The Q&A Archives: Citrus Trees Shedding Green Leaves

Question: I'm an avid gardener who has recently moved from New York State to Southern California (zone 13). I am thrilled to be gardening in January! However, my lemon trees (a novelty to me) have started shedding what appear to be healthy green leaves. This happened fairly soon after I pruned and fertilized them lightly in early January. Any idea why? Are they likely to recover, grow new leaves and bear fruit?

Answer: It's difficult to pinpoint the cause of leaf drop, but the most common cause is normal behaviour (it's natural for evergreen trees to drop older leaves - this redirects energy into the development of new leaves). On the other hand, sudden leaf drop can indicate over or under watering or over fertilization. Since you've recently pruned and fertilized, this might be a contributing cause. Healthy trees can overcome adverse growing conditions (or treatment) and recover without much trouble. In general, citrus trees thrive on constant moisture, so apply enough water slowly and deeply to thoroughly soak the root mass. How often to water depends on your soil characteristics, rainfall and weather. Use a soil probe to help determine how often to apply water (such as a pointed stick or metal rod) and poke it into the soil. It will move easily through moist soil and stop at dry soil. As trees mature, be sure to water out to their canopy or drip line, where new roots are growing. To keep water from evaporating too quickly, mulch over the root area. This will also help suppress weeds. Citrus are also heavy "feeders." Apply fertilizer three times per year, using 1/3 of their total annual nitrogen requirements. Apply in Jan/Feb, April/May, and Aug/Sept. The amount to apply depends on their age and size. Follow package instructions and water thoroughly before and after fertilizing. Good luck with your citrus!

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