What Causes Curling Leaves in A Lemon Tree?

The leaves of the lemon tree curl in response to drought. High winds and low humidity, as well as excessively watering, and removing the sap water from the leaves causes the leaves to curl to preserve water. Aphid infestations feed on sap of the newly emerging leaves, which causes the leaves to curled.

While it is true that drought-related stress can be the main cause of leaves curling around your tree of lemons, soils deficient in nutrients and transplant shock from moving lemon trees inside and excessive watering could cause leaves to curl, often with the leaves turning yellow and causing leaf dropping.

Continue reading to discover the causes of curly leaves, the best way to avoid it, and how to bring back the Lemon trees…

Under Watering is the Most Common Cause of Curling Leaves

Leaves with a curly and shriveled appearance likely suggest it is a sign that your lemon tree has suffered from stress caused by drought.

Lemon trees prefer the soil because it is dry compared to many fruit trees, but issues arise when the soil is drying out completely or when there is too much wind, which drains the leaves of moisture.

The leaves of the lemon tree curl due to:

  • Do not water too much. Lemon trees like the top two inches of the soil to dry out between watering sessions and then a good soak about once a week. If the lemon tree is not watered enough, the water doesn’t penetrate the soil to reach roots , which causes the leaves to curl.
  • Pots heat dry out quicker. The soil in pots dry out much faster than the garden boarders’ soil. Pots are less able to hold soil, and thus less capacity to hold water. Lemon trees also require full sun, which could cause further drying of pots and lead to drought.
  • Wind that is too strong. Lemon trees need some protection from wind since excessive wind can cause loss of moisture from the leaves , which is among the most rapid causes for leaves curving.

lemon tree three lemons

Reviving Lemon Trees with curly leaves because of drought

Lemon Trees with curly leaves, which have been suffering from drought may be revived if you alter the conditions.

  • Make sure to shield your tree from the direct winds. For potted trees, this could be as easy to move the pot tree to an area that has an natural wind break, like shelter from other fencing or trees. Be sure not to strip your lemon tree of light while moving it to a better shade. If you plant lemon trees in soil that is cultivated, try to create a wind break using other plants to ward off the strongest winds.
  • Spray the lemon trees’ shriveled leaves using a sprayer to boost the humidity of the micro-climate , thereby reducing loss of water from the leaves. Spray the leaves two times a day while the lemon tree recuperates.
  • Make use of a soaker hose to water lemon trees that are planted in the garden. The soaker hose should be left on for a few hours to soak the soil. It is essential to give the tree plenty of water following drought, as excessive heat and sunlight can make the soil, making it hard and water drains through the soil rather than getting into the roots. Therefore, ensure that you provide the tree with a an ample soak.
  • Make sure to water more frequently for lemon plants in pots. The plants in pots dry out faster especially in full sun. Lemon trees like the soil to be dry in between watering sessions however too much sun and heat can lead to drought stress. Make sure to water when the two inches that are the top of the soil are dry , which could be twice per week or more during summer.

If you have a lemon tree in a pot that is that are suffering from drought, it may be beneficial to immerse the entire pot in water If possible, either in a basin or a wheel barrow filled with water.

The submersion of the pot into water will allow the moisture to reach the roots, but not run across the soil that is dry and then across the sides of the pot, but not getting to the roots.

After the lemon tree has received been given a thorough watering and the leaves are regularly sprayed The leaves will recover of their curls in the next week.

If it’s a hot day, I suggest temporarily shade the tree, to ensure that it doesn’t need to deal with the blazing sunlight while it recovers from the drought.

(Read my article on on how you can water your lemon tree to find out how to determine the ideal frequency of watering for the climate you live in).

Indoor Lemon Tree Leaves Curling

The lemon trees are tropical plants that aren’t cold-hardy and are therefore planted in pots and brought inside during Winter to protect from frost.

But there are certain indoor conditions that can cause the leaves of a lemon tree to curl and fall off.

The circumstances that cause curled leaves for the indoor lemon trees are:

  • Dryer air, with low humidity. The lemon trees are natives of tropical regions and like some humidity. The leaves of the lemon tree indoors must contend with the air flow from air conditioning forced air, radiators and forced air that drain the moisture out of the leaves. The lemon tree responds by curving its leaves in order to preserve the moisture. This can lead to the lemon tree losing some or all of the leaves.
  • The sources of heat that cause fluctuating temperatures. In Winter, we typically switch on the heat at home during the evenings. This is in contrast to the regular cycle of temperature fluctuations that a tree like a lemon experiences when it is outside, which creates stress which manifests as curled leaves. The heat sources encourage evaporation of the soil, which dry the plant and results in leaves that are shriveled.
  • There is less light inside. Lemon trees like full sun and suffer from low light levels that cause shock inside, which can cause stress.
  • Transplant shock. The leaves of lemon trees may curl in response to an abrupt shift in the environment because there is a stark contrast between the weather conditions of the outside and your home. It is the stark and abrupt change in the conditions, like temperature that causes the leaves to start curving.

