Lemons Falling From Tree: How To Fix Premature Fruit Drop On A Lemon Tree
By: Jackie Carroll
Although some fruit drop is normal and not a cause for concern, you can help prevent excessive drop by providing the best possible care for your lemon tree. If you’re worried by a lemon tree dropping fruit and currently have lemons fall from tree, continue reading to learn more about what causes fruit drop in lemons and prevent lemon tree fruit drop.
What Causes Fruit Drop in Lemons?
Generally, you may see lemons falling from tree if the tree sets more fruit than it can support. A lemon tree normally goes through three periods of fruit drop. The first drop occurs when 70 to 80 percent of the flowers fall from the tree without ever setting fruit. A week or so later, pea-sized fruit drop from the tree. The third drop occurs in spring when the fruit is about the size of a golf ball. Unless premature fruit drop is excessive, however, these drops are not a cause for concern.
In many cases, lemon tree fruit drop is due to environmental factors that you can’t control. Sudden changes in temperature and heavy rains can often cause premature fruit drop.
Preventing Lemon Tree Fruit Drop
Occasionally, a lemon tree dropping fruit can be prevented, as dropping fruit can also result from improper watering or fertilization, excessive pruning and insect infestations.
Water lemon trees when you have had less than 1 ½ inches (3.8 cm.) of rain in a week. Apply water to the soil around a lemon tree slowly, allowing it to sink into the soil. Stop when the water begins to run off. If you have heavy clay soil, wait about 20 minutes and water again (or amend the soil to improve drainage). Too much water leaches the nutrients out of the soil, and not enough stresses the tree.
Citrus trees need a good balance of nitrogen and other macronutrients as well as a variety of micronutrients. You can provide the tree with everything it needs by using a citrus special fertilizer. For best results, follow the label instructions.
Whiteflies, aphids, scales and mites sometimes infest lemon trees. These insects seldom cause serious damage, but they may cause premature fruit drop and blemish the fruit. Use narrow-range horticultural oils in late winter and early spring when the insects are in the larval or “crawler” phase of their lifecycle. For small trees, a strong blast of water from a hose will knock some of the insects from the tree, and insecticidal soaps or neem oil sprays are somewhat effective in controlling adult insects.
Allow lemon trees to grow naturally as much as possible without pruning. Remove dead, damaged or diseased limbs as needed, but if you need to control the size of the tree, do so with the fewest possible cuts.
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Read more about Lemon Trees
Why is my Meyer lemon tree dropping its leaves?
Meyer lemons (Photo: Special to the Democrat)
Q: My Meyer lemon is about seven feet tall and is covered with small, green fruit, but it has lost most of its leaves. What should I do?
A: Citrus tend naturally to drop some leaves during blossoming and fruit formation, but the tree should not drop the majority of its leaves during this time. Some common causes of leaf drop include high heat and wind, nutrient deficiencies, overly dry or salty soils.
Is the tree in a pot? If so, has it been allowed to dry out recently? Another possibility is the tree has root rot. This is most likely if you’re watering too frequently or the drainage of the soil site or container is poor.
To get the reason behind your tree's loss of leaves, you may have to consider a process of eliminating causes for the leaf drop. For instance if you fertilize the tree regularly then you could rule out a nutrient deficiency. If leaves are starting to grow back, you can rule out root rot or salty soils as the cause, so keep a lookout for developing buds, which will be the first sign of recovery. When the tree drops leaves due to high heat or water stress, as long as conditions return to normal, the tree will start to grow new leaves within a couple of weeks.
A basket of Meyer lemons. (Photo: Sharon Rigsby)
Citrus trees are heavy feeders so you may not be fertilizing it enough. Lemon trees and most citrus that have a foliage diameter of 15 to 20 feet should be fertilized with one pound of actual nitrogen per year. So for example, if you are using ammonium sulfate fertilizer that has 20% nitrogen you would use 5 pounds of this fertilizer per year.
For smaller trees you would reduce the fertilizer dosage proportionally based on the foliage diameter of the tree. It is best to spit this fertilizer up into small applications each month during the growing season, early spring through late summer. Too much nitrogen fertilizer applied at one time in the summer can contribute to thick rinds and lower juice content in oranges and grapefruits.
