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Navel orange

Ask Gardenerd: Yellow Leaves on Citrus Trees

Here’s a question we see frequently when it comes to citrus trees: “Our orange tree has yellow leaves. What can we do? It is a dwarf tree. There are some oranges starting to grow. — Janette”

Thanks for asking, Janette. There are several reason why your orange tree might be turning yellow. Let’s start with the most common reason.

Navel orange

Too Much Water

Most people water their citrus trees too often. Citrus trees, like most fruit trees, like deep but infrequent irrigation. In other words, 1x per week if the tree is young, 1x per month if the tree is well-established (thick trunk), and somewhere in between for trees that are in the first 10 years of growth. While citrus trees have some shallow roots, they don’t like being watered as frequently as the plants around them, especially the lawn. If your tree is located in the middle of a lawn, re-direct sprinklers away from the tree and use a drip line to soak the tree for several hours to overnight (depending on the age) less often.

Not Enough Nitrogen

Yellow leaves are often an indicator of insufficient nitrogen. Test soil around the root base for NPK (Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium) with a simple home test kit, available online and at some hardware stores. The test will show your level of nutrients in the soil and will make recommendations for how much to add. Generally, amounts recommended in soil test kits are based on synthetic fertilizer levels, so you may need to adjust for organic. Most trees respond within 2 weeks on an application.

Sometimes It Just Happens

When fruit begins to set on citrus trees, the tree shifts focus from leaves to fruit production. So some leaves will yellow and drop, especially if nutrient levels are below adequate. This is somewhat normal, but make sure to address the above-mentioned issues first.

Old and new Navel oranges grow in harmony. The green one will be ready in December, the orange one set fruit in January.

Our Solution

We have a trick we use here at Gardenerd for ailing citrus trees that works pretty much every time:

  1. Clear away all mulch around the citrus tree
  2. Put down a layer of worm castings from 4″ away from the tree trunk out to the drip line (the branch tips)
  3. Mix in a few handfuls of organic citrus tree fertilizer
  4. Cover all of that with a layer of acid planting mix (Azalea or rhododendron mix). This helps reduce soil pH, as citrus trees prefer acid soil.
  5. Put existing mulch back in place (don’t let it touch the trunk)

This trick can be applied every month until you see improvement. Usually one application is all that is needed for about 4-6 months, if you correct your water issues first.

Thanks for writing in, Janette. We hope this helps.

This Post Has 50 Comments

  1. Leslie

    Is this the same as Septoria? Is it a fungus that will spread to my other plants?

    1. Christy

      Septoria is fungal and it does spread, and it can be found on citrus trees. You may want to take a sample to your local nursery for identification to be sure.

  2. Mike Jeczala

    I have a young grapefruit tree that gets watered 3x per week for 40 minutes from my irrigation system. Is this too much water? I live in maricopa az. Thanks

    1. Christy

      That does seem like way too much water, even for Arizona. I’d reduce the frequency by at least 2 days to start. The tree will need time to adapt and drive down deeper roots. Then you can cut back more as needed. The tree should green up with less water.

  3. Mark S Ward

    Hi Christy,

    I have Planted (20) 16″/Gal. Sour Orange trees for a hedge late september of 2020 here in Scottsdale AZ. I started watering them (Drip) every 3 days for probably over a month because it was still so hot, which I assume was probably too much? I backed off the water mid november to every two weeks or longer because I was noticing some yellowing and the loss of the deep green color.

    I want to try your solution of worm castings, organic citrus fertilizer and Acid mix on my Sour Orange trees. At what point in time is it safe to do so?

    Thanks for the help!

    1. Christy

      Since this treatment triggers new growth and blossoming, you might want to wait until after your last frost dates to apply. Perhaps late March, depending on what the weather is like. I’d hate to see new growth damaged by frost, so wait until the coast is clear to start feeding again.

      1. Mark S Ward

        Thank you!

  4. Chelsy Mitchell

    Hi Christy,

    thank you for all the information! its been very helpful thus far.

    I recently inherited by grandmothers 30 year old calamondin tree, shes big! I have had it since June now. I investigated her roots then to see what I was dealing with and they were white and firm, she was outside all summer and got tons of new leaves, a little sun burnt at first but I leaned my lesson with that. I brought her inside in mid-October (I am in upstate NY), she dropped some leaves at that point (mostly older ones) which I assumed was normal as the temps got cooler, less humidity, less direct light.. She is currently in a big south facing window (my bedroom) I keep it in the 70s, high 60s at night, I have a humidifier in the room. Now it has tons and tons of flower buds (although some are big but starting to get a little brown at tip). I am concerned because while she still has tons of leaves and now flower buds, she still drops 2-5 leaves daily but isnt really getting new ones, perhaps the new leaves come in the spring/summer… If this continues she would be pretty leggy. The leaves that drop are yellowish, the ones on the tree and bright and green. I water her every 1.5 weeks and I notice the leaves droop considerably if I do not follow that schedule. My grandmother said she didn’t typically follow any type of fertilizing schedule, wondering if she needs some nutrients. I remember as a kid and teen the tree always had calamondins although my grandmother was always fussing with her, ha.

