Can this lemon tree be saved?

Q. I have a lemon tree in a container and all the leaves have fallen off. Does this mean the tree is going to die? Is the/re anything I can do to save it?

Lidia from Youngstown

A. Several things could have caused the leaves to fall off your lemon tree. The main ones are: cold damage, watering issues (not enough or too much) or a root problem. Also, it could be a cultural problem. Without examining the tree it’s hard to say what the cause is or if the tree will be alright.

A lot of time providing a tree, or any another plant, with the right growing conditions (cultural conditions) is all that’s needed for it to recover and thrive.

Let’s look at what a potted lemon tree needs to see if you’ve taken the proper precautions to keep it healthy.

A lemon tree is a fairly large plant, so the container it’s growing in should be a minimum of 14 inches in diameter; 20 inches would be better.

Yes, moving it can be difficult, so a sturdy set of wheels should be part of the plan to grow a citrus tree inside.

The potting mix should be loose and well drained. If the soil is compacted, consider repotting the tree in fresh potting mix. Lemon trees like the potting mix to be acidic where the pH is between 5.5 and 6.5. Using a potting mix that contains one-third peat moss will help keep the pH level in this range.

Fertilize using a formula that’s specific for acid-loving plants. You should use only half the recommended fertilizer strength because your lemon tree is growing in a container. Fertilize the plant when it is actively growing, usually April through August/September.

Lemon trees need direct sunlight at least part of the day. While indoors, place it by a window where it can get some sunlight. Remember to turn the tree every few days so all parts of the tree get exposed to the natural light.

Lemon trees don’t like to get too cold. A daytime temperature in the mid-60s, and night temps of mid-50s should be fine.

Water only when the top 2 or 3 inches of the potting mix feels dry. Do not put on a regular watering schedule, as evaporation will vary based on humidity inside your home and other factors.

If you’ve done all of this, it could be something basic like exposure to cold. Check the roots. If they are firm and white, your leaves will probably grow back. If they are brown or soft, it’s time for a new lemon tree.

A healthy indoor lemon tree can produce fruit over the winter. That would be cool – fresh lemons in Northeast Ohio during the winter.

To learn about growing lemons and other citrus in your home, visit

Today’s answer is from David Sprague, OSU Extension master gardener volunteer. Winter hours for the OSU Extension’s Plant and Pest Diagnostic Clinic vary. Submit questions to the clinic at 330-533-5538 or drop samples off to the extension office in Canfield.

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