I have been trying to grow a pair of lemon saplings (from seed) with much care as to not over water. I previously tried to grow some from seeds and several unfortunately did not survive (due to my novice green thumbs overwatering) and 2 more were given away. I have looked all over the internet and have not had very much luck. My previous deceased plants died of root rot so I have become somewhat familiar to its unfortunate signs and symptoms.

These 2 saplings have grown from your run-of-the-mill generic miracle-gro potting soil, as I live in a very small town and was all I could find. I recently purchased a water/ph/light meter to help me with watering etc. as well as a fertilizer (Jobe's Organics Fruit & Citrus Tree Granular Fertilizer 3-5-5) I ordered online, which recieved and mixed into soil yesterday. They currently live in their own 12" plastic pot and i water them every about 10-14 days. Since doing more research online I have found that the conditions I am providing may not be sufficient. I currently live in south texas where usually we get heat of up to 100-105Fº (38-41ºC), because of this I usually leave them indoors by a window which seemed to do them well as leaves seemed to be coming in and looked perky. We have recently been having cold and gloomy days for weeks on end(light drizzle with temperature from 45-60 ºF or 7-15 ºC) and have not moved them from their spots; Today I saw online wrapping pot to help keep warmth could help in these cold conditions so I wrapped the pots in a few shirts each.

This week I have noticed about 50% of one saplings leaf fall, without any warning, and at first glance fallen leaves show no signs of distress. The other sapling has only dropped a single leaf in the same fashion. Most recently have begun to notice what looks like burn spots on a number of leaves on both.

Can someone please point me in the right direction on how to save and help make these 2 saplings thrive. The more detail the better please, I just don't want my ignorance and lack of experience to be the cause of death of these precious lemon saplings. I have looked into possible changing potting soil to cactus/citrus potting soil something like this possibly but also found that other things should be mixed in like sand, mulch, worm castings etc. and honestly it just goes right over my head:


I am trying to grow them because my parents have just moved and sold the childhood home where I was raised and where the original lemon tree resided. So many great memories came with that tree so in a way being able to grow and plant these at my future home will allow me to keep having great memories and quite possibly share some with my future family.

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2 Answers 2


Don't over-think things. I successfully grew a Clementine from seed and kept it for years until it got too large and ugly. In the winter, I generally ignored it (I live in Wisconsin, so it's "winter" something like 7 months of the year). I would put it outside in mid-May - in the shade - and bring it in again in late September. Every time I moved it, it lost leaves. One year it lost 90% of its leaves. I kept it in the shade when outdoors so that the leaf loss would be less - the transition from sun to shade and then back again really took a toll on it.

I suggest that the pots may be too large for your seedlings; I'd probably have put them in individual 3" or 4" pots (let the root ball be your guide as to the pot size). I would also use clay pots, because citrus tend to like soil on the dry side and the clay helps with that. You're entering spring now, it seems (lucky you - I'm looking at 4 foot high snowdrifts as I type this), so your watering schedule may be fine. The soil should be dry when you water the little guys. I'm assuming that you're watering them thoroughly and removing any water from the saucer 30 minutes afterwards.

If you do go with smaller pots, you'll probably have to water more often as the seasons progress. I'd put the pots in dappled shade if you put them outdoors - again, to reduce drying out from too much sun.

BTW, I rarely fertilized my tree, which grew to 4 feet high over several years. If I did fertilize, I used Osmocote. Yeah, I treated the tree poorly, but it lived. It flowered only once though (the one year I kept it between 50-55F over the winter), which isn't a surprise given how I virtually ignored it.

  • 1
    that's true @Jurp aith my citrus saplings and a large grafted clementine I ignored hem and they are fine. worked for me too and I did not fertilise it since.although the saplings have been pestered by some spider mites. so I chopped all the leaves off! but they are fine and they live on my roof in UK Feb 22, 2020 at 1:15
  • I have smaller pots both clay & plastic, do you recommend repotting even after I just recently did swop them into the bigger pots id say 2-3 weeks ago and just added the fertilizer and mixed it into the soil 2 days ago? The plant with leaf fall has very long roots easily 12 inches (30 cm) that were pertruding drain holes in its previous smaller pot, while the other has short ones probably 6 inches (15 cm). Do you think this extra exposure outweighs any potential risk from exposing roots? If yes would it also be worthwhile to mix in a more drainage friendly soil eg, cactus/citrus potting soil?
    – rsv87
    Feb 22, 2020 at 21:23
  • The main issue with pots that are too big for a plant is increased water-holding capacity of the soil in the pot because there aren't enough roots to use the water. This often causes root rot and kills the plant. Did you have a true root ball with each plant? For example, does the one with 12" long roots also have additional roots so that you have a mass of roots (with soil on/between them) to make a 12" wide ball? 6" wide ball? Or do you just have a few scraggly 12" long roots?
    – Jurp
    Feb 22, 2020 at 22:50
  • If you don't have a true root ball, then you have an issue with a wide pot - too little root mass to use the water being held by a gallon or so of soilless mix. You could try a narrower pot (maybe 4 or 6 inches) and prune the roots a bit to shorten them (more roots will grow and it won't affect the plant). The plant with the six inch long roots could easily be put into a 4 inch wide pot; maybe a 6 inch wide pot. Again, this depends on the size of the root ball, not the length of the roots.
    – Jurp
    Feb 22, 2020 at 22:52

Leaf drop:

most common reason for this is temperature changes.

note: citrus trees go dormant during winter and require different watering schedule then normal.

although it seems that you are doing all that you can correctly so far

the only thing I can notice is that when you changed your soil you needed to ensure the ph of the soil is suitable for citrus saplings.

the ph of the soil would also shift when you added fertiliser. citrus require soil PH range from slightly acidic 6.0 to alkaline 8.0 you can check thos by measuring the runoff water from the pot. measure the ph of the water before you water the saplings collect the runoff water from the pot using a clean bowl and measure the PH again. this should give you some insight in to the conditions of the soil and how acidic/alkaline it is.

also note that citrus sapling may lose almost all the leaves if it is stressed by temperature fluctuations or major soil changes

hope this helps

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