    Also worth noting she has two spots on her trunk with what appears to be gummosis. She had this when I inherited her. It oozes orange sap… not sure this can be corrected at this point. Is that something it can live with?

    Any insight here? I know this is a lot, I wanted to present the full picture!


    1. Christy

      HI Chelsy, Thanks for all this info. Citrus trees do tend to drop leaves once they set fruit, and they generally look sad while that is happening. Your calamondin is self-fertile so it doesn’t need the help of bees or other pollinators to set fruit. I mention that because you said the flowers are looking a little brown at the tips. This could instead be an indicator that the fruit will fall off instead of develop. Check the soil’s phosphorus and potassium levels and make sure those are adequate. Home soil test kits are available and will show whether your nutrient levels are sufficient or not. I do recommend adding organic fruit tree or citrus specific fertilizer to containers, especially since they have nowhere to get their nutrients from except you. Feed the tree monthly, since watering will flush out nutrients that the tree doesn’t use. You should see those baby fruits persist and more leave growth (which means a lack of nitrogen, BTW) A balanced fruit tree fertilizer will have N, P, and K and will help your tree a lot.

      1. Chelsy Mitchell

        Christy thank you so much for reading my whole long comment and giving such a thoughtful and informative reply. Just ordered a home soil test kit. That is so right that the only nutrients the tree is getting is from me, makes sense! I also ordered some citrus fertilizer the other day as well. There are sooo many flower buds, hoping some hang in there 😉 I sprayed it with neem oil about two days ago because I saw a couple small small black dots on a few leaves so perhaps that made some of the flowers get a little brown… we shall see!

        If its not a bother, any gummosis thoughts?

        happy new year

        1. Christy

          Ah, forgot to address the gummosis. Gummosis is caused by phytophthora, technically an algae, but it is often grouped into fungal diseases. In citrus it can be brought on by too much water or poor drainage. It is very common in citrus orchards, but you have inherited this issue in a container. Your watering schedule seems moderate enough to not be the cause of the issue, however. You may want to check the drainage hole from time to time to make sure it isn’t obstructed. It might benefit from re-potting with fresh soil eventually. You can use a copper spray to reduce the infection, but I would start with a soil drench and foliar spray of Active Aerated Compost Tea first. That will repopulate the soil and surface area with beneficial microbes that can outcompete the algae and bring things back into balance. Some folks have applied gypsum to the soil and seen improvement as well. It improves drainage, but I don’t think that’s necessary with your situation.

          1. Chelsy Mitchell

            I really appreciate all the info you gave me last winter! My calamondin had such a productive summer, I got tons of fruit from her, she was so happy on my deck with lots of new growth, what a joy. I am coming to you with another couple questions.. As per usual I just brought her back in mid October for the winter (I am in upstate NY 5b), this year the tree is in my NW living room with very large windows, not the south anymore unfortunately (no space there this year) but she has a grow light now which I think will be very helpful. She has shed soooo many leaves since bringing her in… I notice the leaves that drop are yellow mostly and then green on tips as if they are yellowing from where they are attached to the branch. I feel like some leaf shed is normal this time of year which the change in temp and humidity but any insight on keeping her happy in the mean time. I always fear she will lose every leaf which has never happened but it goes through your head. Last time she shed this many leaves it was in January and she was getting flowers which made sense but she’s not currently budding. I thought maybe she was putting too much energy into the fruit so I harvested them all about a week ago.

            worth nothing that her gummosis seems to have gone away after being outside.. thats a plus

          2. Christy

            Chelsy, I’m glad the advice you received here has helped in the past. Sorry to hear that your calamondin is suffering after bring brought indoors. If you can water it with kelp emulsion through winter, I think that will help keep it happy until next spring. Kelp helps ease transplant shock (which isn’t the case here, but moving is a type of transplanting). Continue to feed with fertilizer monthly as well and if it has any fruit on it, remove those. That will be less of a burden on the tree over winter. I hope this helps.

