Why is My Lemon Tree Losing Leaves?

Some reasons why your lemon tree would be losing leaves:

  • Lemon trees lose their leaves as a reaction to cold temperatures, over watering, too much shade, and because of a contrast in growing conditions when they are brought indoors for Winter protection.
  • 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. Place indoor lemon trees in a south-facing window. Mist the plants regularly, water when the soil is dry, and place them in a sunny spot. Lemon trees often recover when they have more sunlight in the Spring, and new leaves are starting to emerge.
  • To revive lemon trees that are losing leaves, you must 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, water once per week with a generous soak, misted with water on the remaining leaves, and protected from temperatures cooler than 50deg F (10degC).

Temperatures Can Affect Lemon Trees

Lemon trees can be kept outside all year if not in season.

Lemon trees are not cold, or frost hardy and must be brought indoors when the temperature at night is at 50deg F (10deg C) or lower; otherwise, they can lose their leaves or even die due to frost.

All citrus trees are more resistant to cold weather as they age, so be careful with young plants. They are more susceptible to falling leaves from the cold.

Some varieties are more resistant than others. However, all lemon tree cultivars require protection from frost during Winter. You could make sure that your tree gets as much sunlight as possible by bringing it indoors.

If the lemon tree begins to lose its leaves as Winter draws near, bring it inside and place it in a sunny spot. This action will prevent further leaf loss and frost damage and allow it to recover in the Spring when there is more light and the temperature is warmer.

However, it is important to note that indoor lemon trees can have more leaves fall if not maintained with the best possible care.

lemon tree

Moving Your Lemon Tree Indoors Can Shock It

If you brought your lemon tree indoors in Winter to keep it warm or bought it recently from a garden center, lemon trees can lose some of their leaves from the shock of the difference in temperature between outside and inside.

Lemon trees have been grown in greenhouses prior to being sold. They have been accustomed to specific conditions that make them susceptible to transplant stress when they move to a new environment.

Lemon trees, like all citrus plants, are sensitive to sudden changes in their environment. They can lose their leaves due to:

  • 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 less daylight hours and lower light intensity during Winter.
  • Temperature. Lemon trees are not hardy below 50deg F (10deg 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.
  • Watering – The difference in watering frequency can cause lemon trees some stress which can cause leaf drop.

It’s quite common for lemon trees to lose their leaves when brought inside. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean they are going to die. It is a normal reaction to stress and can be mitigated, so your tree survives the initial leaf drop.

Related: How to Water My Lemon Tree Properly 

How to Fix Your Lemon Tree (if it Lost Leaves Because it Was Moved)  

Actions to take to revive your lemon tree:

  • Mist Your Tree: 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. To make sure your tree is well-acclimatized to your home, mist it as soon as it’s brought indoors. Keep a spray mister near the tree, so you remember to mist it every other day. You can water the tree if you notice that leaves are shriveling and increase the frequency of misting.
  • Check Sunlight: Locate the lemon tree in the sunniest (ideally South facing) window of the house or, even better, a heated greenhouse. The main reason that lemon trees lose their leaves is a sudden decrease in sunlight. It is important to maintain high levels of daylight.
  • Manage Temperature: Try to keep a fairly consistent temperature in the room of your lemon tree if you are growing it indoors. Leaf drop can be caused by extreme fluctuations in the temperature between day and night. Avoid heating the lemon tree with radiators. This can cause excessive evaporation and dry out the pot. In drought, the lemon tree will drop leaves to conserve water.
  • Avoid Direct Air Con: Avoid the current of air-conditioners and forced air as the air is too dry for the lemon tree and saps moisture from the leaves, causing them to drop. To compensate for the dry conditions caused by artificial air currents, mist the lemon tree.
  • Adjust Watering: Increased temperatures, dryer air currents, and lower humidity all cause water loss which means that you have to increase the frequency of watering your lemon tree to avoid losing leaves. This is difficult because the lemon tree naturally grows at a slower pace due to the shorter hours of direct sunlight and lower light intensity. The tree is, therefore, more susceptible to overwatering. Give the soil a good soak until the soil is dry to the touch. The soil should be tested periodically to determine the best frequency for watering.

Do not panic if you notice that your lemon tree is losing leaves. With the right care, the tree will recover quickly, and new leaves will begin to grow when the intensity and hours of daylight increase in the early Spring.

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

The lemon tree should begin to bloom once it is placed outside in good sunlight and warmer temperatures.

Related: What Causes Curling Leaves in a Lemon Tree? 