How to Revivify an Indoor Lemon Trees by curling leaves

Lemon trees in pots indoors can be regenerated even if certain leaves are beginning to fall or change color. The most important thing is to improve the balance of moisture and reduce the shock of moving inside.

  • Spray the leaves using mist sprayers. This is among the most efficient methods to revive curly leaves since it increases the humidity, thereby mimicking the ideal conditions for Lemon trees. Spray the leaves with water as often as every day to make sure that the leaves remain moist as it adjusts to your home, and also to reduce the loss of water from the leaves.
  • Make sure that the lemon tree isn’t in direct airflow caused by forced or air conditioning. The lemon tree must be placed in a sunny area that is free of air flow. Make sure to mist the leaves frequently.
  • The frequency at which you water your plants will increase. The lemon tree becomes accustomed to the frequency of watering outdoors however their need for water rises when they’re brought inside, and the leaves begin to curl in an indication of stress. Lemon trees favor the upper two inches of soil to dry out between watering sessions during winter due to the slower rate of growth, but the heat inside can cause evaporation and lead to the plant to dry out faster. Check soil moisture frequently and when the two inches that are the top of the soil is dry, give the tree an adequate soak.
  • Allow your tree time to adjust to indoors. The stress of moving inside causes stress on the lemon tree , but so long as it’s placed in a bright window, is watered in accordance with its needs and its leaves are regularly sprayed, it will be able to recover.

Certain leaves may fall off when they’ve curled up , as that is the method used by lemon trees to conserve water.

Don’t be concerned when you see new leaves begin to emerge in the spring in response to the longer hours of sunlight provided the tree is maintained correctly.

(Leaves fall from lemon trees due to a variety of reasons, so I wrote a second article about the causes that cause the lemon tree to shed the leaves and the best way to prevent it).

Over Watering Causes Lemon Tree Leaves to Curl and Droop

Lemon trees like dry soil than most fruit trees are prone to excessive watering, which could also cause leaves to curled as an indication of stress.

The leaves that curl due to drought can also appear shriveled in appearance, whereas leaves that are curled caused by excessive watering may lose their green hue and turn slightly yellow.

(Yellow leaf on your tree could be a sign of a number of issues, and I’ve written a second article about what causes leaves on your lemon tree to change color to into yellow).

Lemon trees require well-drained soil. They prefer that the soil’s top 2 inches be a bit dry between watering sessions.

The leaves of the lemon tree are prone to curling due to excessive the top watering and also too much water around the roots:

  • Too often watered to ensure that the soil remains always moist. When the soil becomes wet, the leaves can curled and yellow, which is a indication of stress. The damp soil also creates conditions for fungal illnesses like root rot, which could cause the death of trees like the lemon.
  • The soil drains slowly. Lemon trees don’t do well in areas with a lot of water or clays that hold plenty of water. They thrive in soil that drains well and has an abundance of organic matter and possibly some inorganic materials like grit to improve drainage. Slow draining soils replicate the effects of excessive watering, causing leaves to curl and become yellow, and even be susceptible to root rot.
  • Pots that have drainage holes in the base. Certain decorative pots don’t have drainage holes that are properly placed in the base, which makes the soil saturated, causing leaf to curl, change color and eventually fall off in a sign of stress.
  • Trays under pots of lemon trees in indoor gardens. Trays underneath pots stop excessive water from the pot, causing the soil to become sloppy that causes stress on the lemon tree.