  5. Mee

    We have an unknown specie of orange that’s grafted onto or grafted with what we believe is a Valencia orange tree. We just moved in a month ago so the Valencia (at least we think it’s Valencia) we are still eating but the other citrus only has very young green small round fruit on it. The leaves and fruit have both started turning yellow and getting more yellow by the day. The Valencia side is still very green and doesn’t appear to be heading in the same yellow direction as it’s grafter partner. Not really sure what the problem is but I fear if we don’t resolve it, there will be no fruit to be seen. Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.

    1. Christy

      Hi Mee, I’m going to take a guess here (since I can’t see it for myself) that the mystery citrus is most likely root stock that is growing from below the graft point of the tree. Root stock will not produce a tasty fruit, as most varieties used for root stock are inedible. Follow the branches of that mystery citrus down to its origin and see whether it is coming from below the knobby graft union at the base of the tree. If so, that’s what is going on. You can feel free to cut it off without harming the Valencia’s progress. If it is coming from above the graft point, then let me know and we’ll tackle that issue separately.

      1. Mee

        Hi Christy,

        I meant to reply earlier to your response. Thank you so much for replying back. With the help of your response and some additional research, we figured that it was indeed a sucker that had been left to grow unchecked and took over that side of the tree. We cut that off and hopefully the Valencia will now grow into that spot and give us more fruit. Only the sucker was turning yellow so that was a good thing. We are learning a lot about citrus trees this year!

        1. Christy

          Yay! So glad to hear that worked out! Fingers crossed that your Valencia will start producing now that the sucker is gone.

  6. Sindy

    My Meyer dwarf lemon tree has yellowing leaves worst at the base/center (spotty yellow at the top surface, with brownish punctate centers below the yellowing at the underside of leaf), less affected moving more distally along the branch, and complketely unaffected green shoots at the tips along with many immature fruit. It had scale infestation earlier in the season around the time that the tree leaves started yellowing. It has since been treated successfully, but the leaves are getting more yellow and spotty.

    It looks exactly like this:

    Wondering if this is too much watering, nutrient deficiency, chlorosis, or some fungal infestation ? We had put in fertilizer spikes 3 months ago (though too close to the center, as there is not enough clearance).

    1. Christy

      It sounds like it might be a combination of issues. I always start with “too much water” because that is most often the case. If your tree is getting watered by sprinklers near a lawn, it’s getting too much water. 1x per week is plenty for citrus trees in the ground. In hot locations, citrus in pots may need 2x per week, but that’s it. The spots indicate either a pest or fungal issue. You might consider a foliar spray of compost tea to help combat any leaf-dwelling pathogens and pests. The microbes in active aerated compost tea will help balance out the populations of unwanted visitors. Also, keep an eye out for squiggly white tubules on the undersides of leaves – which would indicate evidence of the Asian Citrus Psyllid and possible presence of Huonglongbing (Citrus Greening Disease). That’s probably not the case, since you have other new growth that is perfectly fine, but keep an eye out just in case. Follow the instructions for the Citrus Treatment (Our Solution) and you will see improvement.

  7. Richard

    Have an orange tree that’s 20 plus years old. It’s poorly situated next to the front porch off to the side. It’s had problems with yellowing leaves and falling leaves off and on. It seems to just be on one side. Would you expect this if one side was getting more water than the other? The side that yellows is next to the lawn and there are lawn sprinklers but it’s also the side that’s next to the front walk so I wouldn’t think it’s getting as much water.

    1. Christy

      It does sound like it’s getting too much water. But at 20 years old, it could be suffering from other age-related issues. Does it still produce fruit? Does the trunk have evidence of insect damage (sap, galls, holes, etc.) or splitting? Have you inspected for the Asian Citrus Psyllid on the undersides of the leaves? These could all be factors in why the tree isn’t doing well. Feeding monthly will help the tree stay green and productive. And reducing watering to less often but deeper will help too.

      1. Richard

        It’s still produces fruit but mostly on the side that’s still greener. No sap or holes or anything that I can see. I have had to cut some dead out here and there. No splitting, I assume you mean like broken branches. Nothing on the leaves that I can see either.

        1. Christy

          Okay, that’s good to know. By splitting, I mean cracks in the bark on the trunk that might be new or an indicator of infection. Try reducing the frequency of watering and increase the duration when you do water. See if that helps green things up. If you haven’t yet tried the recipe under “Our Solution” I highly recommend it. It helps ailing trees a lot.

          1. Richard

            The issue is the lawn being right up next to it if I don’t water the lawn regularly it’s going to brown pretty quick. it’s getting kind of hard to read these replies the way it shifts everything over. 😁

          2. Christy

            Agreed, Richard. If it’s possible to remove part of the lawn around the tree and redirect sprinklers away from it, that will help.

