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bachelor seeking advice for failing meyer lemon tree

Jamie Clayton
December 29, 2015

Hi guys!
Im a single guy living in a house in Nashville with two buddies and I have no idea what i'm doing.

I'm a bartender so I figured I would grow a lemon tree and then have the tree next to my herbs and be set for life with cocktails.

I ordered my meyer lemon tree on amazon and first things first, i had no idea that the meyer lemon is not an actual lemon. So that shows you how much I know.

It grew into a big and beautiful plant but zero lemons so that was tough, but hey, patience is a virtue. I have a ton of patience, but I have little to almost no knowledge of citrus plants.

Sadly my baby tree has lost a lot of leaves with the colder months, or maybe watering, or maybe not enough sun. But hopefully you guys can help.

So the tree has been moved inside and the only spot in the house that somewhat works is in this room that has window light but never ever sees sun light. I recently bought a LED Grow Light 24W that has the red and blue lights.

You can see the coverage the plant gets.

Here are some close ups of my baby.

As you can see, I even bought a moisture meter! Which worked great during the summer and fall. But now it mainly stays on dry, even when I take it out and replace. And so i water it, but doing some research on here, I feel like I have overwatered it. Maybe the color of the leaves can let you experts know more.

My questions!

I wont ask will my tree die because I don't believe it will. The soil it was potted in was a mix of soil from home depot with a bag of some citrus soil I bought at a "home garden" store. wink wink. Do I need to do anything with repotting or the soil? I see people do the numbers all the time, like 1-5-2 or something like that with soil and I have zero idea what the numbers mean. I assume ratios of soils. But I would hope you guys will say nothing needs to be done with the soil.

I watered my baby a lot because I thought thats what it needed, after doing research, I see you dont need to water that much in the winter, especially if it barely has any leaves. What do you guys think caused my leaves to fall off? How much should I water it and how often?

I bought the light and my thought was to keep it on from around 10am - 10pm at night. Do you think the light is a good thing? Is it enough light or should I add another one? Does it matter if its pointed at just the tree or should I focus it on one branch with the most leaves? How long would you keep it lit for?

What do you think caused the discoloration in the leaves? I checked up close and did not see any bug, fuzz, or anything that looked odd.

Do i need to trim any brances?

What is up with the thorns? Will those turn into leaves or flowers one day?

Do you think once we heal this sweet plant back to full health it will have flowers in the spring?

Thank you guys so much - i hope this isnt too much. If you guys help, I will post updates in the comments if she starts to grow again. Oh, last question.

Will she grow leaves in the spring only and stay like this state (but not get any worse) or can we get her to grow some more once we heal her up? Id love her to grow leaves again.

I know so many questions! Thank you so much for all the help. If you feel like I should repost this elsewhere, please let me know.

Comments (73)

  • Wild Haired Mavens

    The tree looks pretty good for growing in the dark, my citrus is outside in a five gallon pot and it goes a month without water in the winter. Sometimes 6 weeks then I water weekly if there's no rain to get flowers. Love citrus trees, they're so easy.

  • poncirusguy6b452xx

    Wild Most of us aren't that good with citrus. Could you post a pic or 2 of your tree/s

  • Milan

    Oh wow Jamie. I think you're doing a great job. Tree looks great. I can't believe how much new growth has come. That's good. It's only the explosion of flowers you should worry about and I'm not sure you have that here. The trees push multiple floweres anyway . The new leaves look dark green and the old ones are still a darker green. I also don't see any branch die back. I'd say keep doing what you're doing. Looks like the over watering was a big factor. In the winter I'd say that watering level especially noting the size of the pot, was appropriate. Don't be alarmed if the new leaves are way different than the others. That's just the trees way of compensating for the lower light levels of winter.

  • Jamie Clayton

    Steve, are you saying these leaves might fall off and then a new growth of leaves will happen ?

    Thanks for the encouragement everyone. Milan, thank you thank you!

