Lemon Tree Losing Leaves? (How to Save it)

Lemon tree losing leaves

Lemon trees lose their leaves due to overwatering, a lack of sunlight, excess wind, and temperatures consistently lower than 50°F. Indoor lemon trees lose leaves because of transplant shock due to a contrast in humidity, temperature, sunlight, and watering frequency when moved from outdoors.

Both indoor and outdoor lemon trees lose their leaves as a sign of stress usually, due to a change in their growing conditions.

Keep reading to learn why your lemon tree is losing its leaves and how you can implement the solutions to save your lemon tree from leaf drop…

Lemon Trees Can Lose leaves when Temperatures are Below 10°C (50°F)

Lemon trees are native to warmer climates where they can be kept outdoors all year round if the Winter is mild.

Lemon trees are not cold or frost-hardy and must be brought indoors when the temperature at night is at 50° F (10° C) or lower otherwise it can lose its leaves or even die due to frost.

Citrus trees of all types tend to become more resilient to cooler weather as they mature so be extra careful with small, younger plants as they are more vulnerable to leaf drop due to the cold.

Some varieties are hardier than others, but all cultivars of lemon tree require protection from frost over Winter so bring them indoors and place them in a sunny window or better still a heated greenhouse so they can still benefit from as much natural light as the shorter Winter days have to offer.

If the lemon tree is beginning to lose leaves as Winter approaches, bring it indoors and place it in a sunny window as a matter of urgency, to mitigate further leaf loss and prevent frost damage so that it can recover in the Spring once there are warmer temperatures and more hours of light.

However, it should be noted that bringing a lemon tree indoors can cause more leaves to drop if you do not follow the correct best practices of care…

Indoor Lemon Tree Losing its Leaves

If you have brought your lemon tree indoors to protect it from the lower temperatures in Winter or recently bought one from a garden center, the lemon tree often loses some, if not all of its leaves due to the shock of the contrast in conditions between the outdoors and your home.

Lemon trees are cultivated in greenhouses before sale where they have acclimated to very specific conditions which makes them experience transplant stress when they are moved to a different environment.

Lemon trees as with all citrus plants are sensitive to sudden variations in their environment and can lose their leaves due to differences in:

  • Humidity. Houses in Winter typically have much lower humidity than the outdoors or greenhouses.
  • Sunlight. Lemon trees are native to warm climates with intense full sun, so indoors can be too shaded, combined with fewer daylight hours and lower light intensity during Winter.
  • Temperature. Lemon trees are not hardy below 50° F (10° C) however the difference in temperature change from cool outdoors to hot indoors can cause shock and leaf drop particularly if the lemon tree is next to a source of heat.
  • Airflow from forced air or air conditioning is also too dry for lemon trees to be in the direct air current as it saps moisture from leaves causing them to drop to conserve water.
  • The difference in watering frequency can cause lemon trees some stress which can cause leaf drop.

(Lemon trees require more water in Summer and less in Winter, read my article on how to water lemon trees to learn how to establish the correct watering frequency for your climate).

It is very common for a lemon tree to drop its leaves when brought indoors but fortunately, this does not necessarily mean the tree is going to die but just a reaction to the stress of being moved and there are ways to mitigate the impact of that stress so that your lemon tree survives its initial leaf drop…

How to Revive a Lemon Tree That Lost its Leaves After Being Moved

Lemon tree
Lemon trees drop their leaves after being brought indoors for Winter.

The way to revive lemon trees after leaf drop and mitigate any further leaf drop is to…

