Leaves falling off orange tree

steve_71May 19, 2006

I have a small orange tree in a pot. Recently, half of the leaves have turned yellow and fallen off. It is budding now but no new leaves. What causes leaf fall on oranges? Is it too much or too little water? I have kept the pot moist.


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gardner_dragon(z7 NE AR)

Citrus trees/plants need to dry out a bit before watering. If you keep your tree moist all the time its most likely suffering from root rot. This will cause the leaves to yellow and fall off because its not able to breathe. In a sense its drowning. The soil must be well draining to allow air movement around the roots. As the water drains out it will pull in fresh oxygen to the trees roots.

If it was my tree I would carefully unpot the tree and inspect the roots. They should not be brown and mushy, They should be tan and firm with small white tips. If you find you have mush roots I would mix a solution of 1/2 cup household bleach to 2 gallons of water. After you have removed all the mushy,dead roots,soak the root ball in this solution for 5 minutes. Rinse well with warm water and repot into fresh well draining soil. Water the tree and place in a location where the tree can recieve bright light but not in direct sunlight. If your tree is going to survive, you should see new leaf buds swelling in about a week or so. If you have to remove a considerable amount of dead roots you will need to prune the canopy the same amount. This means if you had to remove 1/3rd of the roots you should remove 1/3rd of the canopy. If your tree has been grafted to a rootstock do not prune within 8" of the graft. This will insure that you still have the original tree and not just the rootstock.

Its also important that you not fertilize this tree until you have a considerable amount of new growth. Then only give it a weak solution. Weak is a 1/4 dose solution.

    Bookmark   May 19, 2006 at 8:23PM
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MikeP46(Zone 8 La)

Sounds like shock to me. Check pot for drainage. Citrus do NOT like "wet" feet. Soil must allow oxygen to get to the roots. Unless temps are extremely high, don't water more than once a week. Compacted soil will also smother roots. Use your finger to check for moisture. If the top three inches are moist, do NOT add water. Just my two cents.


    Bookmark   May 19, 2006 at 8:27PM
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Steve, is this the first citrus you've grown in a container? I notice you live in Ca and many Californians grow citrus in the ground.
I agree w/the above posters that you are keeping soil too moist..Allow soil to dry between waterings. You can test soil w/a guage, sticking your finger in the soil or lifting the pot..
The finger test is best..just stick finger in soil..if your finger comes out moist then the plant is not ready to be watered yet.
When you do water, lift pot..then wait a while, lift plant again..if it still feels heavy then you don't need do water..If light then it most likely does.
I'd remove yellow leaves on plant. If you want to inspect the roots that's fine, but you can also feel stems..if they break off and there's no green inside, then it may be too late, but if stems are flexible or if you cut a pice and find green, your tree is still alive.
It's never too late to care for your tree the correct way..Toni

    Bookmark   May 19, 2006 at 8:41PM
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Thanks. I will let up on the watering per your suggestions, although it just started raining. I did pull up the tree and noticed that the roots are very shallow relative to the extent of the branches, but no sign of rotting. I wonder if the roots are too shallow for the canopy. I guess I didnt pick the best tree.


    Bookmark   May 19, 2006 at 8:55PM
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Steve, it'd be nice, if when purchasing a plant, the roots were exposed so we could see what we're buying, but it doesn't work that way..
By any chance, is your tree a dwarf? What's its height? Roots should balance w/foliage. That's why it's stated when a potted tree is root pruned, a certain percentage of the foliage should be pruned and visa versa.
I've seen this done on a plant show..The host was working on a huge potted citrus..he first cut about 1/3rd of the roots from the tree, then pruned the top about the same measurments/1/3rd. But his tree stood over 12' tall. Toni

    Bookmark   May 19, 2006 at 11:09PM
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Toni, my orange tree is in a pot. It's a semi-drawf wash. navel tree on carrizo rootstock. I have it growing in a pot temporarily until I can prepare a good spot in my yard for it. The tree is about 3 feet tall and the roots extend down only about 8 inches or so. I bought it from Home Depot several months ago. I think that I got ripped off. It looks like a nice tree from the top but the roots do not balance. Thanks for confirming that an imbalance is not good. Steve

    Bookmark   May 20, 2006 at 1:48AM
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citrus are not known for having large root systems. heck, ppl plant them next to their houses and dont fear foundation problems. cant say that with most other trees. There is a good balance with citrus between their roots and canopy, but more so in what you do to one effects the other. I know someone that just moved a 20+ year old orange tree to another spot in her yard... was easily able to dig it up, no problemwith the roots, easily moved to another area.

I have several trees, all of which have very little roots, and having talking to other ppl, I'm not the only one. I recioeved 4 bare rooted trees yesterday... the trees themselves were 2 feet maybe a bit more. the root mass longer one some than others, but in diameter could be easily fit in my fist. All trees are highly healthy, large truck, dark green leaves, new growth. Sodefinatly dont wory about root masses, in not just my experiences but others I have talked to... root masses are MUCH smaller than you would expect and then some

    Bookmark   May 20, 2006 at 9:52AM
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gardner_dragon(z7 NE AR)

Citrus grow on shallow roots. This is one reason that overpotting is detrimental to the trees health. You also have to remember that the tree is actually 2 trees. You don't say what size pot you have your tree in. The roots should be growing in the top 1/2 of the pot. This is also why tree pots are so good. They are deep without being super wide. On MY orange tree there are a couple thicker roots that come directly off the rootstock. These are NOT covered by the soil. Before I knew better I burried these roots and the tree suffered. When I planted these roots above the soil it grew like mad. Only the top 1 1/2 inches of these roots is above the soil line while the rest is below. What the rootstock is I am not sure. The tree came from 4 Winds.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2006 at 9:57AM
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gardner_dragon(z7 NE AR)

One thing that may help to explain the shallow root system of citrus plants most commonly purchased and not grown from seed.