  8. Ross

    Hi there!

    I have a Moro Blood orange that has been planted for a solid two years. I’ve had issues with lead miners but got those taken care of and there seem to be periodic bug invasions that I fight back. It has new growth but the new leaves seem to be yellowing. The old ones are a beautiful green and only a couple seem to have a little discoloring. Wasn’t sure why new growth would be yellowing so aggressively. I just fertilized and water maybe once a week so possible fungus or pests?

    Any help would be great. Thank you.

    1. Christy

      Hi Ross, that is unusual. My first thought is to check on the fertilizer you used. Was it synthetic or organic? Synthetic or chemical fertilizers can burn plants, and high amounts of phosphorus (of either chemical or organic) can damage citrus trees as well. Next, let’s look at watering. Usually a tree that’s been in the ground for 2 years can be weaned back to watering every 2 weeks at this point. Start reducing the frequency but increasing the duration of watering and see if that helps. Then, check for oozing sap from the bark, which could be the result of phytophthora (either the fungus or root rot types). If you don’t see anything odd on the trunk near the soil level or elsewhere it’s probably another factor such as unseasonal weather or other nutrient deficiency. To address the scale and leaf miner issues, apply worm castings around the base of the tree monthly until you see improvement. The enzyme in worm castings helps ward off both of those issues. I hope this helps.

  9. Margot Via

    Hello, I just bought an orange navel tree it’s about two years old. I still have it in the 5gallon plastic container waiting for my gardener to plant it in the ground. I read that must be kept moist so I water it daily. It had a group of 5 flowers. Some of the leaves are turning yellow
    Could it be due to being in plastic? Not enough sun? Thanks for your help.

    1. Christy

      Daily water is too much for citrus, even in a pot. Yellowing leaves indicates that there is not enough oxygen in the soil (meaning the water is crowding out oxygen, so the tree is losing chlorophyll). Cut back on water and to a couple times per week let it dry down a bit. Once it’s planted, water 1x per week and eventually reduce from there as the tree grows in over the next few years.

  10. michael p

    We planted 3 citrus trees in our new landscape design, its been two months and the dwarf mandarin orange’s leaves are turning yellow.
    Our drip irrigation is set to every other day for an hour. Based on other posts, I would guess that’s too much? I did do some citrus fertilizer a month in, should i wait a bit longer to do it again?
    The lime and meyer lemon tree seem to be fine.

    1. Christy

      Yep, too much water. Reduce to 2 x per week, then 1x per week as things improve.

  11. TJ Testman

    I have an citrus tree grown from seed that is several yrs old 10+ ft tall and bloomed for the 1st time last winter and has fruit. The leaves are turning yellow and dropping. A nearby Meyer lemon and a Hamlin orange are not yellowing and are healthy green. All three trees get the same water, mulching and nutrients.
    What should I do?

    1. Christy

      TJ, check to make sure the first root flair is exposed on your seed-grown citrus tree. If it’s buried too low, it could be suffering. There is also the possibility that the roots are somehow girdled underground. If you see the roots circling, twisting around the tree, that could be the problem. Yellowing leaves often indicate too much water. You said they are all getting the same amount, but check for leaks and overspray from nearby lawns. That could be contributing as well. These are the things that jump to mind to inspect.

  12. Charlene Chambers

    I have a lemon tree in a large pot which I water completely twice a week. It bloomed and set fruit but the leaves are turning yellow and dropping. Some of the Veins are still green but some leaves just turn yellow and drop. How often should I water it since it is in a pot? The pot is about 10 gallon and the tree is about 5 feet tall. Thank you for you advice.

    1. Christy

      I’d cut back to watering 1x per week and feed it at least monthly with a balanced organic fruit tree fertilizer. The yellowing tells me it’s getting too much water. Cut back (also make sure it drains well enough, soggy roots make for an unhappy tree) and see if that helps.

  13. Dava

    What should the specific soil results be for a healthy tree. Like ph, nitrogen, phosphorous, and potash? Did a soul test but now need to know where to bring each up too!

    1. Christy

      There really isn’t a way to answer that question with accuracy because it all depends on what’s happening with your tree. Is it yellow? Then probably more nitrogen. Is it not flowering? Then more phosphorus. Is it blossoming but not setting fruit? Then probably more potassium. But it’s probably a combination of a few things, and there is no set number that citrus trees are supposed to “be”. The soil test will alert you to low levels of NPK and what level your pH is. From there you make adjustments based on how the tree is performing. Usually test kits come with some baseline information about how to amend soils based on test results, and some even suggest quantities. Those tests usually use chemical fertilizer potency as the benchmark for how much fertilizer to add. So if you are using organic fertilizer, the levels of each nutrient are lower, so you may have to add more. Start small and work up if you don’t see improvement.

