A question came into Ask Gardenerd this week from Marilyn Boone when her citrus was overwatered: “Our mature fruit trees ( orange and grapefruit) got over watered. They have lots of fruit but are definitely not doing well. Would it help them if we took off some of the fruit?” -Marilyn Boone
Sorry to hear your fruit trees are waterlogged, Marilyn. Citrus trees often lose their leaves or turn yellow when they get overwatered. Let’s talk about why, and what options you have for remedy.
What to Do when Citrus is Overwatered
Your instincts are good. Removing the fruit will help the tree recover more quickly, since the focus of its energy right now is on making and ripening fruit. If you pull those off, it will focus on building new roots and leaves. BUT….
More importantly, the first thing I would do is work some compost into the soil to help improve drainage. You might also want to drill a few drainage holes with a stake or broom handle to facilitate oxygen flow to those deeper areas first, then work compost in when the soil looks dry enough to work. You can also use our Citrus Treatment to speed up recovery once the soil is drained well enough (that trick is one of many inside Grow Your Own Mini Fruit Garden).
Oxygen is necessary for photosynthesis. Yellow leaves often indicates that there isn’t enough oxygen in the soil for leaves to undergo photosynthesis – to turn green. When oxygen is depleted (usually when water fills the space previously occupied by oxygen), leaves start losing their color.
Anaerobic bacteria thrive in waterlogged environments, so drainage is important to prevent them from multiplying. Root rot and other pathogens can take hold in water logged soil. Compost adds space between soil particles AND gives soil a new dose of healthy microbes at the same time.
If you haven’t already, redirect sprinklers away from trees so they don’t get watered with lawns. If possible, put fruit trees on their own valve / timer and water them deeply but less often than you would your landscape plants and lawn. That will help prevent overwatering in the future.
Thanks for writing in Marilyn. We hope this helps!