  • Houses in Winter are particularly low in humidity so it is important to mist your lemon tree with a spray frequently on to the fruit and foliage. Mist the tree as soon as you bring the tree indoors and keep a spray mister by the lemon tree to remind you to mist it every other day until it is more acclimated to your home. If you notice leaves shriveling water your tree and increase the frequency of your misting.
  • Locate the lemon tree in the sunniest (ideally South-facing) window of the house or even better a heated greenhouse. A sudden drop in daylight is one of the main drivers of the lemon tree losing leaves so maintaining high levels of light is key.
  • Try to keep a fairly consistent temperature in the room of your lemon tree if you are growing it indoors. Drastic fluctuations in day and night temperature can cause stress which results in leaf drop. Keep the lemon tree away from radiators or any source of heat as this can increase evaporation from the soil and dry out the pot. The lemon tree then reacts by dropping leaves to help conserve moisture in times of drought.
  • Avoid the current of air-con and forced air as the air is too dry for the lemon tree and saps moisture from the leaves causing them to drop. Mist the lemon tree to compensate for dry air due to artificial air currents in the home.
  • Increased temperatures, dryer air currents, and lower humidity all cause water loss which means that you have to increase the frequency of watering of your lemon tree to avoid losing leaves. However, this is a balancing act as the lemon tree is naturally growing at a slower rate due to fewer hours of direct sunlight and a lower light intensity which leaves the tree vulnerable to overwatering. Water with a good soak when the top two inches of the soil feels dry and test the soil periodically to determine the optimal frequency of watering.

Do not panic if your lemon tree is dropping leaves as with the right care practices the lemon tree should recover and new leaves should start to regrow when there is an increase in the hours and intensity of daylight in the early Spring.

As soon as the weather warms up and the nights are consistently warmer than 50° F (10° C) place your potted lemon outdoors or in a greenhouse so that it can benefit from more exposure to light and so it does not have to contend with factors such as air currents and dry indoor air as a source of stress.

The lemon tree should really begin to perk up once outdoors in a nice sunny spot and higher temperatures.

(If your leaves are curling rather than just falling off then read my article Why are my lemon tree leaves curling for the solution).

Lemon Trees Drop Leaves Due to Overwatering

One of the main causes of lemon trees losing their leaves is because of too much moisture around the roots due to:

  • Overwatering.
  • Slow-draining soils.
  • Pots without drainage holes in the base.
  • The use of trays underneath pots prevents excess water from draining away from the roots.

Lemon trees are native to climates with warm temperatures, lots of sunshine, and well-draining soils.

Therefore lemon trees they are far more sensitive to over watering rather then under watering.

Too much water around the roots of your lemon tree results in the leaves turning yellow, drooping, and dropping off as a sign of stress.

(Read my article if your lemon tree leaves are turning yellow for the cause and how to save it)

If the roots of your lemon tree are sat in consistently boggy soil or pots then this promotes the conditions for the fungal disease root rot which more often kills the lemon tree so it’s important to implement best practices of watering as soon as you can…

How to Save an Overwatered Lemon Tree Losing it Leaves

  • The most important step is to scale back the frequency of watering. Lemon trees prefer the soil to dry out somewhat between bouts of watering rather than staying consistently damp as this replicates the conditions in the native environment. Water lemon trees once per week with a generous soak so that water trickles out the base of the pot, or wait till the top two inches of soil are dry before watering. The amount of water a lemon tree requires depends on the environment with arid climates requiring more water and humid climates requiring slightly less so adjust your watering frequency accordingly.
  • Lemon trees require well-draining soil. If the soil is too slow draining then this essentially replicates the same effect as overwatering, with soil that stays too moist for the roots of your lemon tree. A good potting mixture is to use 1/3 multipurpose compost, 1/3 garden compost, and around 1/3 pine-based potting mix for nutrients and to increase the rate of drainage so that the soil can dry out somewhat between bouts of watering. If your soil appears to drain efficiently then it may not be necessary to change the soil but rather water the tree less often.
  • Pots without holes in the base or the use of trays can cause the soil to become saturated which causes the lemon tree to lose its leaves and develop root rot. Transplant your tree to a pot with holes in the base to allow excess water to escape and empty trays of standing watering regularly.

Also, consider that lemon trees require full sun which helps to dry the soil between bouts of watering or after rainfall, so find the sunniest area of your garden for your lemon tree.

Very humid climates often require less frequent watering as there is less water loss from the leaves.

By scaling back the watering and following the best practices to allow the top two inches of the soil to dry out your lemon tree should be less stressed and it should stop losing its leaves with new leaves regrowing in the Spring and Summer months.

Lemon Tree Losing Leaves Due to Lack of Water

Whilst it is more common for lemon trees to lose their leaves due to over watering the leaf drop may be because of a lack of moisture.

If the leaves have a shriveled appearance before dropping then this is specifically indicative of the lemon tree under stress due to drought.