    Seriously this website has been a game changer and hopefully is helping save the life or a precious baby meyer lemon tree!

  • poncirusguy6b452xx

    Leave will probably continue to fall as time goes on. Hopefully your tree will set out new leave as you put your tree outside for summer. Your branch-lets are green and that is very good. Hang in there its only a matter of weeks.

  • limeinqueens

    Hey Jamie! Welcome to the emotional roller coaster I call "Beginner's Citrus Panic". :) Its quite an adventure getting on the right track. Looks like your tree is bouncing back! Trees push *flowers* when they're dying sometimes, but you have leaves, its looking good. definitely move it closer to the window.

    The 5-1-1 mix you asked about is made of:

    5 parts Reptibark brand chipped bark reptile bedding (buy at Petsmart )

    1 part "Citrus Soil" or Peat Moss

    1 part Perlite

    The reason people love this soil is that water runs right through it, so you can water more often (more oxygen!) with less root rot.

    Your soil is probably ok right now, its just that it will compact over time and eventually rot the roots by not draining. So you should plan to revamp the soil, but its not an immediate emergency.

    Final thought - another poster mentioned it, I just want to stress that you have to temper the tree to sunlight if you move it outdoors. 2 weeks in the shade, and two weeks in partial sun, before being placed in full sun. If you put it out too fast the leaves can get burnt and you will a sad panda then after all your work and worry (don't ask me how I know).

  • hottina44

    I'm in Pa.phila.area, waiting for 4 weeks to pass.Im scared ppl will get taken w I put outside of Bld.Till then I got 120 CFL & reflector. How close to tree do I keep it? Until I can put it out? Crocus breaking through soil, good sign 4 early spring?

  • Jamie Clayton


    Thank you so much everyone, for helping me. You saved my baby's life! Truly could not be more thankful and excited for the future.

    I'm not sure if it will grow lemons this year or not (it would be amazing if it did) but I think since it already flowered and bloomed (maybe prematurely? inside) that i have to wait another year. Who knows. What i DO know, is that with y'alls help, my tree is going to have a very healthy spring and summer.

    Thank you again so much everyone.

  • BarbJP 15-16/9B CA Bay Area

    Thanks for the update! So many never follow up, that's it's great when someone does!

    It looks much, much better. Kudos, you did well!

  • limeinqueens

    Thank you for the update -- it is bouncing back with a vengeance! You may well get flowers and fruit, in fact you probably will as citrus will flower year-round if conditions are right --- but don't be surprised if it drops a lot of the fruitlets. Your tree is more mature than mine, but dropping 80% of fruitlets isn't unusual for a young tree.

  • Jamie Clayton

    limeinqueens - can you go more into what the dropping of fruitlets means? I had zero signs of any fruit last year.

  • limeinqueens

    So the flower forms, then blooms, right? Then it drops the petals, leaving the green center. Then in some cases the green center goes yellow and drops off, or in some cases it starts to swell up and form a fruit. (fruitlet is my own term for the tiny baby forming fruit, haha). However, even if the fruit *begins* to form the fruit, citrus plants self-thin -- it stops developing the fruit it cant support. The fruit stops growing and falls off the plant -- usually when it is about pea-size. I am saying this is not a cause for concern. It is normal.

  • myermike_1micha

    If you want compact growth, now it the time to trim it!!!

  • Jamie Clayton

    Can you let me know more info on compact growth? And why i would do that?

  • myermike_1micha

    Jamie, the inside of your trees looks pretty sparse for my taste. I like to keep my trees very full and compact..Not sure about you. But when a tree is ready to explode like that, now is the time to encourage that...But them the way you wish your trees to look is a matter of preference..)

  • Jamie Clayton

    I'm sure you guys are all curious about how she is doing so here is another update! All thanks to you guys!

    Its a very happy tree! Would love to see some lemons but I think it has to fully grow out and fill up all the branches before any lemon buds start.

