Problems with Citrus

Hello everyone,

I’ve been having a really hard time with the citrus trees I have. One is a Meyer Lemon, the other a Satsuma. I planted the Satsuma too deep, and it has crown rot unfortunately. It’s been about 2-3 months since I re-potted it to try and reverse the crown rot, and it hasn’t grown at all. Should I give up on it? See the picture below.

The next two pictures are of my Meyer Lemon tree. It has had a few yellow/discolored leaves for a while now. My thoughts on the discoloration was that it was missing nutrients, so I fertilized it and gave it some lime. See the picture below… This didn’t help the discoloration, but it did make it flower. Unfortunately I lost every bud shortly after they became flowers and shortly after that… the discolored leaves dropped. The humidity was horrible in the location it was at, so I moved it to a more humid, but less light environment. A month went by and I noticed more yellowish leaves. Just yesterday the leaves were droopy, so I watered it. Literally the next day it dropped all it’s leaves. Can anyone tell me what’s going on here? These two are giving me a really hard time.

Ross, I’ll toss my thoughts in here, although there are more experienced folks here who hopefully will chime in…

Citrus indoors has a few limits which you need to be aware of. The biggest one is that citrus roots do not really “work” below about 50F. This causes many indoor citrus growers problems when they over winter their trees by a window indoors. It can be especially bad if the tops get sun while the roots are too cold to bring in/up much water.

I see in your pics, you have the plant right by a window. You don’t mention your zone, or which way this window is facing or how much light it gets or your indoor temps, but the loss of leaves usually is related to water availability issues. Possibly due to the roots temp and light imbalance issue, or maybe due to over/under watering or some rot/mold on the roots.

I’d take a look at how much light this plant was getting vs the temps of the soil and condition of the roots. You might want to check the condition of your potting medium, and does it drain well too. Good news is Meyers are pretty robust and once you get things back in balance it should recover well.

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soil too

wet, watered too often

60-67 degrees in that room. Maybe a little colder because it’s next to the window.
The window gets afternoon sun.
The soil is 40% perlite. 60% potting soil. Should drain well.
It really hasn’t put out new leaves. I’m assuming light/temperature is the cause. And as a result isn’t sucking up much water. That makes the most sense to me.

What do you think about the Satsuma, Steve? Should I give up on it?

Ross, your satsuma looks like it’s still planted too deep. It’s okay for some of the top roots to actually show. Did you trim off the rot when you repotted it?

The soil does need to be well draining for both, but you can’t allow them to get totally dried out. I don’t know what kind of potting soil you used w/the vermiculite, but some types are difficult to wet evenly once they become too dry.

Potting soil tends to be cooler than the room air because of evaporation. You are right about the balance of light to temperature being important. I can’t tell if you have leaves on your satsuma because I only saw a trunk. Citrus grows in spurts. It’s not abnormal for an indoor satsuma to go 2-3 months without having a growth flush, especially at those cool temperatures.

Meyer lemons seem to look for any excuse to sulk and drop their leaves. Too much or too little water, change in light, change in temperature, you blink one too many times in a day - they’ll pout, drop their blooms and leaves, adjust and start regrowing.

I’m not sure why you gave it lime. That’s not something that is usually added to citrus. Was it an effort to raise the pH, or what? You didn’t say what kind of fertilizer you used. Many of us who raise container grown citrus indoors use a combination of the timed release Osmocote Plus (the ‘Plus’ is important because that’s the micro nutrients) and a regular weekly or bi-weekly feeding of Dyna-gro’s Foliage Pro. That has the right NPK balance for citrus.

The right type of potting mix, proper balance of light to temperature, correctly sufficiently watering, and a proper fertilizer regime, and pest management are keys to growing indoor citrus.

The most common indoor citrus pests are spider mites and scale. They both suck the life out of the plants. They can be managed by a good hosing down and timely spraying with neem oil mixed to the correct concentration. One treatment will not eliminate either pest because there will be unhatched eggs. So, the treatment is repeated a few times after an interval.


Fertilizing? Hoosier Quilt has the best combo for fertilizing citrus. Indoors and out. It saved my trees ‘indoor’ during the winter. After my snow melts they are about to go back outdoors for the winter. Osmocote Plus. and Leaf pro? Are those right. Not near my bottles to check the labels. Works, really well.

On my Satsuma a few of the shallow roots are showing. And yes it has a lot of leaves… I only wish I knew it was ok to have roots showing before. And I didn’t know I need to trim the rot. Do I just score the bark with a knife and try to take as much off as I can?

The reason for lime was because I thought it may be iron deficient.

Ross, I’ve never had to deal with crown rot. Root rot in new plants, yes; crown rot, no. So, anything I might say regarding prognosis or effective treatment is going to be merely thoughts and not anything I’ve seen as proven course of treatment. I am aware that it’s a fungal infection, though. If it were roots, I’d say to cut out the affected ones and repot in proper soil for citrus. Since it’s the crown, I won’t venture to say that cutting it out is the proper approach, though it may be. However, that seems like major surgery to me, and it will leave an unhealed area open to attack if there is more phytophthora present. For now, you could try adding 1 oz. of 3% hydrogen peroxide to each quart of water you use for water. I don’t think that actually kills the fungal organisms,though it may to some extent. It supposedly helps provide extra oxygen to the roots. It may or may not make a difference, but won’t harm your tree.

