Lemon tree dropping healthy leaves after being brought indoors

joker422November 3, 2011


For the summer and into the fall I had a Meyer lemon sitting on my south facing porch where it can get quite hot, due to the bricks on three sides reflecting heat. While there, my lemon tree was doing fantastic. As it got cooler at nights, I would bring it in and put back outdoors during the day.

Recently, due to snow and colder temperatures, I've migrated it to a south facing window in my office. The temperature is probably not quite as hot as it's accustomed to, but it's usually between 60-75 degrees. Since I've moved it to its new spot, it's been dropping leaves and flower petals like crazy. I can shake it a little, and a bunch will fall off. I'm not sure what the problem is. The leaves look healthy and green. I have noticed small spider webs, but I saw them when the tree was still outside, and it didn't seem to affect the tree in any way.

If it is suspected to have spider mites, what do I do to get rid of them?

Any help is appreciated. Thanks!

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What kind of mix is your tree in and how long did it take to dry out from the time you brought it in? Did you bring the plant inside while the mix was wet, or after it had dried out?
Did you acclimate to come inside?
Did you give it shade for several days before bringing it inside?
Have you checked for pest very closely?

By the way, WELCOME to this forum.


    Bookmark   November 4, 2011 at 8:24AM
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jean001a(Portland OR 7b)

Rapid review of plant physiology:
- tree was outdoors in bright light where it had "sun-adapted leaves"
- tree is now indoors with greatly reduced light; it now needs "shade-adapted leaves"
- in order to develop shade leaves, it must drop the sun leaves.
- when the tree return outdoors in spring, the process will be reversed: it will drop its "shade-adapted leaves" in order to develop new "sun-adapted leaves"

    Bookmark   November 4, 2011 at 10:55AM
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Upon A 'SLOW' review of plant physiology from good people like you and others here, along with the web, one can understand a plants requirement in order to avoid leaf drop.

I just about agree with you on every single thing you offer plus more.

But if he/she had acclimated their tree before it was brought in for the winter and or out for the spring, this drop leaf can be avoided.

I find a way to do it every year, as so I think anyone else could avoid this too.

Good to see you around lately as always!:-)


    Bookmark   November 4, 2011 at 11:23AM
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I don't know what mix the tree is in. I purchased it this year and was advised by the nursery to leave it in the pot for at least a year before worrying about transplanting. It's one of the Monrovia plants if that means anything.

It was dried out, but I didn't migrate it to shade before bringing it indoors, so that is probably what the problem is then. Tsk tsk to me then. I'll make sure to do that in reverse in the spring to avoid a similar problem.

CO temperatures change quite drastically (we recently had a 40 degree swing in one day), so I thought it was more beneficial to let it be outside when it's able and there can be significantly different temps in the shade vs sun.

Do I need to worry about these little spider webs? I've seen others talk about spider mites on citrus trees, and I'm not sure what I'm supposed to be looking for and if this is a concern.

Thanks for your help!

    Bookmark   November 4, 2011 at 1:01PM
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Hey Joker:

All you need to do is get some window screen, they sell it in rolls or by the package, and cut a good size.

Stick a few tall sticks into the pot to prop a piece you will place over your plant. Start with one layer the first week, then two the next. Then bring it in. The plant will be acclimated to a lot less sunlight by then.

It's that easy:-)

I will be back for more to add, but had to run.


    Bookmark   November 4, 2011 at 1:12PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

Hey, guys!
Mike, leaves don't acclimate or adapt to higher/lower light conditions.
Basically, once a leaf grows to maturity in a certain environment, it's more or less set
as to how efficient it will be at utilizing light. There is a small amount of leeway, sure,
but not much. As Al explains it: let's say a leaf in full sun gets a rating of 5, a leaf in
moderate sun gets a 3, and a leaf in shade gets a 1.

The leaf in full sun will tolerate growing in a light rating of 4 or 5, but will be much
less efficient any lower than that. Similarly, the leaf in shade will tolerate growing in
a rating of 1 or 2, but not much more. The leaf grown in moderate light will probably enjoy
a slightly greater range, say 2 - 4.

There are ways to avoid leaf-drop, which you've discovered with your own trees.
As you know, warm air and sunlight on the leaves while the roots are still cold
will very often cause leaf-drop. In general, issues arise from a disparity between temperature
and light, which messes with transpiration.


    Bookmark   November 4, 2011 at 3:07PM
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Great explanation! That is something new to me, although I always attributed my success with no leaf drop to acclimation to lights levels, with of course other factors.

The later of your part of your comments also makes a lot of sense.

Avoiding leaf drop is doable and what you described makes perfect sense. Where was I when Al wrote this? lol

Thanks Josh.


    Bookmark   November 4, 2011 at 3:15PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

Hey, thanks, Mike! ;-)
I'm writing from work (prep period), so I don't have access to all my notes.
I'll see if I can track down what Al wrote later....or maybe even drag the man himself
over to explain (and correct any misinformation).


    Bookmark   November 4, 2011 at 3:40PM
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redshirtcat(6a MO StL)

Yes. You do need to worry about the spider silk.

