Growing lemon trees is an excellent way to get fresh lemons, even for those without an outdoor garden. The attractive, glossy leaves and fragrant blossoms make indoor potted lemon trees excellent choices for indoor plants.
Meyer lemons, in particular, are a compact variety well-suited for container growing. However, all potted plants come with their own set of potential problems. Lemon trees are no exception. If you’ve planted a lemon seed in a pot, learning how to properly care for your lemon tree and recognize any issues is vital. Addressing problems with lemon trees in pots will ensure your plant remains healthy and productive.
In our guide, you can learn more about each common problem you can face when you grow a lemon tree in a pot. By the end, you can look at your tree and see you are growing a healthy lemon tree, as you can offer all your tree requires. (Read Weigela Leaves Turning Brown)
Common Problems With Growing Lemon Trees in Containers
Although lemon trees thrive in pots with the right conditions, there are some common fruit tree problems to look out for when growing them in containers. Being familiar with these potential issues can help you identify and resolve them promptly.
One of the most common lemon tree problems is yellowing leaves. There are a few reasons why the leaves on your lemon tree may be turning yellow, including:
- Overwatering – Too much moisture prevents the roots from getting enough oxygen. This stresses the tree.
- Underwatering – The leaves will yellow and dry out if the tree lacks water.
- Low humidity – Lemon trees prefer around 50% humidity. Very dry indoor air causes yellowing leaves.
- Nutrient deficiencies – Lack of nitrogen, iron, zinc, magnesium, and manganese can all cause yellowing. Fertilize regularly.
- Root rot – Overwatering encourages fungal root rot, leading to yellow leaves.
- Citrus canker – Bacterial infection that causes yellow spots on leaves and fruits.
Green Veins and Yellow Leaves
This symptom points specifically to iron deficiency. Lemon trees are especially prone to iron chlorosis. The youngest leaves turn completely yellow first, while the veins remain dark green. Apply chelated iron supplements or fertilizer with iron.
Several factors can cause lemon tree leaves to turn brown:
- Insufficient watering leads to dry, brown leaves.
- Over-fertilization can burn the leaves.
- If the potting soil stays wet for too long, root rot can brown the leaves.
- Cold drafts or sudden temperature changes cause leaf scorch.
- Salt buildup in the soil from tap water or fertilizer burns the margins of leaves.
- Pests like thrips, mites, and aphids can all cause browning. Check the undersides of the leaves.
Lemon trees with wilting, drooping leaves are stressed. This could be from:
- Underwatering – Dry soil leads to drooping leaves.
- Overwatering – Root rot prevents the uptake of water.
- Insufficient light – Lemon trees need 8+ hours of sun daily.
- Low humidity – Supplement with pebble trays and misting.
- Drafty location – Shield trees from cold drafts.
- Shock – Recent transplanting or repotting shocks the roots.
White fuzzy mold on the soil, leaves, or stems is likely powdery mildew. High humidity and poor air circulation favor this fungal disease. Improve airflow and prune affected parts of the tree. (Read Pittosporum Silver Sheen Hedge)
Stunted lemon trees with minimal new growth need:
- More sunlight – Lemon trees grow best with 12-14 hours of sun.
- Larger pots – Rootbound trees stop growing until repotted.
- Additional fertilizer – Potted trees need feeding every 1-2 months.
- Pruning – Remove suckers and inward-facing branches.
There are a couple of reasons why lemon trees drop flowers:
- Insufficient light: Lemons need full sun to support blossoms.
- Irregular watering: Too much or too little water causes flowers to fall.
- Temperature stress: Keep pots above 55°F and away from cold drafts.
- Low humidity: Mist leaves and provide pebble trays.
- Lack of nutrients: Fertilize to encourage flowering.
No Flowers and Fruit
If your lemon tree isn’t flowering or producing any lemons, it may need:
- More sun – Trees like at least 6 hours of direct sun are required. (use grow lights for the tree indoors if needed).
- Maturity – Most lemon trees don’t bear fruit until they are 2-4 years old.
- Pollination – Without insects, hand pollination may be necessary.
- Pruning – Remove inward growth and dense interior branches.
- Fertilizer – Use a citrus-specific fertilizer in early spring.
- Dormancy period – Lemons need cooler winter temperatures for a few months.
It’s normal for lemon trees to drop some developing fruit, but excessive dropping can be from:
- Irregular watering
- Low humidity
- Temperature shifts
- Nutrient deficiency
- Rootbound pots
Lemon trees often develop straight, vertical branches called “suckers” from the rootstock below the graft union. Prune these off to direct energy to fruit production.
Any variety of lemon trees in the ground, or growing them in pots outside, may face these pests more often than trees inside. However, it doesn’t mean growing plants inside will be free from the following.
Common pests include:
- Aphids: Soft-bodied insects that cluster on fresh growth.
- Thrips: Tiny insects that rasp leaf surfaces and spread disease.
- Scale: Small immobile insects that suck juices and secrete honeydew.