Overwatering Can Make Your Lemon Tree Lose Leaves

Too much moisture around the roots can cause lemon trees to lose their leaves. For example:

  • 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 can be found in climates with warm temperatures, lots of sunlight, and well-draining soils. They are more sensitive to water overwatering than they are to underwatering. Too much water around your lemon tree’s roots can cause yellowing of the leaves and drooping. This is a sign of stress.  

Related: How to Save a Lemon Tree When Leavers Are Turning Yellow 

If the roots of your lemon tree are sat in consistently boggy soil or pots, 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 Fix Your Lemon Tree (If It Has Been Overwatered and Lost Leaves)

The most important step is to scale back the frequency of watering. The soil should dry slightly between waterings, as this mimics the environment in the native environment. Lemon trees should be watered once a week. You can give them a good soak to let the water run off the bottom of the pot. Wait until the soil is dry completely before watering.

Your environment will determine how much water your lemon tree needs. Arid climates may require more water, while humid climates may need slightly less. Adjust your watering frequency accordingly.

Lemon trees require well-draining soil. Slow draining soil can have the same effect as overwatering your lemon tree roots. A good potting mixture is to use 1/3 multipurpose compost, 1/3 garden compost, and around 1/3 grit or perlite for nutrients and to increase the rate of drainage so that the soil can dry out somewhat between bouts of watering. It may not be necessary for you to water your tree more often if the soil drains well.

Pots without holes in the base or trays can cause the soil to become saturated, which causes the lemon tree to lose its leaves and develop root rot. To allow water to escape, transfer your tree to a pot that has holes in it. Also, empty any trays you are not using regularly.

Lemon trees need full sun to dry their soil. This is why it’s important to choose the best area in your garden for your tree.

Humid climates require less frequent watering because there is less water loss.

Reduce watering and allow the top two inches of soil to dry. Your lemon tree will be less stressed. It should stop losing its leaf and start regrowing in Spring and Summer.

Lack of Sunlight Can Cause a Lemon Tree to Lose Leaves 

Always locate your lemon tree in the sun, whether in the Winter or the garden.

Lemon trees are adapted to thrive in full sun. If they are placed in shade, their leaves may turn yellow and fall off, making them look very unhealthy. If the lemon tree is not in shade, leaf drop can also happen.

It is important to place lemon trees in sunny, south-facing windows for Winter protection. Winter has fewer hours of sunlight and less intensity, so the tree can stay healthy and avoid leaf drop.

Not Enough Water Can Affect Your Lemon Tree  

Although it is more common for lemon trees’ leaves to fall due to overwatering, they may have lost their leaves because of lack of moisture.

If the leaves appear shriveled before falling, the lemon tree is suffering from drought stress.

Lemon trees may lose their leaves if they don’t get enough moisture. For example, due to:

  • Being watered too lightly: Lemon trees like to be watered very sparingly. However, they can experience drought and leaf fall if they are not given enough water. The roots of lemon trees can be damaged if they are watered lightly enough to only moisten the soil. This will cause the leaves to drop to conserve moisture. Lemon trees need to be soaked so that the water runs out of the bottom of the pot.
  • Dry climates: excessive wind or dry air can sap moisture away from the lemon tree leaves, which causes the leaves to drop.
  • Intense heat: for example, 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.

How to Fix a Lemon Tree After Drought  

Lemon trees can be revived if they have lost their leaves due to drought. After a severe drought, it is crucial to soak the root ball as thoroughly as possible.

When soil is completely dried out, it can cause it to bake hard. Then water runs off the soil onto the sides of the pot. It is essential to soak the whole pot in water and submerge it in water for as short as possible.

If you entirely submerge the pot of the lemon in a sink or perhaps a wheelbarrow 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 still any leaves on the plant, spray them with a sprayer to increase humidity and reduce water loss. This should help preserve the foliage.

If there is a heatwave, protect your lemon tree from direct sunlight for the day. Doing this can help allow the roots to absorb moisture and not succumb to the sun’s stress.

After you have watered your lemon tree thoroughly, mist it frequently (a few times per week) and give the tree a good soak once in a while.

Regular misting reduces the likelihood of spider mites in indoor lemon trees that thrive in dry conditions.

This gives the lemon tree the best chance to recover from drought. As long as the water balance is maintained with proper watering, new leaves will emerge in the coming weeks.

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

Lack of Fertilizer can Affect your Lemon Tree

Lemon trees are heavy feeders and benefit greatly from regular fertilizer applications. Although leaf drop isn’t usually caused by a lack of fertilizer, it can be a contributing factor.

Lemon trees thrive in pots due to the good drainage and the fact that they can be brought indoors for winter protection in cold climates.

However, roots can become deficient in nutrients and cause the leaves to turn yellow. Some of the leaves can even fall off.

Stephanie

Stephanie

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