When you plant a seed it grows a tap root which extends deep into the soil. When rootstock is grown the tap root is usually cut very short to encourage side branching of feeder roots. This is why potted citrus root systems look very small in comparison to other trees and shrubs. Since the tap root is gone and the tree has to depend on the side roots for its water and nurishment it is important not to over pot. These roots spread out rather than down deep in the pot. These roots are also not as efficient as the tap root in the water vs air exchange. Planting too deep is a common mistake for potted citrus owners.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2006 at 1:03PM
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ecomtl(5a Qc Canada)

Lemon dreams,

Where are you located? I see it's Canada and you are talking about citrus in ground.....an oddity to me. I do know of someone here in Montréal that has a grapefruit planted outdoors for many many years, and doing well, however it won't flower or bare fruit since the growing season is too short..it's a miracle to me that it survives the winter. They also have a very enclosed protected yard from wind and other extreme elements which helps. Are you in some kind of microecosystem to allow you this pleasure?

â£Signed- Jealous (Gen)

    Bookmark   May 20, 2006 at 3:30PM
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I live in California (CA) not Canada, near San Jose. Almost everyone grows citrus in their backyard here. I have 2 large old orange trees and two new ones I just bought.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2006 at 4:04PM
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Steve, I think she was talking about me, I am in canada

My citrus are NOT grown in the ground. I have them in my house or on my deck if weather allows. There are ppl west of my that have citrus in the ground... but they'd die off here FAST. Our winters are getting more and more mild, but not quite there yet. If the changes continue at this rate... in 15 years I'll be able to. Even 15-20 years ago we were getting down to -20, -30C now, we rarly get down to -10 for more than a night here or there.

I would LOVE to live where I could grow my trees in the ground, just to get the huge size, have my spare bedroom back... and well, the easier care of trees in the ground.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2006 at 4:13PM
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I just visited my local nursery and a knowledgeable person there assured me that when green leaves fall off a small orange tree, it's because of underwatering not overwatering. Citrus have shallow roots and cannot asborb water well even when the soil is moist. Regular watering is necessary under warm and dry conditions or else a young tree will become stressed. Yellowing leaves is caused by nitrogen deficiency. He has been growing citrus for many years in this area so I trust his judgment. Those of you worried about overwatering need not, at least in the warm and dry climate of central California.

    Bookmark   May 25, 2006 at 12:42AM
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rickjames(9 Cali)

I'm curious, what exactly were your watering habits and technique just prior to the leaf fall? Sure doesn't sound like root rot with no rotted roots found :) Plus the pattern you mentioned--the falling leaves followed by bloom (that's what you meant by budding but no leaves, right?)--sounds like drought-induced stress bloom.

I agree that it is hard to overwater citrus in warm and dry California, provided the tree is planted in the ground and not someplace low-lying or somewhere obvious like that. But in a container it is a very different situation. Yes, I think that underwatering is a big problem there too (especially for me :), and especially if you are not saturating the soil with a good drench when you do water or are not adjusting your habits for climate. But overwatering (or rather, too much water retention)is very possible and becomes more possible with time as the soil breaks down and compacts--which I find kinda accelerated in our warm weather, unfortunately...

I also think that the cause of yellowed leaves can be more varied than just nitrogen deficiency.

You did state that you were planning to place this tree into the ground eventually. I wonder if waiting a bit to let the tree recover somewhat before the transplant would be a good idea, or if you should just move it whenever. Anyone with thoughts on that?

It's always nice to find a nursery with helpful staff--where ever did you go?

    Bookmark   May 25, 2006 at 2:54AM
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I watered it twice a week. Yes, the plant was generating new blossoms, but no new leaves. It did look like dought induced stress. I found no rotted roots. I went to Los Altos Nursery to ask for advice on it. In any event, I returned that tree, and got another one that has a much more extensive root system. This time I pulled it out of the pot and checked the roots before buying!

    Bookmark   May 25, 2006 at 11:33AM
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I have an orange tree that I planted from a seed 20 plus years ago,It never bared fruit until three or four weeks ago-we now have flowers growing with pea size fruit starting to grow. Why all of a sudden do we have fruit? it started after I brought the plant inside from the winter weather. also what fertilizer should I use?

    Bookmark   December 18, 2008 at 6:28AM
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a tree grown from seed will take years to flower and produce fruit, it needs to grow the right number of leaf nodes before it matures the time taken depends on exact conditions , fertiliser etc
You need to use a purpose made citrus fertiliser, there are usualy winter and summer formulas, they have trace elements needed to give the nutrition neded to grow fruit at the correct times of year.

    Bookmark   December 18, 2008 at 1:37PM
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Okay, I've read most of your postings regarding falling leaves. I have an orange tree that is doing the same. Only problem is that the tree is a mature tree and is planted in the ground. It produces wonderful oranges but part of the tree located on the very top section shows it drying out with falling leaves while the rest of the tree looks healthy. Any ideas what's wrong?

    Bookmark   January 20, 2011 at 12:21AM
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I was told that and orange is ripe for picking when the outer skin shows a little white which supposed to be sugar appearing on the surface. Does that hold true for Valencia oranges? I live in the San Fernando Valley about 34 miles from downtown Los Angeles.

    Bookmark   January 31, 2011 at 1:31PM
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