A Meyer lemon tree branch in full bloom. (Photo: Celia Casey/News Journal correspondent)
Fertilizing in the fall can cause new growth that makes the tree more susceptible to frost damage. Fertilizer should be applied from the trunk out to the drip line all around the tree and then watered in immediately. Ammonium sulfate should not be used if your soil has a pH less than 6 as it will make the soil even more acid.
Trees in pots will need a more complete fertilizer with phosphorus, potassium and micronutrients included, such as one of the slow release fertilizers.
The tree may also benefit from mulching as this will reduce water loss from the soil and prevent soil from drying out too quickly, and it may also help to suppress some of the common root rots such as phytophthora.
University research has shown a reduction of root rot in both citrus and avocado trees if the soil organic matter content is above 7% organic matter. Amending the soil with alfalfa meal and other decaying organic matter has also been shown to help reduce root rots due to the higher concentration of ammonia gases produced by the decomposing material.
Shedding Light on Fruit Drop
What causes fruit drop in fruit trees? In this article, we discuss some factors that may cause fruit drop and some things you can do to prevent it.
"Why is my fruit dropping before it ripens?" is a common question from fruit-tree growers, especially regarding their tree's first fruit crops. Everyone delights in seeing the first fruit crop forming on their trees, but, if this fruit drops, so does your heart. Fortunately, you can take comfort in knowing that fruit drop — a premature shedding of young unripened fruit — is not uncommon or unheard of.
Let's address some of the different factors that may cause fruit to drop and some things you can do to prevent this from happening in future seasons.
No one can control nature or its quirks, but you can make efforts to protect your tree if unfavorable weather threatens. Freezes, wind and hail can cause fruit drop as well as other types of damage to trees and their fruit. If you expect a frost or freezing temperatures in your area during the growing season, you can cover your tree with sheets and even wrap holiday lights around it for extra insulation and warmth. Supporting your young tree with tree stakes can help prevent damage to the tree during windstorms. The best thing you can do for your tree is keep it in good health — like through regular pruning (especially of dead/damaged/diseased limbs) and making sure it gets the right nutrients, which can be found in soil additives like Stark® Tre-Pep® Fertilizer. That way, even if the weather takes some fruit, your healthy tree will stick around to keep producing for you in years to come.
Inadequate Pollination & "June Drop"
Naturally, insufficiently pollinated young fruit will be shed. This can be caused by an inadequate presence of pollination helpers (like bees) during the bloom time of your trees. You may encourage a greater population of bees and other beneficials by companion-planting roses and other garden plants that will attract them and +avoid+ using pest control sprays while your tree is blooming.
Shedding may also occur if there is not enough overlap between bloom times of compatible pollinating varieties to develop healthy fruit. Additionally, if pollinators are planted too far apart, then pollination may be unsatisfactory for proper fruit production. Planting trees within 1/4 mile of their pollinator might work, but planting them within 50 feet of one another is ideal.
Read more about the importance of fruit tree pollination »
Often, the fruit that is dropped is malformed, with few seeds, which is another result of inadequate pollination and other environmental factors. This occurrence is commonly referred to as "June Drop", which is natural, and also ideal, since the tree sheds what fruit it feels is not sufficient for reproduction.
The presence of disease and pests like worms can cause fruit to drop even if ideal pollination and weather conditions are met. For controlling a wide range of fruit-harming pests, we recommend a spray like Bonide® Thuricide® BT. A combination spray like Bonide® Citrus, Fruit & Nut Spray will be effective for _pest and disease control_.
Be aware that using pesticide sprays while your trees are in bloom will terminate bees and other beneficial insects, and some sprays may even cause fruit drop if used on the wrong trees, in the wrong amounts, at the wrong times. Always follow the printed labels for each spray for recommended application times and intervals.
Trees that try to overbear, especially in their early fruit production years, may succumb to early fruit drop. Young trees are more prone to drop fruit, whereas older, established, developed trees tend to more regularly store and make use of their reserve food. This food is stored while a tree is dormant and is used in the production of fruiting buds that swell and bloom in the spring. If a tree has not developed a system to properly store reserve food, the fruit that forms will compete for nutrients to feed them.
Several Young Fruit Form Along Branch
If there is too much fruit forming, "survival of the fittest" kicks in, and the tree drops fruit. If the competition for nutrients is between the young fruit and the tree itself, your tree will sacrifice the lot so that it can live to fruit another year.
