use a specialized citrus fertilizer to ensure that the orange tree has access to all the nutrients it requires.

Keep reading to learn why your orange tree is dying and how to implement the solutions to revive it

Orange Tree Leaves Turning Yellow

  • Symptoms. Orange tree leaves droop and turn yellow with poor growth. The leaves may drop off after turning yellow.
  • Causes. Overwatering, cold temperatures, drought stress, lack of nutrients or not enough sun.

The reason orange tree leaves turn yellow is usually overwatering, a lack of nutrients or cold temperatures. Cold temperatures lower then 50°F (10°C) can turn orange tree leaves yellow. Boggy soil from overwatering or slow draining soils prevents the roots uptaking nutrients and causes the leaves to turn yellow.

Orange trees grow best in Mediterranean and subtropical climates where they thrive in full sun (more then 6 hours of direct sunlight), warm temperatures and prefer well draining soil with the surface of the soil drying slightly between each bout of watering or rainfall.

Because of orange trees preference for well draining soil, saturated soil and root rot can be a problem which turns the leaves yellow and drooping, potentially falling off.

The orange tree’s roots can be sat in too much water due to:

  • Watering too often.
  • Soils that drains too slowly (heavy clay soils or naturally boggy low lying areas are too damp).
  • Pots without drainage holes in their base.
  • Saucers or trays underneath the pot that cause water to pool around the base rather then draining away properly.

Orange tree’s need porous aerated soil around their roots which allows water to drain effectively and allows the roots to respire.

Too much water around the roots excludes oxygen from the soil which prevents the roots from respiring.

If the roots are not able to respire then they cannot draw up the moisture and nutrients that the orange tree needs, and without nutrients or moisture the orange tree’s leaves turn yellow, curl and can fall off.

If the orange tree has been in saturated soil for too long then it is likely root rot has developed and the orange tree’s roots can be too damaged to save the tree.

Potted orange tree leaves can also turn yellow due to drought and a lack of nutrients, particularly in the Summer as high temperature and blazing sun can dry out the soil too quickly between bouts of watering or rainfall, and the roots can exhaust the limited supply of nutrients available from the soil.

Orange trees tolerate high temperature very well but the leaves can turn yellow and drop off if they are exposed to temperature below 50°F (10°C).

A sudden cold snap can turn leaves yellow but most of the leaves usually drop off due to shock.

How to Revive an Orange Tree with Yellow Leaves

The key to saving an orange tree with yellow leaves is to recreate some of the conditions of its native environment with the right watering frequency so that the soil is moist yet well draining, use a fertilizer in Spring and Summer and protect the orange tree from temperatures below 50 F.

  • Allow the top inch of soil to dry between each bout of watering, then water thoroughly. Allowing the soil to dry somewhat before soaking the soil creates the optimal balance of moisture for to meet the water requirements of the orange tree whilst mitigating the risk of root rot.
  • Plant orange trees in well draining soil amended with horticultural grit. Orange trees grow best in slightly gritty soil as this allows for good drainage, therefore mitigating the risk of yellow leaves due to root rot. To avoid the leaves turning yellow it is important to replicate gritty soil conditions by amending the potting soil of orange trees with around one third horticultural grit and two thirds compost. If you orange tree is in saturated soil then transplant it to a pot with gritty potting soil to save the tree.
  • Always plant orange trees in pots with drainage holes in the base and empty any saucers or trays underneath the pot regularly. It is imperative that the soil around the roots can drain effectively to revive a dying orange tree. Ensure drainage holes are clear of compacted soil and place potted orange trees on ‘feet’ or bricks to elevate them off the ground to ensure water can drain freely from the base of the pot.
  • Use specific fertilizer for orange trees during the Spring and Summer. Orange trees have a relatively high demand for nutrients and can exhaust the compost of available nutrients (particularly in pots), which turns the leaves yellow. Oranges are more widely cultivated then any other citrus fruit in the world and a huge amount of research has gone into the optimal balance of nutrients in fertilizer to produce the greatest yield of oranges. Therefore there are some brilliant, well formulated orange tree specific fertilizers (available at garden centers or online) that provide oranges trees with the nutrients they require and at the right concentration in order to produce the best crop of fruit.
Use a citrus fertilizer as it has all the nutrients the orange tree needs at the right concentration.f
Use a citrus fertilizer as it has all the nutrients the orange tree needs at the right concentration.
  • Protect orange trees from temperatures below 50°F (10°C) with fleece or bring them indoors in Winter. Orange trees are from subtropical climates and do not tolerate freezing temperatures which can either turn the leaves yellow or, if the temperature fluctuation is sudden, cause the leaves to fall off. In climates with cold Winters, plant orange trees in pots and place them in a heated green house or a porch, ideally with full sun. You can also protect the orange tree with fleece if a cold snap is forecast. The yellow leaves often fall off, but orange trees can rebound from the cold and regrow leaves in the following Spring, if the conditions are favorable. However orange trees often die back in severely cold weather.

