Lemons add visual interest to your backyard thanks to glossy foliage and bright fruit.

Why Are Baby Meyer Lemons Dying?

by Joshua Duvauchelle

The Meyer lemon (Citrus meyerii) was first imported to the United States by Frank Meyer. Originally calling China home, this lemon variety now thrives throughout U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 9 through 11, providing families with a bountiful harvest of fresh fruit that's sweeter, less acidic and thinner skinned than traditional lemons. If you've just planted some baby lemon trees in your backyard and notice that they're struggling to get established, or even dying, don't despair.

1. Poor Site Selection

As real estate agents like to say, it's all about location. Meyer lemons are extremely cold sensitive and will quickly become damaged or even die when temperatures dip below the mid-20s Fahrenheit. Meyer lemons also require full sun, and reduced sun exposure can cause poor growth, pale or dying foliage and other problems. Choose a planting site for your baby Meyer lemon trees that's on the south or southeast side of your home. In general, such south-facing areas receive more sun, and your home can help shelter the Meyer lemon trees from cooler winds.

2. Overwatering

All baby trees need irrigation when getting established, and this is true for young Meyer lemons. But too much of a good thing can be fatal; just like other citrus trees, Meyer lemons are very sensitive to excessive irrigation since this promotes rotting and kills the tree. In fact, while some general tree establishment guidelines may suggest creating a shallow basin of dirt around newly planted trees and filling it with water to irrigate them, this is lethal to Meyer lemons. The Texas A&M; AgriLife Extension goes so far as to warn that watering Meyer lemons with this traditional method "almost guarantees that the young lemon tree will contract foot rot and die before its fifth year." Instead, water the tree once a day for the first three or four weeks, using enough irrigation to moisten the soil to a depth of 15 to 20 inches. Then, reduce this to once every other day for a couple more weeks, and taper the watering frequency even further to once every three days until the tree shows new growth, which is a sign that it has become established.

3. Poor Fertilization

Fertilizer gives a young Meyer lemon tree the nutritional boost it needs to get established. Poor soil nutrient levels can slow growth or, in very poor soil conditions, the tree may even die before it becomes established. In your baby lemon tree's first year, fertilize it three evenly spaced times throughout its growing season by sprinkling 1/3 cup of 21-0-0 fertilizer around the base of the tree; then, irrigate the tree to help carry the fertilizer's nutrients down to the roots.

4. Improper Sanitation

Gardening sanitation refers to keeping the tree's planting site well-maintained. Young, newly planted lemon trees are susceptible to a wide range of disease problems that can injure or kill them, and site sanitation helps prevent that. For example, keep all weeds away from the base of your Meyer lemon tree, as that increases the risks of crown rot infections and other tree-killing problems. Additionally, if you do any pruning or trimming of the tree, sanitize your pruning shears before and after making each cut to help reduce the risks of spreading or introducing plant diseases. Combine three parts household bleach and one part water in a bucket and soak your pruning shears and other garden tools in this solution for a minimum of five minutes.

5. Pest Invasions

While mature lemon trees may handle pest invasions relatively well, attacks on a young tree can slow its growth due to the resulting plant stress, or even kill the Meyer lemon tree before it becomes fully established. Example pests that you may encounter include the citrus leafminer, red scales and mites. For many pest problems, look for any horticultural oil spray labeled for use on citrus trees and containing a 1-percent concentration of oil. Mist the spray directly onto any pest activity you notice on the tree to spot-treat the problem and eradicate the insects.

About the Author

Joshua Duvauchelle is a certified personal trainer and health journalist, relationships expert and gardening specialist. His articles and advice have appeared in dozens of magazines, including exercise workouts in Shape, relationship guides for Alive and lifestyle tips for Lifehacker. In his spare time, he enjoys yoga and urban patio gardening.

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