Some trees shed the newly formed fruit to protect their branches from the stress of the added weight. If the fruit is allowed to remain on the tree, and it grows to its full size, the branches will break or bend down to the ground, which could be an invitation for pests and disease. The outcome is much more detrimental than simply having the underdeveloped fruit be shed to the ground.
26If a tree is allowed to sustain a vigorous crop load, and a drop doesn't occur, one result may be that the tree that bears biennially. The tree will have a bumper crop one year, where it produces an abundance of fruit, and then it will take the next year off to recover. Fruit bearing is a stress on the tree, so it is not unusual that, during this recovery year, your tree will not have a fruit crop.
Overbearing Fruiting Limbs
To avoid fruit drop as a result of overbearing, we recommend thinning the young fruit before the tree drops it. In general, it is best to leave 4-6 inches between each fruit and break up any clusters that may form. You may use small, sharp pruners to remove the fruit or simply pluck it off with your fingers.
If you pinch the blossoms off your tree before the petals drop and fruit begins to form, you will also be able to help avoid overbearing and fruit drop.
Common Diseases of Lemon Trees
‘Meyer’ lemon is believed to be a cross between a lemon and an orange. ‘Meyer’ lemon trees are smaller than most lemon trees and their fruit is sweet, flavorful and thin-skinned. The original ‘Meyer’ lemons carried the tresteza virus. They were banned for many years in most citrus-growing states. New improved varieties don’t harbor the virus and are safe to grow anywhere. ‘Meyer’ lemons are the most cold hardy of the lemon varieties, and have growing requirements similar to oranges.
Lemons need full sun and well-draining soil. Plant them in an area protected from hot, dry winds or frost pockets, such as on the south side of the house. Water them once or twice each week during the growing season. Proper cultural care can prevent most diseases and pests, but watch out for the following problems:
Tristeza is a fungal disease that causes a variety of symptoms, ranging from leaf yellowing or dropping, stunted growth to poor fruit production. The tree quickly declines and often dies due to root rot. Symptoms are most obvious during the summer because the weakened root system can’t take up water. Tristeza is spread by aphids feeding on the leaves. To control the disease, spray trees infested with aphids with insecticidal oil or soap, coating both the tops and undersides of the leaves. Buy certified disease-free trees from a reputable nursery, rather than home stores.
Botrytis is more common in lemons than other citrus fruits, especially in locations with cool, moist weather. The disease causes brown or gray, velvety growths on twigs and blossoms. As the disease progresses, the twigs may die back and fruit may be affected. Trees sometimes lose leaves and fruit drops prematurely. To prevent botrytis, plant lemon trees in full sun. Space the trees so air circulates freely and prune them to open up the canopy to light. Prune out infected branches and discard them.
Lemon Tree Root Rots and Trunk Cankers
The Phytophthora fungus causes several problems, including gummosis and root rots. Early symptoms include poor growth, lesions and oozing from the trunk. As the disease progresses, it can girdle the tree, killing it. The disease advances most rapidly during moist, cool weather. To control fungal diseases, plant lemon trees in well-draining, light or sandy soil. Make sure the top of the root ball is planted 1 inch above the soil surface. If you have heavy soil, consider planting lemon trees in raised beds to improve drainage. Spray the trees with a copper-based fungicide before the rainy season arrives and prune out infected branches. Treat your pruning tools with a solution of one part chlorine bleach to ten parts water between cuts.
Lemon Fruit Problems
Lemons are subject to several problems of the fruit. Brown rot causes tan to brown spots near the top of the fruit. As the disease progresses, the spots become enlarged and the fruit rots. To prevent this problem, harvest lemons in the afternoon during dry, warm weather. Septoria spot causes brown to reddish brown lesions on the fruit. Control Septoria spot by spraying trees with a copper-based fungicide. Use soaker hoses instead of overhead sprinklers and avoid handling trees when the leaves are wet.
Want to learn more about lemon trees?
For more information, visit the following links:
How to Manage Citrus Pests from the University of California IPM Online.
Julie Christensen learned about gardening on her grandfather’s farm and mother’s vegetable garden in southern Idaho. Today, she lives and gardens on the high plains of Colorado. When she’s not digging in the dirt, Julie writes about food, education, parenting and gardening.