If the silk is very fine and doesn't look like a "web" then it is most likely spider mites. You might not see stippling right away (check for it) but the mites are there (mites are everywhere).

It's rare that I see stippling on the older leaves - what they do on mine is attack the growth tips. When you bring the plant indoors the mite population can explode because of the lack of predators. So it might have been fine outside but won't necessarily be fine inside.

I have a persistent problem with mites - particularly indoors. I've tried all the advice with spraying and coating leaves and etc etc etc - the only solution that works for me is lacewings. The eggs on perf cards are probably the most economical solution - they will be more expensive this time of year since most places will want to ship them 2nd day and they cannot be allowed to freeze. It took 2 applications this year before I noticed reduced activity. I had given up on them working after the first application but then about a month later I tried again (after trying everything else) and didn't have a problem for months.

I agree with Jean that the leaf drop is likely from cultural changes - but the webbing could be a problem and should be investigated.

    Bookmark   November 4, 2011 at 5:32PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

Hey, Redshirt! ;-)
Ditto on the webbing. Treat it before it becomes a problem.

Here's something I found by Tapla (Al):

"Light - leaves are only able to adapt to a range of light levels. Let's say light is graded from 1-10 by brightness, with 10 being the brightest. If leaves are formed at a light level of say 5, they can't adapt to levels beyond say 3.5 or 7.5. They can adapt a little better to high light than low light, but if the light changes outside the range of their adaptability, the plant will shed the leaves and grow new ones ..... or possibly not. The plant 'harvests' everything it can in the way of nutrients from the leaves it 'knows' will be shed, BEFORE they are shed. This doesn't always occur evenly over the leaf surface, so some tissues can die before others in leaves that are in the process of being shed, so dead spots or holes in foliage that is in the process of being shed aren't uncommon in plants like pathos, with very herbaceous foliage."


    Bookmark   November 4, 2011 at 8:02PM
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susan2010(6 Massachusetts)

I wonder, then, if it would not be a good idea to keep container plants that must be overwintered in dappled or somewhat limited sunlight rather than full sunlight - in anticipacion of the season inside?

    Bookmark   November 5, 2011 at 10:10AM
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citrus are going to need as much light as they can get, dappled or limited sunlight means it'll only be able to generate less energy than it needs to grow and produce fruit.

it's easy to make a simple stand with pvc pipes, and hang either a shop light w/ fluorescent tubes or clamp a few brooder lamps w/ CFL's to maintain a similar amount of light for your high light requirement plants.

    Bookmark   November 5, 2011 at 11:54PM
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I have almost the same question as Joker about the leaves dropping, however, no signs of any mites, and once I brought it inside when the temperature dropped, it has started blooming like crazy.

This is my first citrus plant and I'm not even sure if the blooms mean "Lemons"? It's a Duarte Improved Meyer. I bought it 2 months ago with healthy leaves and no blooms.

I'll incorporate all the advice so far about the leaves dropping, but is there anything I need to do additionally since it's blooming? Water more? Less? Fertilize? With what?


    Bookmark   November 7, 2011 at 9:30AM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

How have you been fertilizing up to this point?


    Bookmark   November 7, 2011 at 9:50AM
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I'm pretty sure I have spider mites. I see little red-brown dots on some of the leaves. I sprayed with a hand mister, but I'm not sure that's enough force. I might try putting it in the shower and hitting it with tepid water.

I didn't really find any good, non-toxic/homemade remedies for spider mites besides spraying the leaves with water. If anyone else has something that has worked, let me know. There seemed to be a lot of conflicting info.

Thanks for all the help!

    Bookmark   November 7, 2011 at 5:07PM
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madferret(UK 8b-9a)

Make sure they are mites and not actual spiders. I've had a few spider camp in mine and they eat any aphids or black fly that show up. :)

What you guys say about leaves make me wonder if that what's happening with my chilli plants (sorry to bring chillis into this). Now the dark nights are setting in they drop all the big leaves and make new little leaves, lots of them. My lemon has also dropped the odd leaf even though it's inside permanently.


    Bookmark   November 11, 2011 at 11:41AM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

Nick, the chiles will grow new leaves that are more efficient in low-light conditions.
That's one of the reasons why I often remove all the old leaves when bringing in my plants.

Joker, do you have Neem oil?


    Bookmark   November 11, 2011 at 12:24PM
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I dont know if i should post here or start new topic but i have simmilar problem with my citrus trees. They were planted from seed last spring and did well indoors under the same light during the winter. Almost no leaves dropped, but not more than half of my trees completely lost ALL their leaves, and some of them hardly keep one or two leaves. This happened when i brought the trees inside, they were growing well when they were outside on my north facing balcony. Leaves that drop are not yellow or sick they look just the same as the healthy leaves on the tree, still they drop a lot. here are some links to the photos. What should i do? Can someone help me with advice?

almost all leaves fallen off
Looks OK
leaves fallen off

    Bookmark   November 14, 2011 at 4:46PM
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The soil is not good.

