Dwarf meyer lemon tree lost all leaves

rosweetMay 21, 2012

I have a two years old dwarf lemon tree bought from OSH. Last year it flowers and bears fruit. It did lose some leaves during last fall, but grew right back. This year, it flowers during March, and now I have about 5-7 fruit on my tree. But since end of April it started to lose all leaves, some curl'ed up, some just brand new w/ brown spot on it. I leach out the soil, thought it's salt burn, and changed the top portion of soil as well. Unfortunately, last pair of leaves dropped yesterday, w/ only branches and healthy fruit. What else should I do? I don't think there is any pest issue, I have been water this tree once a week, so it's always on schedule. Please help!

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Is your tree in a container? My guess is it is; and your leaf losses happen during moving your tree inside and back outside. The Meyer is quite sensitive to light changes; dramatic changes in light often cause the tree to drop most or all of its leaves to replace them with new leaves better suited to the new light. If, when moving the tree outside, you first move it to full shade, wait a cupla weeks and move it to partial shade, and finally after a cupla weeks more move it to full sun, you won't have the big leaf loss. Do the reverse in the Fall, when moving it indoors and you will have better luck. The good news is the tree is quite resilient and the leaves will grow back.

    Bookmark   May 21, 2012 at 1:16PM
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Thanks Johnmerr, I'm in Zone 9, Los Angeles, The tree is in a container but hasn't been moved since I purchased it. We did have hotter days in March, and colder/rainy days in April. Not sure if the tree is confused about the season?? But our back yard's lemon tree is fine, w/ all leaves and fruit, it's in the ground. I don't know if something I did wrong to the one in the container. Thx again.

    Bookmark   May 21, 2012 at 1:33PM
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Surprised that moving it will cause total leaf loss in your zone. Mine didn't and I live in zone 6b. Mine grew taller and put on more leaves since, and just now getting a nub hopefully becoming a branch because I received mine branchless. Your lucky yours got fruit on it. Nothing on mine yet not even flowers.

    Bookmark   May 21, 2012 at 2:07PM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

Containerized plants shouldn't be watered on a strict schedule. If you haven't repotted it in two years, perhaps the roots have colonized the entire container and a larger space (with fresh medium) is called for.

I'd tip the plant out of the container to check on the status of the root/soil system and condition of the potting medium. Find another pair of hands, if you need to.

    Bookmark   May 21, 2012 at 2:28PM
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Thanks for suggestion, I would try anything to save my tree. specially the fruit looks healthy on it. I will post some pics later today...you guys can see how sad my tree is :(

    Bookmark   May 21, 2012 at 2:31PM
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jean001a(Portland OR 7b)

You won't like this suggestion, but I'll make it anyway.

If you hope to pull this tree out of this crisis, remove the little fruits. Now!

If the fruit remains on the tree, they'll use all of the tree's resources which should go to producing leaves.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2012 at 12:36AM
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I started to pull them off, but they are the only thing look live/healthy on the tree. I'm afraid without the fruit, I can't tell the tree is dead or alive (j/k)...since it has no leaf at all. But thanks for the suggestion, I will try to take a look of the root system, then probably pull all the fruit out. Whatever it takes...

    Bookmark   May 22, 2012 at 10:07AM
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timsf(CA Z8B/Sunset17)


I would agree with jean001a's suggestion of removing the fruit and directing all energies to root/leaf production.

You didn't mention anything about your use of a fertilizer. The ideal fertilizer has an N-P-K ratio of 5-1-3 and has the essential micronutrients of Fe, Cu, Mg, Mn, etc. Is your fertilizer anything comparable? Many on this forum have had great success with Dyna Gro Foliage Pro at the rate of 1/4-1 tsp + 1 capful of white vinegar with each watering.

And regarding watering (overwatering is the #1 source of death for containerized plants), I'm wondering if doing so once/week might not be subjecting your roots to too much water, and it's only now that the tree is expressing its dislike. There is usually residual water (search 'Perched Water Table' [PWT] in this forum) when using store bought potting soil and therefore a lot of us here make our own 'soil-less' mix (search 'gritty' and/or '5-1-1' mix in this forum). Alternatively, since it sounds like you'll need to repot your lemon anyway and if you prefer using regular potting soil, you can employ the use of a 100% nylon wick that goes from the soil layer to the exterior at the bottom of one of the drain holes - this should drain away any excess water from that PWT area.

Good luck and keep us posted!