Citrus that are being grown in pots are susceptible to disease, but its one of the best ways to grow cirtus trees. They just require a little more maintenance! http://bit.ly/1BcbCBN
belen lagasca says
Mayanja Samuel says
I see these same issues on lemons growing here in Uganda East Africa
Sourav kundu says
My leamon tree is dead so I want to know why it is dead
My lemons are huge(grapefruit) dry inside thick skin and they stay green. A wedding gift we received 28 years ago.
What causes a Meyer lemon tree to not bear fruit ? It had lemons on it 3 – 4 years ago when we first got it but none sense then….. help
My baby lemon trees are loosing leaves. They curl up and drop off.
I wish I could add a photo of the leaves on my lemon tree. I got it for Mother’s Day and the leaves look like something is eating it. I keep it inside in a sunny window. The leaves have holes and in some spots appear torn at the ends. Any ideas what this could be?
Tristeza is fungal or viral disease??
Altaf Gondal says
how my lemon plants well growth,pls to be inform me their care and diseases?
Leticia Vasquez-Mares says
Hello!, Glad you’re here I need help with my lemons. Its harvesting time for my lemons and some of them have these dark spots on them. And some have have a difference feel then the lemon itself. Whats more disturbing is when you open it the sideside is dry. Please tell me what to do?.
Hi, I have lemon with red spots appearing on them, these spots not necessarily do stick on the fruit and may disappear if wiped out when scratching them with my fingers. Any idea about the name of this disease & ways to cure it? Thank you.
The seven major causes of lemons falling off of a tree are mostly preventable. Granted, you can’t prevent drastic temperature changes but each of the other causative factors offers at least some opportunity for you to correct them. Sometimes giving a troublesome plant just a little extra attention and addressing the specific issues it is suffering from is all that it takes to revive it and help it thrive again.
A few lemons dropping from time to time is normal. If you have an excessive number of lemons falling from your tree, however, you’ll want to look at each of the seven issues we’ve outlined and take steps to correct it.
Lemons And Their Place In History
The Lemon first appeared in Arabic documents in the 10th century at which time they seemed ornamental in nature. It’s said that the Hanging Gardens of Babylon hosted Lemon Trees. The Greek Father of Botany, Theophrastus, called lemons the “apple from Media”.
The Greek Goddess Hera and the God Zeus held the Lemon as sacred. A dutiful nymph named Arethusa guarded the fruit in a special garden at the western corner of creation. Hercules obtained the fruit from that garden in his 11th labor, gifting it to humankind. Throughout the Greek world, Lemon represented love and wealth. Putting Lemon leaves under your pillow brought sweet dreams.
In Ayurveda, essential Lemon oil stimulates the five senses. Its image brings cheer to our eyes and mental clarity. The smell improves energy. The Lemon’s taste relieves stomach issues, and in massage, the touch of oil against the skin improves circulation and skin tone.
Lemons came to the New World via Spanish conquests. Here they grew as both medicinal and ornamental plants. The Victorian Language of Flowers uses them to represent discretion.
Paul has a two-acre yard on red clay soil in Southeast Texas. He knows exactly what the challenges are to nurturing a thriving yard in difficult soil. He takes a practical approach to yard improvement and enjoys putting best practices and “golden rules of lawn care” to the test. Click here for Paul’s author page
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How to Care for a Lemon Tree
Last Updated: February 13, 2021 References Approved
This article was co-authored by Mark Leahy. Mark Leahy is a Plant Specialist based in the San Francisco Bay Area. He is the Co-Owner of Bella Fiora, a custom design floral studio, and SF Plants, a plant shop and nursery. Mark specializes in floral artistry and indoor plants including floral arrangements, terrace planters, office plantscapes, and living walls. Mark and his business partner have been featured in Vogue, The Knot, Today’s Bride, Wedding Wire, Modern Luxury, San Francisco Bride Magazine, San Francisco Fall Antique Show, Black Bride, Best of the Bay Area A-List, and Borrowed & Blue.
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Lemon trees are fairly easy to keep alive, even if you don’t live in a warm climate. Establish the best environment for them by learning when to bring those potted trees indoors, and give them ample water so they don’t dry out. Once your tree is 2 to 3 years old, you should be able to harvest anywhere from 10 to 30 lemons every year!