  • Vladimir

    Oh wow!!! Lookin goooood!

    Jamie Clayton thanked Vladimir
  • limeinqueens


    Jamie Clayton thanked limeinqueens
  • Christine Horan

    I'm giving my Meyer lemon tree 120 watt CFL bulb 12 hrs. A day. Feed & water . It lost all leaves flowers & one fruit last Dec. I gave it foliage pro lights & fed. Took mo. To grow 3 branches, not full, green but not shinty deep green. What more can I give it to grow deep green leaves ? They come in LT. Green, but get little darker but not the healthy green I've seen .Anyone have an idea how to get the evergreen dark green leaves? I'm desperate ? Please ? I'm starting to lose the leaves it took so long to grow? I can't put it outdoors I live in an apt. If I put it outside it would be gone in 10 min.I don't want to lose my baby. Any advise to get deep green( evergreen type green. All I grow are green, plain green I need deep green leaves b4 I lose them. PLEASE HELP ME & my baby??

  • Vladimir

    Hi Christine. Please post a picture so that we can see what the problem is. Citrus usually lose leaves because of over watering.

  • poncirusguy6b452xx

    I put my Mock Meyer lemon tree on my front porch a month ago and no one has taken it. Know one can tell that my tree is and impostor and is just a cuban Shaddock that lost its Meyer lemon top.

    Cuban shaddock · More Info
    30 gallon 250 pound Cuban Shaddock no one has taken.

  • myermike_1micha

    What kind of lights are you using ! What kind of mix? What's the pH of your tap water ? What is your watering method?

    Mike )

  • Laura LaRosa (7b)

    What a change in that tree Jaime!! Excellent job!!

    Jamie Clayton thanked Laura LaRosa (7b)
  • Jamie Clayton

    I thought this was fun to show you guys how much your advice helped.

  • BahamaDan Zone 12b Subtropics

    I'm really happy for you Jamie; it's inspiring to see a plant come from death's door (lol) to flushing vitality. I'm sure it gives you a confidence boost too! :)

  • Patty (Central FL, zone 9B)

    Looking at the progress of your tree gives me hope that my little tree can recover too! :D

  • Jamie Clayton

    UPDATE! Hey guys, its been a while. This summer, the tree lived a great life and was full of joy. But le sigh it is gotten cold. So now ( in a new house ) i have the tree inside. I crank the light on during the day to help since its not by a lot of window light. I could move it to the windows each day but im not sure how much of a difference that would make. I think i brought it inside the house and out of the cold MUCH faster than last year so hopefully that helps the tree.

    I have been thinking the only way to keep my baby strong and healthy is by doing that tinfoil lined trash can trick where you put the light to come in from above but I'd love to prune my tree to make one fit and honestly, im scared to cut a branch. because remember, i have no idea what im doing so i think if i cut a branch, it will hurt my baby.

    Ive been watering it a few cups every 4 days maybe, because i remember you guys saying it doesnt need that much water in the winter. Maybe thats too much still.

    Tips and tricks welcome to help keep baby alive and MAYBE she will produce lemons in 2017.

  • poncirusguy6b452xx

    Don't prune

    Get 2 lamps like this and use a
    bulb like this rated at 23 watt CFL daylight 5000K or higher.


  • Laura LaRosa (7b)

    Have you checked it for spider mites?? Can you put it both near the window AND near the artificial light? My big Meyer lemon is also having a hissy fit, I feel your pain.

    Jamie Clayton thanked Laura LaRosa (7b)
  • Laura LaRosa (7b)

    And I agree with Steve, don't prune!

  • kittymoonbeam

    What a great story for Christmas and don't we all need a little cheer right now? Your tree looks so good. I'm sure it appreciates everything you have done for it. Congratulations!