If you can address the conditions that caused the orange tree’s leaves to turn yellow then the orange tree can often recover.

In a lot of cases, most of the yellow leaves tend to fall off, but if the conditions are favorable in the Spring with warm temperatures and lots of sunlight, the orange tree can regrow new healthy green leaves.

Orange Tree Losing Leaves

  • Symptoms. Orange tree leaves can turn yellow, wilting and drop off over days or weeks or may drop off suddenly, particularly when moved indoors in Winter.
  • Causes. Overwatering and underwatering, sudden increase or decrease in temperature or humidity and transplant shock when moved indoors.

Orange trees lose their leaves because of drought and too much wind in the Summer and due to temperatures colder then 50°F (10°C) or overwatering in the Winter. Orange trees lose their leaves when moved indoors in Winter because of a contrast in sunlight, temperature, humidity and watering.

Orange trees are native to subtropical climates and prefer warm temperatures, relatively high humidity and often lose their leaves in climates with contrasting conditions.

High winds combined with cooler temperatures can sap moisture from the leaves quicker then orange tree’s roots can draw up water, therefore the orange tree drops its leaves as a survival strategy to reduce water loss from leaves to prevent the tree dying from drought.

Orange trees in pots during the height of Summer can lose their leaves as the orange trees demand for moisture is high and the pot can dry out too quickly in high temperatures, which also results in falling leaves.

Due to their subtropical origins, orange trees are sensitive to the cold can often drop their leaves as a sign of stress because of a sudden drop in temperatures.

Orange trees should be brought indoors before the temperatures at nigh go below 50°F (10°C) to prevent leaf loss. However bringing orange trees indoors unfortunately often causes the orange tree to lose leaves as a result of the sudden contrast in conditions.

Indoor temperatures are often much higher and can increase at night in Winter when we turn on indoor heating. This is contrary to the cycle of temperatures of warmer days followed by mild nights, that the orange tree is adapted.

The air indoors is often much dryer which saps moisture from the leaves causing them to drop off.

It is also worth noting that the orange tree’s demand for water significantly decreases in Winter, so they can often suffer from overwatering which turns the leaves yellow and causes them to drop off.