    Bookmark   May 22, 2012 at 12:44PM
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Thanks, I did use some fertilizer I bot from OSH for citrus tree. I was using them every 3-4 months, but I suspect that fertilizer is giving my tree a salt burn. beacuse I found white stuff on top of the soil. That's why I leached out the soil week or two ago. But sounded like to repot it and better manage watering and fertilizing is a way to go. Will keep you all posted.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2012 at 3:05PM
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redshirtcat(6a MO StL)

If the tree really has completely defoliated I wouldn't attempt a repot at this time (I wouldn't attempt one in these temperatures either). If you attempt to repot it you will almost certainly lose some roots in the process. The roots are currently holding the only stores of energy that the plant can use to bud out again for you.

I would suggest you pinch off the fruit, check the roots as suggested above - if you smell/see signs of root rot then back off dramatically on the watering. You should be backing off in any case as there is essentially 0 transpiration going on now. I would sit back and not do anything dramatic until it leafs out again. This can take months. Do not keep it in direct sun during this time. Take care not to drown it and be patient and it will likely recover.

    Bookmark   May 23, 2012 at 8:03PM
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Actually, the Meyer,like most citrus stores its energy in the form of carbohydrates in the trunk and branches, not in the roots. The important thing, for recovery is not to prune off any limbs that are not dead and black.

I'm with rhizo on re-potting; I would upsize the pot, change at least part of the mix; and be very careful not to do "root pruning", that is losing a portion of the roots left in the original pot. When I do this sort of thing I always opt in favor of losing the original pot... cutting it off, breaking it, etc. The other way you can do it, is to put so much water in the pot that the tree and roots literally slide out of the pot.

    Bookmark   May 23, 2012 at 8:38PM
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redshirtcat(6a MO StL)

You seem to know quite a lot about citrus and I gather that you work in the industry but I believe you are incorrect with respect to the storage organs for carbohydrates for citrus. It's possible that I'm wrong - I only grow a few trees and read what I can here and there but based on what I've read (see, for example, Basic and Practical Aspects of Citrus Trees' Carbohydrate Economy: http://irrec.ifas.ufl.edu/flcitrus/pdfs/short_course_and_workshop/citrus_flowering_97/Goldschmidt-Basic_and_Practical_Aspects.pdf ) the greatest carbohydrate reserves exist in the roots of citrus trees. There are also large stores in the leaves but those are gone in this case.

A highlight:

"Reserves and Their Utilization
All the perennial organs of a woody plant may serve a storage function, and for an evergreen like citros this includes the leaves. Bark and pith rays are the principal starch depots in branches (Margalith, Goren and Goldschmidt, unpublished data). The highest concentration of carbohydrate reserves is usually found in roots (Loescher et aI., 1990), and in citrus is no exception (Goldschmidt and Golomb, 1982)."


In my view - if you repot the plant now (and by repot I mean change the soil out and risk losing any roots) you are reducing your chance of success rather than increasing it. Do check for root rot and resolve it if you find it (as, again, losing roots = losing high levels of energy needed for rebudding) - but don't do anything drastic at this time. All the fruit needs to be off the tree if you want it to survive - fruit receives a high priority when it comes to carbohydrate relocation as you will see if you read the paper and since your tree isn't making any more (no leaves) that would be a very bad thing to allow to continue.

    Bookmark   May 23, 2012 at 9:47PM
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Sometimes the problem is not what we don't know, but rather it is what we know for sure... that is just not true.

I read your paper; because I try to learn everything I can from anyone who seems to know more than I do. The paper is full of a lot of academic-speak, which often has little to do with the real world. It is sort of like reading a real estate ad; sometimes you have to notice what it doesn't say.
For example, they say nothing about Meyer lemons in any of their analysis; and very little about lemons in particular including the research material. Meyers are really more of a bush than a typical tree, so the root mass is smaller than the above ground portion.
Perhaps the most misleading of their information is that the "highest concentration" of carbohydrates is found in the roots; NOT the highest AMOUNT; in fact they say it is very hard to determine the macro-distribution amounts.
And yes, I do "work" in the industry; we currently have 8,000 Meyer lemon trees planted and beginning production; by year end we expect to have 20,000; and our 5 year plan is for 50,000 trees producing 15 million fruits.
I also have garden trees in all my gardens here in Guatemala; so I have some experience in garden tree practices. I do NOT however, have much experience with container growing; except for my nursery, where we produce between 10 and 20 thousand trees per year, depending on demand.

    Bookmark   May 24, 2012 at 2:14PM
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Ros, I can't believe all helpful hands here. I amazed at the outpouring of care.
What I agree with is to pinch off the fruit and check the roots. If the roots look bad, then it's obvious something is either going on with your watering practices or the mix it is in. You will figure that out soon enough.
You stated now that the fruit is gone you can't tell if the tree is fine?
All you have to do is watch the branches and make surre they stay green.