Lemon trees can lose their leaves due to a lack of moisture due to:

  • Watering too lightly. Whilst lemon trees prefer to be watered fairly infrequently they can suffer from drought and leaf drop if they are watered too lightly. If the lemon tree is watered too lightly so that only the surface of the soil is moist then the roots can suffer and the leaves drop to help conserve moisture. Lemon trees require a generous soak so that water trickles out the base of the pot.
  • Dry climates, excessive wind, or dry air if the lemon tree is indoors saps moisture away from the leaves which causes the leaves to drop.
  • Intense heat in a greenhouse, next to a source of heat or due to weather conditions can increase the rate at which the soil dries and can deprive the lemon tree of moisture, causing leaf drop.

Revive Lemon Trees Losing Leaves Due to Drought

Lemon trees that have lost leaves because of drought can be revived with some care and attention.

After a period of serious drought, it is important to soak the root ball as effectively as possible.

When soil dries out completely it can bake hard and cause water to run off the top of the soil and down the side of the pot without reaching the lemon tree roots where it is required.

Therefore it is important to soak the entire pot and even submerge it in water if possible for a short time.

If you entirely submerge the pot of the lemon in a sink or perhaps a wheel barrow full of water for around 10 minutes or so, then the moisture can infiltrate the soil effectively and the lemon tree can get the drink it requires to help it recover.

If there are any leaves left on the plant, mist them with a spray bottle to increase the humidity and limit water loss through the leaves which should help retain the foliage.

If there is a heat wave, I recommend protecting the lemon tree from direct sun for the day to allow the roots to uptake moisture without the stress of direct sun which saps away moisture.

After you have thoroughly watered the lemon tree mist it regularly (several times per week) and give it a generous soak once a week.

Regularly misting also reduces the risk of spider mites on indoor lemon trees which thrive in the dryer conditions of your home.

This process gives the lemon tree its best chance of recovering from drought and as long as the moisture balance is restored with the proper watering practices then new leaves should emerge over the next few weeks.

(Read my article, how to revive a dying lemon tree).

Lemon Trees Losing Leaves Because of Lack of Sun

Leaf drop can also occur if the lemon tree is in shade.

Lemon trees have specifically adapted to thrive in full sun, so if they are in shade, the leaves can turn yellow and drop off and the plant looks rather unhealthy.

Always locate your lemon tree in as much sun as possible whether that is out in the garden, greenhouse, or indoors during the Winter.

It is particularly important to place lemon trees in south-facing, sunny windows when bringing the lemon tree indoors for Winter protection as there are fewer hours of sun and lower intensity of light in Winter so the lemon tree requires as much sun as possible to stay healthy and prevent leaf drop.

Lack Of Fertilizer can Contribute to Leaf Drop

A citrus fertilizer contains all the right nutrients for lemon trees at the right concentration.
A citrus fertilizer contains all the right nutrients for lemon trees at the right concentration.

Lemon trees are heavy feeders and benefit greatly from regular applications of fertilizer. Whilst a lack of fertilizer is not usually the main cause of leaf drop it is often a contributing factor.

Lemon trees grow very well in pots because of the favorable drainage conditions and the fact you can bring them indoors for Winter protection from climates with cool temperatures.

However, the roots can exhaust the nutrients in the pot which causes the leaves to turn yellow and some of them can drop off.

I recommend using a specific citrus fertilizer (which is available from garden centers and on Amazon), once per month during the growing season. this should help produce fruit and ensure the plant stays in healthy condition which makes it more resilient and less likely to suffer from leaf drop.

Key Takeaways:

  • Lemon trees lose their leaves as a reaction to cold temperatures, overwatering, too much shade, and because of a contrast in growing conditions when they are brought indoors for Winter protection.
  • To revive lemon trees that are losing leaves it is important to protect them from the cold, maintain humidity levels, and water them the proper amount.
  • Lemon trees can regrow their leaves when they are in full sun, watered once per week with a generous soak, misted with water on the remaining leaves, and protected from temperatures cooler than 50°F (10°C).
  • Indoor lemon trees can lose their leaves in dry homes due to a lack of humidity or fluctuating temperatures if they are next to a source of heat. Locate indoor lemon trees in a sunny south-facing window, mist regularly, and water when the top 2 inches of the soil are dry. The lemon tree often recovers when there is more sun in the early spring with new leaves starting to emerge.

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