How to Revive Orange Trees Losing Their Leaves

For orange trees losing their leaves indoors or in Winter…

  • Preemptively bring orange trees indoors if the temperature at night is forecast to be lower then 50°F (10°C). Whilst orange trees can also lose their leaves due to the shock of being moved indoors (or into a heated greenhouse) they are likely to die back if they are left outdoors in climates with cold Winters. If your orange tree is planted outdoors then use horticultural fleece which insulates the tree overnight somewhat and prevents cold drying winds from causing more leaves to fall off.
  • Locate the orange tree in a sunny South facing window or heated greenhouse. Even in the depths of Winter orange trees prefer as much sun as possible so always find the sunniest location in the house to place your orange with a glass porch or heated greenhouse being the ideal places. Sunny south facing windows are also a great place. An LED grow light may be necessary for growing citrus trees indoors in Winter especially in locations with very short Winter days.
  • Keep the orange tree away from direct sources of indoor heating. Locate the tree out of any direct air currents or radiators as orange trees prefer cooler evening temperatures then their daytime temperature. Heat can also dry the air and dry out the soil too quickly, both contributing to the orange tree losing its leaves.
  • Spray any remaining orange tree leaves with mist every day to create a humid micro-climate. Misting the leaves regularly replicates the orange tree’s preferred subtropical conditions and counteracts the dryer air indoors to reduce water loss from the leaves. Higher humidity should prevent more leaves from falling off. There are also humidifiers for houseplants (available from garden centers and online) that can increase the humidity, if you cannot mist your plants every day.
  • Reduce how often you water oranges trees in Winter (around every 3/4 weeks). Orange tree have a lower demand for water in Winter as they are dormant, so it is important to reduce watering to mitigate the risk of root rot which turns the leaves yellow, causing them to drop off. Usually watering around 3/4 weeks in Winter is meets the water requirements of orange trees without risking root rot, although the exact watering frequency varies according to your climate and conditions. Whilst it is important to reduce how often you water, it is also important to water generously, so that excess water trickles from the base of the pot, to ensure the soil is evenly moist and the roots can access the moisture when the need to.

For orange trees losing their leaves in Spring or Summer…

  • It is important to ensure the soil is evenly moist yet well draining. Typically leaves turning yellow and dropping is associated with too much moisture around the roots or not enough, which may be because of a dry weather, overwatering or soil that retains too much moisture. In which case follow the advice in the section above pertaining to orange trees turning yellow as the instructions are the same.
  • Protect the orange tree from excess wind. If you orange tree is in an exposed area then it may be necessary to create a wind break with other shrubbery or trees, or to move the orange tree (if it is in a pot to a less windy location).
  • Use a citrus fertilizer to provide the orange tree with all the nutrients it requires, at the right concentration. Orange trees demand a high amount of nutrients. In low nutrients soil the orange tree’s leaves can turn yellow and drop off, so use a specialized fertilizer in the Spring and Summer months.

Once you have addressed the causes of leaf drop then the orange tree can sometimes recover and grow new green leaves in the Spring or Summer.

However orange trees do not recover as well from freezing temperatures and overwatering which may cause the tree to die back.

It is worth noting that as citrus trees of all kinds mature, they typically become more resistant to cold temperatures and more resilient to environmental change.

Orange Tree Leaves Curling

  • Symptoms. Orange tree leaves curling inwards and possibly wilting.
  • Causes. Most often drought stress or too much wind. Pots that are too small, a lack of nutrients and aphid infestations can all be contributing factors.

The reasons for orange tree leaves curling is usually because of dry soil, high temperatures, low humidity and too much wind. Excess wind saps moisture from the leaves more quickly then the roots can draw it up. Orange tree leaves curl inwards to reduce their surface area which decreases water loss from the leaves.

Curling leaves is usually a survival strategy if the tree is losing too much moisture.

Orange tree leaves can curl and wilt temporarily at the hottest times of the day but perk up in the evening with more mild temperatures.

Curling leaves is also usually a more significantly problem for immature orange trees or orange trees in pots, particularly during blazing sunshine and high temperatures during Summer, or even excessive wind.

Pots have a limited capacity for soil and therefore a limited capacity to hold moisture which means they dry out much more quickly, resulting in the curling leaves.

Also if you should consider whether the pot is big enough for the maturity of your orange tree as it may need to be repotted to a larger pot.

Curling leaves is a common problem for orange trees if they are planted on poor, thin sandy soils that drain very quickly and don’t hold much moisture.

Sometimes aphid infestations in the Spring and Summer can also draw sap from the orange tree which also results in curling leaves.