Roots first, since they heart of the heart of your tree. Make their residence in your containers suitable by providing an open mix and by watering correctly.

If your mix is compacted or stays wet far too long, meaning more than a few days at a time, and is the culprit of your woes, I personally I would change the mix as soon as possible to save what ever healthy roots you have left behind.

Good luck:)


    Bookmark   May 24, 2012 at 2:23PM
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redshirtcat(6a MO StL)

That's interesting.

I'm not the one expressing certainty. You are the one expressing certainty. Your basis for the certainty doesn't appear to be any published research, books on Meyers, or etc but rather some sort of gut feeling that you have based on the fact that you grow a lot of them. If it's anything more than that then some kind of documentation would be welcome. I said it's possible I'm wrong. If you present some kind of evidence that I am that'd be great.

I've read many studies of various types of citrus over the years (I'm sorry if "academic-speak" offends you but in general actual research tends to be done by academics who tend to use a lot of "academic-speak"). The particular one I chose maybe wasn't the best example but it was the one referenced in the Biology of Citrus for a good place to start on energy stores in Citrus plants (I know, another academic book? How absurd of me).

Perhaps you know of a whole host of published research on Meyers that you're keeping secret. I find that information specific to Meyers isn't all that forthcoming since it isn't a major cash crop in the US (something I understand you're trying to change). But the point is that most of the research has to be extrapolated from other citrus varieties since most studies are on those varieties. So yeah, I didn't cite a paper specific to Meyers because I don't know of many on Meyers much less on Meyers and carbohydrate economy.

I'm sure your absolute certainty as to the location of carbohydrate stores in Meyers is based in research and I await its presentation!

    Bookmark   May 24, 2012 at 6:28PM
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My advice here, as is true with most who offer advice on this site, is based on my experience, which is considerable. My advice is free; it is not required to be backed up by footnoted bibliography from 30 year old lab analyses of mandarins or grapefruits from Israel.

The users of this site are free to take my advice or leave it, as they see fit.
I don't pretend to be a citrus expert; my experience is primarily with Meyer Lemons, which is the subject of the OP.
And that is my last word on this issue... and it is without supporting research.

    Bookmark   May 24, 2012 at 10:19PM
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I bonsai Plants, and currently have a Tangerine * and an Avocado no bigger then a small dog* in my care. My tengerine needs a good root pruning.

Ya thats what I said a root pruning. As long as the Branches to not exceed more then half of the root ball, then your making a very healthy plant.

This will back up any statement I plan on saying, Look up the art of the Bonsai. Which involves a lot of pruning roots and branches even citrus trees.

In containers it is often that the soil gets compacted, this causes the little issue I am having, ware its winter and it needs it roots trimmed. * I hate using garbage bag in doors and it just gets messy*

the act of simply loosening the soil, helps a lot, since containers do not have earth worms to keep it nice and airy. however in instances when in a pot, your roots tend to out grow the leafy part causing well the loss of leaves. Roots need energy to stay alive as well. If you have to much of a Leafy top to your tree, you loos leaves again, resulting in again your's and mines issue.

However mine is simply due to it being that time for a root pruning, as my roots have out grown there leaf top. That and its pretty compacted in there.....

I should probably changed the soil all together, but its winter ware I am at in winter potting soil is a rare find.

    Bookmark   December 4, 2013 at 4:06PM
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Sometimes this place is a joke..lol

Where did that come out of and this thread is just about ancient..Times have certainly changed here. A bunch of people afraid to get to know each other and rudeness toi boot.


    Bookmark   December 4, 2013 at 6:12PM
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Please, let's not confuse Bonsai with fruit production. Bonsai is an art more than a botanical science. The ideal relationship of a producing citrus is 4:1 tree mass to root mass.

    Bookmark   December 4, 2013 at 7:05PM
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Steve, Z (6Bground,5B roof) Cincy,OH

But fortunella is about 8 to 1 which explains why kumquat tree can't grow on own roots. I think I belong in the bonsai section with my kumquats, Thanks John


    Bookmark   December 4, 2013 at 9:15PM
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Steve, Z (6Bground,5B roof) Cincy,OH

I got a picture of the kumquat puny root system I mentioned above.

58 week old Nagami kumquat bush 'strugling' to have been grown from seed

    Bookmark   March 2, 2014 at 6:02PM
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If Johnmerr is a member of this board- and has time for it- I have to join as well.

Typically, how long do citrus leaves stay on a tree if there is no undue stress. I sure that depends on variety. What other considerations if no stress?

    Bookmark   April 29, 2014 at 10:14PM
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Steve, Z (6Bground,5B roof) Cincy,OH

My unstressed leave may last a year or more

    Bookmark   April 29, 2014 at 10:43PM
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