  14. Jerry Giesinger

    I live in the desert in AZ and had planted a couple of 24″ box orange trees a little over a year ago. Have experienced leaf drop, leaf yellowing and thin cover of leaves. Does living in the desert with high temps and low humidity change the watering scheduling and amount?

    1. Christy

      Hmmm, suspicious behavior from a citrus tree. Have you inspected for the Asian Citrus Psyllid? You might want to bring in a arborist to help diagnose the issue. The desert is a harsh environment for citrus, but not impossible. You definitely will need to adjust watering throughout the year because of the drastic temperature fluctuations. Yellowing usually means too much water, but leaf drop makes me think it’s something else. Inspect the leaves for evidence of the psyllid and consider bringing in a specialist to check for other issues.

  15. Luqman

    Hay,i am Luqman from Pakistan.
    I did follier of micronutraints and npk but after two weaks my orange tree leaves turning in to yellow and fall now what can i do

    1. Christy

      Good question. There could be a number of factors at play. I always start with over watering, because that’s the first thing that turns leaves yellow and makes them fall off. Too much water (more than 1x per week to 1x per month is the most a citrus tree needs, unless it’s in a pot.) The tree could also be in shock from something else, maybe the nutrients or micronutrients were too high for what the tree needed. We always recommend doing a soil test before hand to find out what is actually needed before amending. Remember, more is not necessarily better. Over amending can cause problems. Also, if the tree was pruned at the same time and then foliar sprayed, you could have opened up the tree to disease. Always wait a couple weeks after pruning to apply foliar spray to avoid exposing the wounds to potential diseases. I hope this helps.

  16. Timberhoff


    Im a complete rookie when it comes down to gardening but i have a suggestion because my first orange tree died. I didnt give up and bought another one. I think i didnt get watering right even though i tried. Leaves started to turn yellow and we had to go for a trip. Then i purchased Blumat classic watering system. I am not a salesman and i dont get any money out if this writing!! But my orange tree survived the trip of 3 weeks and was so healthy that we just kept it. Its been 6 months now and we are using the same system and our orange tree is green and healthy. Just my experience:)

  17. Brian Baier

    Hi Christy,

    if you have a small orange tree completely yellow do I cut it all back? I don’t think the yellow leaves will turn green again right ?

    1. Christy

      HI Brian, it sounds like your orange tree will drop all of those leaves. I may sprout new leaves if you wait, so I wouldn’t cut it back just yet. The trick is to figure out why it is losing its leaves in the first place. Too much water? Root damage from burrowing animals? Nutrient issues? Citrus likes deep but infrequent water, so make sure it’s not on a lawn sprinkler or something that’s getting watered several days per week. Give it some organic fruit tree fertilizer and worm castings and see if it bounces back.


    Yellowing leave and dropping of imature fruit in lemon tree
    What I should do?

    1. Christy

      Yellowing leaves indicate either too much water (citrus prefers to be watered deeply but infrequently, like 1x per week, month etc. depending on age and size), or a nutrient issue. Dropping fruit means the tree doesn’t have enough nutrients to support babies. There is always some fruit drop at the beginning of the season, but if you feed your soil (compost, compost tea, worm castings, organic fruit tree fertilizer) you’ll see more fruit staying put.

  19. Crissy Blades

    I have a citrus tree that was here when I bought my place i have been fertilizing for 2 seasons now but the leaves are yellow dispite all care alas it just stays yellow! I used citrus fertilizer so being I’m in central fla I expected good results. So what else can I do to beef up this tree and make it grow??. I think 2years is plenty time to see so.ething happen!

    1. Christy

      HI Crissy. Remember, yellow leaves can also indicate too much water. If you are watering too often (or if the tree is getting overspray from lawn sprinklers or other irrigation) that can be the cause of the yellowing. Citrus trees like deep but infrequent watering. Once per week for new trees, moving up to every 2 weeks, then 1 month and so on. I would do a soil test for NPK nutrients to see if any of those are over or under supplied. Iron deficiency can also play a role in yellow leaves if the veins are still green. We usually recommend compost tea applications to citrus trees to help with nutrient uptake.

      If none of that works, it’s possible that you bought a bad specimen. Sometimes the roots are curled around the root ball in the pot and that stunts the tree’s growth from the get-go. Try the above mentioned tricks first and see what happens.

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