How to Revive Orange Trees with Curling Leaves

  • Always water your potted orange trees generously in Spring and Summer so that the soil is evenly moist. Typically watering orange trees every week with a thorough watering is enough for most orange trees, however if the temperature is particularly high, combined with blazing sun it may be necessary to water orange trees every 3 days. Always use enough water so that it trickles from the base of the pot to ensure the moisture reaches the roots.
  • A good guide for watering citrus trees in general is to wait until the top inch or so of soil starts to feel dry before watering again. Monitor the soils moisture with either a moisture meter or just by touch to detect the point at which the soil starts to dry, before watering again. This helps to establish a good watering frequency that is specific to your climate and conditions, to provide enough moisture to prevent the root ball from drying out and the leaves from curling without risking root rot from overwatering.
  • Create a wind break to provide shelter and buffer high winds. Ideally move potted orange trees to a less windy location, that is still in full sun. You can also plant a large evergreen shrub nearby your orange tree to naturally deflect wind which should help a lot to prevent curling leaves.
  • Replant your orange tree in a pot that is the next size up. A larger pot has more capacity for moisture for the orange tree’s roots to uptake, thus alleviating the stress that causes the curling leaves due to drought. Only replant orange trees in a pot one size up, as a much larger pot can take a lot longer to dry out around the roots then the orange tree is a accustomed to, which can also cause problems.
  • I recommend using a citrus fertilizer in the Spring and Summer months as an additional step to help revive orange trees with curling leaves. A severe lack of nutrients in the soil turns orange tree leaves yellow and causes them to drop off, but a less drastic deficit of nutrients can also contribute to the stress that results in curling leaves.
  • Address any aphid infestations quickly to revive curling orange tree leaves. Aphids infestations can occur almost any time during the growing season (but are normally seen on new growth in the Spring) and cause leaves to curl. The best way tackle aphids is to manually disrupt the aphids by shaking or brushing them off the branches. If you disturb aphid colonies in this way this also triggers an alarm response pheromone release that attracts natural predators of aphids such as ladybirds an the garden ecology balances out the population of aphids to mitigate any damage to your orange trees.

To revive a dying orange tree with curling leaves, it is important to ensure the roots can access enough moisture in the soil and the leaves are protected from drying winds.

Address aphid infestations as soon as they are identified to alleviate the stress that causes the leaves to curl.

The curling leaves should recover quite quickly if the underlying problem was access to moisture or high winds, however it may take longer for the leaves to recover from aphids attacking new growth or due to a lack of nutrients.

Here is a full list of pests that can cause problems for orange trees.

Key Takeaways:

  • Usually the reasons for an orange tree dying are cold temperatures or drought stress. Orange trees are subtropical trees that need evenly moist soil and mild Winters with temperatures above 50°F (10°C). Orange tree drop their leaves in freezing temperatures and the leaves turn yellow and die back if the soil is too dry.
  • Orange trees lose their leaves due to overwatering, a lack of sunlight, too much wind and temperatures consistently lower then 50°F (10°C). Orange trees lose their leaves when brought indoors for the Winter due to the contrast in temperature, sunlight and humidity from outdoors to indoors.
  • Orange tree leaves turn yellow because of overwatering, underwatering, a lack of nutrients or not enough sunlight. Orange trees need well draining soil and are susceptible to root rot in boggy soil. If the soil is too damp around the orange tree’s roots they begin to rot which causes the leaves to turn yellow and droop.
  • Orange tree leaves curl due to drought stress or excessive wind. Curling orange tree leaves indicates that the tree are losing too much moisture so the leaves curl to reduce their surface area and minimize water loss in times of drought. Curling orange tree leaves is also cause by aphid infestation.
  • To revive a dying orange tree, emulate the preferred conditions of its native environment with full sun, well draining yet evenly moist soil, protect the orange tree from excessive wind and bring the tree indoors to protect it from freezing temperatures in climates with cold Winters.

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