- Mealybugs: White cottony masses in leaf axils that feed on sap.
- Mites: Microscopic pests that cause stippling damage on leaves.
Lemon Tree Diseases
Besides citrus canker, other diseases that can take over the tree are:
- Root rot – Fungal disease fueled by over-watering.
- Anthracnose – Fungal infection causing leaf and twig dieback.
- Powdery mildew – White fungal coating on leaves in humid conditions.
Cold and Frost
Most potted lemon tree varieties are susceptible to cold. However, even though lemon trees growing in the ground can tolerate mild frost—temperatures below 50°F damage leaves and small branches in potted lemon trees. Frost kills tender growth, flowers, and fruit. Bring trees indoors or cover the tree with tree wrap during colder weather. (Read Gravel Driveway Water Diverter)
Tips For Growing Citrus Trees In Pots
The growth of your lemon tree can be affected by how you care for them. Growing healthy, productive lemon trees in containers requires paying attention to their needs, so here are some tips for avoiding problems and caring for lemon trees grown in pots:
Understand light and temperature requirements
Lemon trees need full sun – so make sure your lemon tree has at least 8 hours daily. Protect trees from the harsh afternoon sun. Avoid cold drafts below 55°F. Indoor trees may need to grow lights.
Choose a citrus variety suited to containers
Dwarf Meyer lemons, calamondin oranges, kumquat, and pots also work well for dwarf lime trees.
Use the correct container
Select containers at least 12-16 inches wide and deep with drainage holes. Larger pots help make sure your tree doesn’t get rootbound.
Use the right soil
Citrus trees need fertile, fast-draining soil. Use a potting mix amended with compost and perlite.
Plant tree at the right depth
Plant at the same level as the nursery container where the top of the rootball is just above soil level.
Water your tree correctly
Water thoroughly until it drains from the bottom, then let the soil partially dry. Citrus hates wet feet.
Common citrus trees need fertilizer added, as lemon trees are heavy feeders. Use a soluble citrus fertilizer every 1-2 months during the growing season. Stop in winter.
Prune your lemon tree carefully
Prune to shape in early spring. Remove suckers, inward growth, and dense branches regularly so the energy from the tree goes into producing fruit and not tree growth.
Check for pests
Lemon trees will need checking for pest infestations regularly. Address infestations quickly in younger trees.
Monitor for disease
Lemon trees also need checking for disease. Be sure to discard diseased leaves and branches to help improve airflow and reduce watering if fungus is present. (Learn How Do I Deal With My Neighbors Water Runoff)
Protect from cold
Move potted lemon trees indoors or cover outdoor trees when frost is expected. Avoid cold windowsills.
Transplant Shock Causes Yellow Leaves in Potted Lemon Tree
Repotting a Meyer lemon tree often causes temporary transplant shock. The disruption to the roots causes stress; the tree will drop leaves, face reduced growth, and droop.
Give trees time to recover in their new pots before fertilizing and waiting for the best time to prune.
- Transplant in spring and water thoroughly after repotting.
- Keep the soil moist but not soggy.
- Shelter trees from the harsh sun right after transplanting.
The tree should perk up once the roots are established in a few weeks, and you’ll have improved Meyer lemon tree growth.
Advantages of Growing Healthy Lemon Trees in Pots
Despite the potential problems, growing lemon trees in pots have many advantages:
- You can grow lemons anywhere, even indoors or on patios and balconies.
- Potted trees are portable. Move them to a shelter or ideal sunlight conditions.
- Containers make sure the tree offers easy pruning and harvest.
- Planting in a quality potting mix lets you control soil nutrients.
- You can bring trees indoors over winter in cold climates.
- Pots allow close monitoring for pests and diseases.
- Lack of invasive roots enables growing near foundations.
- Citrus trees make excellent container specimens with year-round glossy foliage.
Dwarf trees produce the same-sized fruits, yet yields are less than when the tree grows in the ground. However, lemons grow well in pots, so giving them the proper care can be gratifying.
Familiarize yourself with the ideal soil, place the tree in sunlight, watering, fertilizer, and humidity, and you’ll see your trees bloom.
In addition, keep the tree free of pests and promptly address disease and nutrient deficiencies. Older trees will flourish and produce an abundant harvest with the right conditions and care.
What causes brown spots on lemon tree leaves?
Citrus canker bacterial infection results in brown spots on leaves and fruits. Leaf miner damage creates winding brown trails on leaves. Scales, mites, and other pests can also leave brown blemishes on foliage.
Why do lemon tree leaves curl?
Over-watering is the most common cause of curling lemon leaves. Insufficient or irregular water can also curl leaves. Cold drafts and pests like aphids cause curling. High fertilizer concentrations burn leaf edges.
How can I revive a dying lemon tree?
Analyze care to determine the cause. Remove diseased, dead branches. Prune to stimulate growth. Repot if rootbound. Improve drainage. Fertilize and water correctly. Move to better light conditions. Control pests. Shelter from cold.