  • devsense

    I would also suggest to hold off on the pruning , I see a lot of yellowing and leaf drop , maybe is just WLD . Once u take it out in Spring and have new growth u can decide on the pruning

    Jamie Clayton thanked devsense
  • Jamie Clayton

    laura - how would i check it for spider mites?

  • Laura LaRosa (7b)

    Jaime, get a magnifying glass and very bright light (like bright window light) and flip the leaves over and see if you see the little critters crawling around. They also build webs around the branch junctions. You may need to check several leaves before finding one. My big Meyer lemon has had them this winter and is currently without many leaves also...I feel your pain! He's like my favorite child ;-)

  • Jamie Clayton

    UPDATE 2017! Im going to be a daddy!! I think.

    So my baby struggled all winter but did not lose ALL of the leaves. She just stayed in this weak hanging on phase with her leaves and a lot of bare branches.

    I put her out as soon as the weather started getting warmer to give her some sun and would put her back in for a cold random weekend. She has been outside for about a month now.

    I came home yesterday from work to check on her and to my surprise, little lemons! I'm attaching photos but I have some questions.

    Do i need to prune? I saw some webbing inbetween branches, could that just be any old spider or for sure a spider mite? IF it is a spider mite, is that horrible and what is the remedy?

    Any immediate action to care for the lemons to make sure they grow big and healthy? Will the tree produce all summer or just in the spring? Lastly, what is the timeline from little green lemon babies to picking one and making a cocktail with it?

    Your hopeless but excited bachelor.

    photos taken in the morning, sun has not come up yet.

  • Sammers510

    It looks great! My Meyer is just about to bloom now so I will be a bit behind you on fruit. Last year mine set fruit in the spring and was ready to harvest Sept-Jan the first few lemons were ready in September and the rest kind of peppered themselves in over the next couple months. Don't do what I did and let your tree keep all its lemons, I was greedy and left all the fruitlets (about 12) and ended up with lime sized lemons that weren't fully developed when yellow or as nice of quality. Since its your trees first year I would only let it keep a few lemons, maybe one per major branch at most. That will force it into putting its energy into growing the few lemons larger then a lot of lemons only a little. I am only going to let my tree keep 2-3 this year in hopes of nicer lemons and more growth to the tree itself so next year has a larger harvest. Congrats on turning your tree around, it looks great. a few more months and it should fill out nicely. For the webbing it is likely mites, you can take a conservative approach and spray it down with water or a soapy water mixture a few times a week, if its a small infestation that has helped me.If after a week or so you just keep seeing webs pop up in the same places move to something harder hitting like Neem. I order mine on amazon and spray my trees once a week for 2-3 weeks. It is an oil so it can burn your tree, I try to apply it on a cloudy day when it wont get fried in the sun. I have not pruned any of my trees yet so I can't say, hopefully someone will chime in. Keep fertilizing throughout the summer it will help the tree grow lots of leaves to give energy to those tiny lemons. Good luck! Hopefully the wait for cocktails with your homegrown lemons wont be too much torture.

  • angesradieux

    Your tree looks great to me! Do you mind if I ask what winters are like in Nashville and roughly when you have to bring the tree in/put it outside? Just curious because I'm moving to Nashville in a few months and I plan on bringing a meyer lemon tree and a couple other plants with me and I'm a little nervous about accidentally killing them while adjusting to a bit of a different climate.

    On the subject of spider mites, have you tried spraying with neem oil? I have a plant with some webs on it and I suspected spider mites so I've been spraying it every 6-7 days. I've also been spraying it with water daily because I read sometimes just a good jet of water can knock mites off.

    Jamie Clayton thanked angesradieux
  • tom1328732

    Congratulations! I would give it a decent dose of some sort of high-nitrogen fertilizer (Foliage Pro, Miracle Grow, etc). Look for the numbers on the container. For example, Foliage Pro is 9-3-6. M.G. is 24-8-16... I think. Anyway, the first number should be nitrogen content. That number should be higher than the other two. Other than that, looks good!