How to Resurrect Lemon Trees with leaves curling because of over irrigation

  • Reduce the amount of watering. Make sure to water your lemon tree only after the top 2 inches of soil are dry. It is usually every week, but you must decide how often you give your tree a good watering based on your climate and the weather conditions. Make sure the soil is dry to the point of a finger and give the lemon tree a good soak.
  • The lemon tree is best planted in well draining soils. If your tree is located in an area that is boggy, then you should move it to a part of your garden that is better draining, or else the lemon tree will likely be able to die back. A great potting mix or soil recipe for growing a lemon tree is 1/3 multi-purpose compost, 1/3 garden compost, and 1/3 horticultural grit as well as perlite. The soil mix mimics the conditions of the soil in the natural environment of the lemon tree and offers a balanced mix of soil nutrients as well as adequate drainage.
  • Lemon trees in pots should be planted in pots that have adequate drainage. If the pot you are using does not contain drainage holes in its base, then move it to a different pot with urgency , as the curly leaves may change color and the plant could die.
  • Pots that are covered with trays should be regularly emptied of any water. While trays underneath pots may be essential to stop water spilling out of your indoor lemon tree, there shouldn’t be water pools under the pot for prolonged periods of time.

With a better drainage system and proper watering practices, your soil surrounding the root that support your tree may dry up a bit between sessions of watering.

This is the ideal equilibrium of moisture in the soil of lemon trees, and allows the plant to recuperate.

It is likely that you will begin to notice improvements in your curling leaves over the next few weeks.

If the soil is too wet, the lemon tree will be prone to contract the fungal disease root rot, which causes leaves to curl, become yellow, and then drop off, and the plant to fade away, which is why the need to know how to properly water.

(Read my article on how to revive the dying lemon tree).

Aphids and Spider Mites can Cause Lemon Tree Leaves to Curl

There are several insects that could attack your lemon tree , causing the leaves to curled.

Spider mites…

If you see tiny yellow spots as and curly leaves, this is a sign of a spider mite problem..

Spider mites are most common indoors due to their preference for the dry environment that houses provide and can often infest lemon trees that are moved indoors to protect them from winter.

Misting the leaves frequently can be very effective in removing spider mites since they are not fond of humidity and water. Cleaning the leaves with dishwater that is soapy is also an efficient treatment.

Cut back any damaged leaves and the tree will be able to recover.


Aphids can also be a problem as they seek to feed off the sap in of your lemon tree which has the affect of curling the leaves.

Aphid attacks are common on lemon trees, and they typically attack the less delicate younger leaves, however the damage can be prevented by a healthy gardening ecology.

There are a variety of insects (such like ladybugs) that eat Aphids and birds.

If you are experiencing a severe infestation of aphids , the best solution is to apply an insecticide like Neem oil, which is applied on the lemon leaves tree. It kills Aphids.

Lemon trees generally recover easily from insect infestations when the insects are controlled. Remove any leaves that are badly affected , and curling leaves will be able to survive.

A deficiency in nutrients results in Lemon Tree Leaves Curling

Lemon trees are big feeders and require fertilizer application on a regular basis during the spring and summer to satisfy their nutritional needs and produce the highest quality fruits and flowers.

In the event of a deficiency in nutrients One of the indicators of stress is that the leaves begin to wrinkle, drop or turn yellow, and eventually fall off.

Potted plants are more prone to deficiencies in nutrients particularly if they’ve lived in the same container for a long time because the roots use up the nutrients available.

Magnesium as well as potassium deficiency in the soil could be the primary cause for leaves curving and curling upwards more often indicating magnesium, and leaves curling downwards , indicating potassium deficiencies in soil.

Leaf leaves can also drop and become yellow due to the lack of nutrients, which could look like curving leaf.

It is possible to request a soil test , where you take a sample of your soil off to a laboratory to assess the condition of your soil.

You can also make use of a citrus fertilizer to help address the deficiency in nutrients.

Make use of a specific citrus fertilizer (available at the garden center or amazon) instead of a multi use fertilizer since a citrus feed is a complete source of essential nutrients your lemon tree needs at the correct levels to prevent over-feeding, which could result in your leafs to curve downwards.

If you apply a consistent amount of fertilizer throughout the summer and spring, the lemon leaves will begin to appear healthier, rather than a curled appearance (always adhere to the manufacturer’s instructions).

Key Takeaways

  • The curly the leaves of your tree indicate the presence of drought stress because of inadequate irrigation, excessive wind and low humidity that causes the leaf to curl to preserve moisture. Aphids consume the sap of newly new leaves, which causes the leaves to curl.
  • Insufficient nutrient-rich soil, excessive irrigation and shock after being relocated indoors may cause the leaves of lemon trees to curled.
  • Lemon trees need full sun and regular fertilizer. They also require irrigation when 2 inches above the soil is dry. Spraying leaves can increase humidity, which helps revive leaves and helps prevent damage caused by insects.
  • Make use of neem oil or an insecticide to deal with insects that make the lemon tree’s leaves curled.


Went from a bad gardener to a half-decent one over 10+ years. Super happy to share my tips and tricks with you :)