Lemon tree dropping leaves and branches dying

Catherine_MarieJune 13, 2012

My lemon tree is 15 plus years old and has grown to be very healthy and fruitful.. until recently.

The tree and my permanent home is in San Francisco where it stays mostly in the range of 50-65 F all year long. I was attending school out of state until recently and when arriving home, discovered that the top branches of my lemon tree have died (no leaves and when I scratched the bark with my nail, there was no green.)

After inquiring with my family and learning it has been unusually warm, I was concerned that the tree wasn't getting enough water (because my family doesn't water the garden at all.) I began watering the tree more frequently instead of solely relying on it's deep roots in the soil.

Unfortunately it's been a month since I returned home and the tree still continues to drop leaves, perhaps even more than normal and branches continue to die.

I'm becoming very concerned. Even if the tree bounces back and recovers, I am worried because all the branches he is losing are on the top and in the back; If I prune the dead branches off, he will become very lopsided and may threaten to tip over (?) or crack (?) or I have no idea!

Please help!

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TimSF(CA Z8B/Sunset17)


Can you post a picture of your tree showing the dying area contrasted against those parts still alive? Also, we'll need to see a close up photo of the trunk/root area to see whether there might be rot that's causing your tree to decline. To post photos, place your pix in Photobucket and hover over each until you see the HTML link. Copy each HTML link onto the body of your message and you'll see the photo when you 'Preview Message' just as we will.

A few quesitons for you:
1) How much water did you apply? (You may need additional periodic and SLOW, SOAKING water applications.)
2) Have you ever fertilized the tree? Using a specific Citrus & Avocado granular fertilizer, hopefully?
3) Do you see any girdling of the tree - have animals chewed around, especially at the bottom near the trunk/root interface?
4) I'm assuming you're on hard clay soil (like me/near Glen Park) - is your tree planted on a slope that drains well?
5) What part of the City do you live? Are you more warm like near SOMA and Potrero, or cold/foggy/windy as in the Sunset?

I wouldn't say it's been particularly warm in SF, but it's dryer than prior years, so dehydration is a possibility. However, there could be other things going on, so the photos and your answers to the questions above would definitely help.


    Bookmark   June 13, 2012 at 12:50PM
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"watering the tree more frequently instead of solely relying on it's deep roots in the soil"...

Citrus don't really HAVE any deep roots in the soil; they get almost all their food and water from the top 18 inches of soil.

If you can post some fotos, we can give you a better assessment; but it sure sounds like lack of water, which has caused the tree to draw on its carbohydrate reserves from the trunk and limbs, sacrificing what it could not support.

    Bookmark   June 13, 2012 at 4:27PM
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Wow. Great job Tim and John ! What would this forum do without good hearted people like you and others, who really take the time to help.
Thank you

    Bookmark   June 13, 2012 at 5:03PM
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Catherine, Yes the pictures help tremendously.

If when you arrived there were already lots of bare branches, root loss has already occurred. It takes quite a long time, IMO compared to other fruit trees I've owned, for citrus to completely bare strip and die-back branches after it's suffered from some stress.

So what you are seeing is the tree still coming into balance from the previous root loss. Remember, it now has fewer leaves, branches, and definitely fewer roots.

WARNING: Knowing this, don't overwater and start drowning it. Don't over-fertilize hoping it will grow more leaves.

Do whatever you did before when you cared for it successfully. Nothing else.

    Bookmark   June 23, 2012 at 2:40PM
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