Your mix is much more forgiving having your trees outside where they get plenty of light despite the fact your mix has collapsed.
Now that you have brought them inside and have given them less light and fresh air, your mix is killing your roots causing your plant to be weak and making it susceptible to spider mites and the like.

I would transplant those immediately into a very porous mix and wash all the leaves off with a natural soap from top to bottom while you are at it. When you plant, I would not use see through pots.

If you don't mind me asking but, what zone do you live in?


    Bookmark   November 14, 2011 at 10:20PM
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Hi all,

I am new to this forum, I have read this thread, but would like to double check my information to make certain my little lemon tree is doing okay.

Briefly: I purchased the tree in the spring of 2011. I live north of Chicago. The tree spent the spring, summer and autumn on my side deck with a southern exposure;I have many mature trees (50+ years), and this area gets the most sunlight.

The tree seemed to do fine while outside, I brought it inside before the frost. My house has floor-to-ceiling windows, so I placed the tree in the same exposure, except indoors. It probably receives strong sunlight probably 8 hours per day on sunny days.

Today is 21 January, and recently just about all of the tree's leaves began to shrivel. They did not turn yellow, but they did die (become crunchy) and began to fall off. I was very alarmed, but after reading this thread, I believe the issue may be that the soil/roots were cold. I do not presently have a thermometer (it is after 1 am and we just had 9' of snow!) but the container does feel quite cool.

The tree has never had any fruit, just one marble sized green lemon that I have not removed and some white buds, which I have also not removed.

Here are my questions:

1) It appears the tree will lose all of its leaves, but that does not mean the tree is in danger of dying, correct?

2) If I am to understand the problem with the contrast of sunny leaves/cooler soil/roots, this problem can be rectified by either keeping the tree in the sunlight and warming the soil (with xmas lights, for example), or by moving the tree out of the bright sunlight so it can "wait" until going back outside in the spring. So, I can move the tree to a less sunny location and it will be fine until the spring, given all other things remain the same?

I should add that I take pains not to overwater, and the room where the tree is located is quite dry with little humidity. I have used good soil and, as a bonus, since I have pigeons, I have also used some of the pigeon droppings into the soil. I have done this with great success with my other plants and in my garden, and with this tree during the warmer months when it was outside.

Thanks in advance for answering my questions, I really appreciate it. I just want the tree to be happy and to be able to overwinter indoors with as little stress as possible.

Thanks again,

Bill B.

    Bookmark   January 21, 2012 at 2:09AM
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madferret(UK 8b-9a)

After much messing about with my mini Lemon (which Im now suspecting is actually a limequat) which has terrible leaf drop in winter.

1) it doesn't like warm (radiator) 20C and 15C drafts, dry air in my front window, west facing
2) It doesn't mind my cool porch 10C max, no heating, no drafts, west facing.
3) it doesn't mind outside in the cold -1C to 5C, wet, humid, east facing.
4) it's doesn't mind my east facing window upstairs, slight warmth, east facing, average humidity.

So I'm guessing humidity and light is key?

Does that sound about right?


    Bookmark   January 21, 2012 at 1:54PM
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Hey Joker:
All you need to do is get some window screen, they sell it in rolls or by the package, and cut a good size.

Stick a few tall sticks into the pot to prop a piece you will place over your plant. Start with one layer the first week, then two the next. Then bring it in. The plant will be acclimated to a lot less sunlight by then.

holy crap I didn't even think about doing this above before bringing my tree in. It slowly is dropping leaves lol...oops. I hope it just goes on growing new leaves and is ok.

    Bookmark   December 6, 2012 at 12:29PM
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We live in Bowie, MD; outside of DC. We have a potted lemon tree that was purchased last summer and we brought it indoors before the first frost. It FLOURISHED; I mean it grew a couple of inches, it got leaves, buds, smelled GREAT! My husband was self-pollinating it for a while while the buds were really taking off. Suddenly, everything started drying up and falling off. That thing looks pitiful. :( We had it by the back sliding door, which is also right by the furnace vent--was it getting cooked every time the furnace came on. It gets regular watering and I now have it in the laundry room on the dryer--it gets about the same amount of sun without getting cooked when the vent comes on. Are we doing everything right and we just need to hang on until spring; or are we missing something? Our house is EXTREMELY dry, but from reading the above, it just seems that the poor thing is "cold". If that's the case, how do I make it "warm"?

    Bookmark   February 11, 2013 at 8:48PM
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I have a grapefruit tree up here in Syracuse and I had the same problem with leaf drop. Goout and buy a heat mat, plug it in and put it under the pot. This solved the problem for me.

My bigger problem is when I take my palm trees and banana trees back outside in the late spring. They all get sunburned.

    Bookmark   May 25, 2013 at 1:18AM
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tomnamy- i live right around the corner from you. nice to see someone from my state on here. i had the same problem when i first got my lemon tree. from this website i learned i had to reduce my watering to about every 7-10 days ( i use al's 3-1-1 mix) and i mist it with water everyday because it is so dry inside the house. good luck

    Bookmark   May 25, 2013 at 1:48AM
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