  • sunshine (zone 6a, Ontario,Canada)

    Jamie, your announcement about becoming a daddy put smile on my face :) I thought you are going to become a daddy of a real baby, lol .. You became a daddy the moment you brought you tree home and cared for it :) Can you tell how and what are you feeding your tree? Trim the branch tips that don't have leaves on them, ONLY the bare tips ( I see them in picture #2).

  • Jamie Clayton

    @angesradieux summers here are very hot and humid. we have all four seasons and its lovely but the summers lately have been miserable. Just the way it is. Still nashville is such an amazing city, too amazing i guess. 100 people are moving here every day. Its getting very expensive to find a decent spot to live. But if you can get a good home, deal with the summer, its an unreal city to be in right now.

  • angesradieux

    Thanks for the info. I'm heading down in August, so I guess I'll be there are in time to experience the heat and humidity. But the warm weather should make my tree happy, and maybe with the humidity I won't have to mist it so often.

  • myermike_1micha

    Jamie, where will they fit all those people and is the price of homes going up? I have always wanted to live there. I'll bet you get plenty of lightning storms to boot. One of those can transform your trees overnight like steroids!

  • Jamie Clayton

    I found some ants on it this morning - looks like they are feasting on some sort of branch stump. What should i do about these guys?

    Also - lots of little webbing, is meem dangerous if not used properly? Do you think I could get by with JUST doing water? I sprayed the tree down with water but it didn't do a great job of getting rid of the webbing.

    my attempt of trying to focus on a spider, failing miserably.

    a big question I have is about trimming. Here is a branch with only leaves at the end. Do you think I should cut this branch off? What are proper techniques for pruning ( branches and fruit ). I'm nervous I'll do damage and take too much off, or not properly prune the fruit.

    I really want to have 5 lemons on the tree to focus all of its energy on so cutting all of the rest off.

    mikerno_1micha - lots of cranes building condos and home pricing skyrocketing. Its pretty ridiculous. A house just got bought 4 houses down from me for 330k just to be torn down.

  • Vladimir (Zone 6a Massachusetts)

    Use a stronger jet of water to remove the spider mites and their webs. Hitting them with water will probably be enough, especially since the tree is outdoors but spraying with neem will make sure that they are killed. Neem is safe to use. Why are you so eager to cut that branch. Leave it alone!

  • Sammers510

    You want to leave as many leaves on the tree as possible to provide enough energy to grow the fruit. I wouldn't prune until after you harvest. Your lemons will tell you at the end if there was enough energy to grow them by their final size, and it will give you an idea of if you could have had more or less than 5 lemons. Its tough waiting it out but I've found its a learning curve the first few fruit sets.

    I would hose it down really well and if that doesn't work spray some Neem on it in the evening (you want it to absorb before the sun hits it since it's an oil it will burn with the sun if you let it). I just did my trees on Wednesday night. I have scale as well on a few of them though so the ants were drawn to the sticky sap the scale produces so take a look at your tree and see if you see any evidence of them. After spraying the ants are gone and the scale hasn't resurfaced, I will be treating again on the next two Wednesday's just to make sure I caught all of the life cycle. There was also a small amount of webbing that is completely gone now. Neem has worked well for me in the past on spider-mites, especially when the tree is outside.

  • robin98

    Is there black stuff on the leaves in the ant picture? Could be sooty mould which in my (limited) experience means there's quite a party happening on your tree. The mould and the ants mean you have sucking insects on your tree, such as scale or aphids, which excrete "honeydew" (the sticky sap mentioned above). The mould grows on this honeydew and the ants feed on the honeydew too. The mould in itself is not really a problem but it's ugly and if there's a lot of it it can block photosynthesis. The ants also in theory aren't a problem, more just an indication of a problem with other insects. Except that these ants can "farm" scale insects, moving them around to different places on your tree so they keep producing honeydew for the ants to feed on! Sneaky, huh?