You could also first take it out of the current mix if it a compactable mix. Remove all the soil possible from the roots and crown. Then dip the bottom in a very dilute bleach water mix before repotting it into an appropriate size container with a chunkier mix that allows quick drainage and better oxygenation of the root system. Al’s 5-1-1 and Gritty Mix have been successfully used by many citrus growers. If you don’t have enough potted plants to make it worth your while to make your own, they are now available online from people who whip up batches. Planting in a proper medium makes a world of difference when it comes to container growing.

I may never have dealt with crown rot, but I have never killed a potted citrus. Mine do pretty well. The current citrus count is 22 trees that I overwinter indoors. I’ll never be an expert, but I’ve learned a few things that work well for me along the way.

My understanding about using lime in a potting mix, is that it is not added to existing pots. It is used when creating a peat based mix in order to correct the pH. Then it’s wetted down and given time to react before using in containers. If you use the Foliage-Pro and Osmocote Plus that I recommended in my previous post, the iron, as well as other necessary trace minerals, will be supplied. The potting mixes and feeding routines have been successfully used by many avid container citrus hobbiests before me. Changing to them has helped revive plants and sustain plants. It’s not unusual to see noticeable improvement within a week of switching to them.

Soon the weather will be good enough that yours can get fresh air and bask in direct sunlight. They are likely to perk up very quickly. It’s good to hear that your satsuma has a lot of leaves. It’s not only okay to have roots showing, they should with citrus.

Don’t forget the things that Steve333 said. He had really good points. I know there are other members here who grow citrus in containers. Maybe they’ll chime in with advice or questions for you.

Okay, I’ll step in here and try to offer up some suggestions. Understand, although I grow a lot of citrus, they are all outside, and nearly all are in the ground :slight_smile: But, here’s the common issues that befall indoor container citrus grower:

  1. Bad potting mix that does not drain well. You would most likely have this issue based on what you’ve reported for your mix, believe it or not. I would Google “411 mix” or “Gritty mix” and use one of these two mixes. The are very porous and will do an excellent job protecting citrus tree’s very sensitive roots. They simply cannot tolerate wet feet, and the decline you’re experiencing is almost certainly due to root rot that has spread up to the crown.

  2. Planting too deep. Again, looks like this is an issue for you. You actually want to be able to see the very top roots after you pot up, believe it or not. Just a wee bit, but you should be able to see the very highest roots right at the surface of the soil, where they join the trunk. Then you know you’ve got your little tree planted at the correct depth.

  3. Inadequate light. Again, this is an issue for you. I would supplement your window light with full-spectrum plant lights. Remember - citrus are full sun plants in general, and they will struggle inside without adequate light.

  4. Improper fertilizing. If you’re using a porous mix, you’re going to have to fertilize frequently. Like, with every watering. Most of my indoor container citrus friend will use 1/2 strength Foliage Pro with every watering, then full strength during the real growing season, supplemented with Osmocote Plus (must be the “Plus” formulation) applied every 4 to 6 months. Citrus are heavy feeders espeically with N, so you need to make sure you have an NPK that is higher in N. Plus, the full complement of micros.

  5. Pests. The two pests indoor citrus growers deal with almost to 100% of those who grow indoor citrus are scale and spider mites. You must watch very carefully for both, and treat immediately, aggressively and frequently. Both are very difficult to get rid of, so you have to treat, treat, treat. Spider mites are very hard to see with the naked eye, so look with a magnifying glass, and look under the leaves. A citrus plant can fail quickly and catastrophically due to either/both.

Lastly, one of the most finicky citrus cultivars to grow indoors believe it or not, is a Meyer lemon. So, I would suggest you address all the above, and see if you can revive your little tree. Once provided the correct growing conditions, they can bounce back very quickly. Citrus are quite resilient.

Patty S.


I’m certainly no citrus expert but am starting to get the hang of it. I nearly killed a lime, grapefruit, and mandarin over the last two years, while two others thrived. The three I nearly killed are finally coming back by following the two ideas below.

The two things I learned are

  1. Water waaaaaaay less than you think you should. I have a mandarin now in a 15 gallon pot that is doing great with only a sauce pot full of water every two weeks or so. I also had another mandarin for years while living in Los Angeles that I completely neglected for weeks at a time. It seemed to love it.

  2. Fertilize frequently. I don’t use the gritty mix Patty suggested (but should), so I fertilize about once every 6-8 weeks.

And I think the reason for overwatering is that citrus (atleast dwarf ones) root balls are so small. I have yet to see a pot bound nursery plant. This year I’m seeing Four Winds citrus stock on #3 containers instead of #5, same sized trees! There is potential for the potting mix to hang on to moisture longer.

Lots of great info here. I’m gonna try a different method next winter, and I believe they’ll all do much better. For now, I’ll do some fertilizing & change up the soil asap. I’m still wondering what the best solution to crown rot is… those are some fantastic thoughts by MuddyMess, but I’ll do some more research and perform surgery if necessary. I’ve got a backup just in case.

Thanks everyone!

I wonder if it’d help to put the pot on a heatpad of some kind. I use a low watt elec blanket to start pepper seedlings in winter temps.

Many people do. I’ve used old christmas lights wrapped around the pot, which worked pretty well. Ultimately, I found it easier to leave outdoors and bring into my unheated, dark garage during extended periods below freezing.

My Meyer Lemon seems to be throwing out buds again…

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haha,your Meyer lemon looked mine, no leaves. I can’t tell mine has decided to live or die

At least mine is in a good spot now… Only thing left to do is fertilize.

It’s alive! It will drop those fruits, but should quickly start pushing out new replacement leaves if you’ve switched your care to a proper regimen.

Haha, it’s alive!!!