When you are looking forward to a fruit basket brimming with juicy, yellow lemons and a refrigerator stocked with pitchers of home-squeezed lemonade, one of the most discouraging problems you can encounter while growing a lemon tree is a lack of fruit production.
If your lemon tree is blossoming, but the blossoms never turn into fruit, it could be lacking the optimal care and conditions it needs to thrive and produce. Don’t worry, however, as the problem can often be solved with a few simple changes to the way you are caring for your lemon tree.
Read on to find out what might be causing your lemon tree not develop fruit after it blossoms, and what you can do to fix it.
First, consider that your lemon tree may simply be too young for fruit production. Typically, a lemon tree needs to reach between 3 and 5 years of age before it will begin producing fruit. Grafted lemon trees may bear earlier, and lemon trees started from seed might take up to 7 years to bear fruit. Additionally, if you have recently transplanted your potted lemon tree into the ground, it may take 1-2 years before it adjusts to its new environment and begins to produce.
If your lemon tree is too young, unfortunately the only thing that can be done is to wait. It can be difficult to have patience, but it’s worth the wait. Once your lemon tree reaches reproductive maturity, it will reward you with bountiful yields of tart and juicy fruit for many years to come.
Prolonged Exposure to Extreme Temperature
If your lemon tree blossoms but does not bear fruit, consider the possibility that it may have been exposed to unfavorable temperatures.
Exposure to cold is a common reason for lemon trees to lose their blossoms without bearing fruit. Lemon trees do not tolerate much cold, and are generally more sensitive to cold than they are to heat. The shock of cold weather, which for lemon trees is generally around and below 30 degrees Fahrenheit, can commonly cause a blooming lemon tree to suddenly drop its blossoms. If temperatures are recovered quickly, the tree will recover and soon begin to bloom again. However, prolonged cold exposure can cause leaf drop, wood damage, and even death.
If your lemon tree is potted, take care to make sure it is not exposed to cold temperatures by bringing the lemon tree inside during the colder, winter months.
If your lemon tree is planted outdoors and you are anticipating an unexpected cold spell, consider insulating your lemon tree at night by covering it with a tarp or blankets. Be sure to uncover it during the day, however, so your lemon tree can have necessary exposure to the sunlight. Another cold weather trick is to consider utilizing holiday or Christmas tree lights wrapped around and over the branches of your lemon tree, and plugged in during the colder hours of the night. The heat the lights put off can be enough to help mitigate the cold spell and keep the temperature of your lemon tree warm enough to avoid significant damage.
Over or under-fertilization, as well as fertilization with the incorrect formula, can definitely affect a lemon tree’s ability to produce fruit.
Any fruit-bearing tree requires a significant amount of nutrients in order to continually bear healthy and flavorful fruit. Because of this, both in-ground and potted lemon trees benefit from a regular fertilization routine. Potted lemon trees are especially susceptible to a lack of nutrients, as the finite amount of soil in the pot and indoor environment limits the natural replenishment process. Therefore, the nutrients in the soil of a potted lemon tree are more easily depleted than that that of its outdoor counterpart. Lack of nutrients, or fertilization, can be one cause of lemon tree blossom drop. Fertilize your tree every 4-6 weeks during growing season with appropriate amounts of a citrus fertilizer. Check out this post for more info on how to fertilize your lemon tree.
In contrast, it is also possible for your lemon tree to be damaged by fertilization. Fertilizing too much, too often, or with an incorrect formula can be harmful to your tree. This can cause a variety of undesirable symptoms, including the hindrance of fruit production. Make sure you are using a fertilizer formulated for citrus, and referencing instructions for the frequency and volume of fertilization.
Over or Under Watering
Overwatering can be a sneaky problem with citrus trees, especially potted trees, and can be difficult to gauge and catch before it is too late. Consistent overwatering can cause a tree to fall victim to root rot, from which it typically cannot recover and will die. Early stages of overwatering include blossom drop and the lack of development of fruit. Other symptoms include soggy soil and the yellowing and curling of leaves. If you suspect you are overwatering your tree, back off and make sure to let the first couple inches of the soil dry out before watering again. If you are unsure, using a soil moisture meter like this one, can help alleviate some of the guess work.
Conversely, a lemon tree also needs to remain well-watered, especially while it is in the process of developing fruit. If you forgot to water the tree and it endured a dry spell, it is likely that the blossoms may have dried and fallen off before they were pollinated and fruit could begin to form. Give your lemon tree a good watering, and remain consistent, and your lemon tree should be blossoming again, and growing fruit in no time.
For potted lemon trees, a good rule of thumb is to stick your finger in the soil to the depth of about two inches. If the soil is dry to the touch, water, and water thoroughly. If the soil is still moist, hold off.
For mature, in-ground lemon trees, water at the rate of about 5 gallons every 5-7 days, or less if you’ve received rain.
It is no secret, and also no joke, lemon trees like a ton of sunlight! If your tree isn’t getting at least 8 hours of direct sunlight per day, it might not be getting enough energy to fully support reproduction, aka fruit production.
If you have a potted lemon tree, this fix can be as easy as moving the tree to a sunny, south facing window. If you do not have a south facing window, choose the next best location where your lemon tree will receive the longest exposure to sunlight. If this is not possible within your house and the lemon tee cannot live outdoors due to temperature, consider investing in and setting up a grow lamp (like this one) on a timer.
If your lemon tree is planted outdoors, but is not in full sunlight, consider gently transplanting your tree to a better location. Keep in mind that transplanting will be a shock to the tree, and should be done very carefully, and only when is fully healthy. Already planted outdoor lemon trees should be transplanted in the spring, which is the most dormant phase of its cycle.
Lack of Pollination
Many don’t realize, that although a lemon tree is considered “self-pollinating” as it has both male and female parts on the same tree, this does not mean that it will pollinate itself without external stimuli. Pollination happens naturally when a lemon tree is kept outdoors, as bees and other insects feed off the nectar at the center the blossoms and brush pollen from one flower to the next as they go. Wind, birds, and other external forces that rustle the leaves and blossoms also help with this process. But when a lemon tree is kept indoors, these external stimuli are not present and pollination, and therefore fruit production, will not occur without a little help.
Luckily, hand pollination for indoor lemon trees is easy and only needs to take about a minute of your time per week. About once per week, when you notice your lemon tree has several full and open blossoms, take a soft makeup brush, q-tip, or other apparatus, and gently brush the center of the blossoms, moving from flower to flower. The objective is to take the powdery, yellow pollen that surrounds the central stigma, and transfer it to the stigmas (or central, sticky shaft) of other flowers. Don’t just take the pollen from one flower and transfer it to the stigma of the same flower, as the pollination occurs in the transference of the pollen from one flower to others. The more the pollen is mixed and the pollen from different flowers reaches the central stigma, the greater the chance of fertilization and therefore fruit production.
If you find one of these things to have needed correction, remember to have patience. The fix might be simple, however it can still take several months for a lemon tree to recover and begin to bear fruit.
If your lemon tree is not producing fruit even after you have considered and addressed the above problems, it could be bad root stock.