Lemon trees make a beautiful and functional addition to a yard. The fruit has rich amounts of vitamin C. The juice improves digestion, skin health and just makes water taste better. Both Lemon zest and leaves have culinary functions in tea, baking, marinades, and sauces. But like any Citrus tree, you can experience problems. In asking why lemons are falling off the tree, it’s good to know some basics.
There are seven common causes of lemons falling off a tree:
- Drastic Temperature Changes
- Nutritional Deficiencies
- Excess Fruit
- Inconsistent Watering
We will look at each of these and the steps that you can take to prevent lemons from dropping prematurely.
Growing Lemon Trees
The truth is, these aren’t particularly finicky plants. They are fairly easy to care for and maintain. Citrus trees thrive in hardiness zones 8b-11 if you sow and tend them property. That being said, there are a few considerations which you need to be aware of.
To begin, lemons are sensitive to the cold. Because of this, you want to put them on the south side of your lawn where they get better light and some protection from frost.
Additionally, Lemon Trees need soil that’s slightly acidic (pH 5.5-6.5) and high in nitrogen. Slow-release fertilizers can help here, applying them in March, May, and June. It’s also good practice to keep weeds and grass growth controlled under lemon trees to prevent them from competing with the tree for essential nutrients from the fertilizer (source).
Think of it this way. If there was no one around to fertilize a lemon tree, where would it get it’s nutrition? It would likely feed off of the lemons that fall from it, as they decompose and integrate with the soil, acidifying it in the process.
Add a top layer of organic compost down about 6” from the tree’s trunk. That regulates weeds while also feeding the soil without chemicals. Note, however, that fallen branches and fruit should be removed as these can contribute to pest infestations.
People often plant this tree in mounds to help with proper drainage. The tree needs 12-feet of open space away from buildings and other large bushes or trees. This encourages good air circulation.
Most Lemon Trees require deep-root watering weekly and periodic pruning so that the tree can focus on fruit-bearing. Prune only once you’re sure the danger of frost has passed, using sharp shears for dead limbs and branches, and suckers below bud unions.
Harvest the fruit as you need but always before the temperatures reach 30 degrees Fahrenheit, at which point the quality suffers greatly. This is also a good time for winterizing your tree by wrapping the trunk in cardboard secured in place or packing blankets.
Now, that sounds like a lot, but if you want to avoid having lemons falling off your tree, step one is really education about what your plant needs and where it thrives best.
The Reason For Excessive Lemons Dropping
First, if you only have a little fruit dropping there’s no need to worry. That’s normal. Most citrus trees drop some fruit in late spring and early summer. These are about the size of a large marble. That actually keeps your lemon tree from having excessive ripening fruit that weighs down branches.
Here are the seven common causes for lemons falling from a tree:
If the situation continues, you should also know that the cause is likely something directly from the environment that you really can’t avoid. For example, Lemon trees get stressed from drought. They’ll drop their fruit in favor of leaves that collect sunlight for photosynthesis. If your rain levels have been unusually low, deeply water the tree regularly and keep mulch at the base for conserving water in your soil.
Drastic Temperature Changes
A second reason your Lemons are falling off the tree is a sudden temperature swing. That reaction occurs often right after the fruit begins appearing. High or low-temperature changes at this juncture really impact your tree adversely. High heat coupled with heavy rain also sometimes results in citrus canker. Treat this with a copper spray.
Then too we have to consider the possibility of pests. Mites LOVE Lemon trees. Their presence can cause fruit dropping. Consider an organic insecticide (link to Amazon) if this proves to be the case.
Your Lemon tree can sometimes tell you it’s not getting the right nutrients before a drop starts. If your tree isn’t getting enough Nitrogen, the leaves yellow. Too little magnesium, zinc, or iron create yellowing between the leaf veins. PH levels can also be an issue. If you’re uncertain, take a soil sample to a local nursery and have it tested. You can then amend based on the results. My solution was to simply use Jobe’s Citrus Fertilizer Spikes (link to Amazon). I also encourage natural biological soil activity with dig and drop composting around the tree (not close enough for the roots to get to).
While all Citrus benefit from some pruning going overboard will manifest in falling fruit. Only prune your lemon when there’re dead branches and remove them from the area. Prune in summer before August. That won’t hamper new growth.
If your Lemon Tree has a plethora of fruit that you’re not using, harvest and preserve it. The tree will thank you. Too much fruit puts a strain on the tree. It can’t support all the Lemons, and it will drop some in self-preservation. On the up-side, the remaining fruit has a higher quality of flavor and aroma.
Uneven watering can cause your Lemons to fall off the tree (as well as flowers). Trees need regular watering. They don’t take well to drought and low humidity.
So what can you do to prevent your Lemon Tree from dropping fruit in the next season? First, remember to water your tree if your area received less than two inches of rain in a week. Water slowly so it’s absorbed into the soil instead of running off.
Note: The composition of your soil will play a major role in the amount of water that is needed. For a full understanding, read our article What is Soil (and why does it matter)?
If you discover that your tree has insects, you can use horticultural oils in winter and early spring to prevent the beginning of the pest’s life cycle. Insecticidal soaps also help. Also, note that keeping dead (or dying) leaves off the tree provides less space for bugs to hide.
Pay attention to your Lemon Tree. The behavior and color of the leaves tell you a great deal (see Nutrient deficiencies).
This YouTube video from the Self Sufficient Me channel cites four of the seven causes we’ve identified and gives a little more insight into addressing each issue.
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.
You may also be interested in How Tall Do Lemon Trees Grow? Where Do They Grow Best?