    So, treat the insects as the others recommend (I'm no expert here, and am in a different country so possibly different products anyway), and as for the mould it'll wear off once the scale etc are gone, or you can wipe it off with a damp cloth. Isn't this fun?! So worth it though - I love lemon trees.

    Also, forgive me if I've missed this, but did you say if you were fertilising? Those leaves look pretty pale to me... Anyone else think that? Good luck!

  • jaydub83

    yeah it looks like it may need a heavy shot of nitrogen, if its not being overwated, that is. Also, are meyers supposed to be that thorny? I have a small one with a few thorns but that almost looks like a straight lemon tree.

  • myermike_1micha

    My Lemon Meyer trees has thorns as long as 4 inches..Just ask my arm. Ouch!

    Yes, I too think the leaves are very pale. Have you checked the pH of your tap water? I would use vinegar along with fertilizer even if I didn't know asap to cover all basis...My trees never get to that point with a well rounded out fertilizer along with vinegar.


  • Jamie Clayton
    UPDATE 2019!

    Hey everyone, happy new year! You guys are still my special community of help and advice that I always think of when I am around my tree! I have since brought my tree down to my parents house in South Carolina.

    Being a bachelor (still) I had to move into several different apartments in Nashville since that post, none of which would be suitable for my baby to thrive in!

    My parents also have adopted her and done an excellent job helping raise her as my dad loves loves loves lemons in all of the water that he drinks. It had a great summer - they brought it outside and kept it in full sun - it grew to become a large leaf bearing tree that the kids love to “pretend water” with toy cups and boats full of water.

    Now it has been brought in for the winter and it has grown so many lemons - I’ve been anxiously waiting for them to start turning yellow. Over thanksgiving it appeared that some of them were beginning to turn yellow at the base of the fruit. I was hopeful that this January they would turn full yellow and I could come and pick a few.

    Here is the sad news. It has been dropping leaves consistently. It still is blooming. My dad and i think that it is due to over watering.

    Then i just found out from my dad that after Christmas it got a spider mite infestation. My dad sprayed it with some pesticide and he thinks the spiders are all dead. I’m attaching a photo of what he used.

    Again, just wanted to update you guys. Last year we got lemons and it was incredible to see where this tree had come from. I think I might have to name her Lazarus! Never would have saved her with yalls help. What do y’all think of the current state the tree is in? What do you think of the spider mite infestation? Any advice would ALWAYS be so helpful!!

    Forever grateful,
  • Denise Becker

    The tree looks great and you have come a long way with it.

    Meyer lemon trees are really finicky about abrupt changes in their environment. If you do a slow transition from outside to inside that should stop the winter leaf drop that you have been experiencing. Then in the spring, you do it again in reverse so whatever leaves grown inside do not burn when going outside.

    I live in GA and started the transition period in October rather than wait until I had to deal with cold weather in December. I had no leaf dropping with my Meyer tree this year. My patio is on the north side of the house as well as my sunroom which is where my Meyer resides for the winter. The sunroom/patio gets less sun as the seasons change to fall and winter so Mother Nature does the transition for me. The temps inside and out were equal so that helped immensely. I only have a glass wall between the patio and sunroom so everything is equal in lighting and the temps don't go much lower than 44 degrees. I am very pleased with how the tree has fared so far. If the weather is comfortable for me, then I will move the tree outside for watering or pest control.

    You mentioned the possibility of overwatering. What are you using as the potting medium? Is the moisture level with fingers? I believe that is the best way. When the soil is dry on the top 1-2", then water. I see you have a beautiful pot. How many holes are in it? I usually add extras no matter what the pot came with.

    As for the spider mites, one application is usually not enough and has to be monitored throughout the time the tree is spent inside.

    Because the tree is loaded with fruit, fertilize with a liquid fertilizer at half strength. A lot of energy is needed to produce fruit.

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