My parents have an orange tree, and it started to decline in health. After they tried everything, they hired an arborist and determined it was simply old age. This prompted the question—how long do orange trees normally live for? And what can cause them to die faster? I did some research to find out.

Orange trees can live up to 50-60 years. However, in areas with high volumes of pests and disease, orange trees will often only live for 5-8 years. Grafting orange trees can extend their lifespan, although it becomes a new tree. For example, all current naval orange trees are a clone from a 200-year-old tree.

So, while orange trees can live for quite a while, what are some reasons why they can die sooner, and what are some tips to make them live longer? Let’s take a closer look.

The Top 4 Reasons Why Orange Trees Die

our dying orange tree rootball
My parent’s dying orange tree. The arborist said a symptom of dying is when part of the rootball becomes exposed.

1. Over or Under-Watering

Generally, orange trees are sensitive when it comes to water requirements.

Too much water can leave the soil to rot and prevent air from circulating in the soil. Too little water can leave the plant dehydrated.

So, avoid having your orange tree go through dehydration or drowning in water as it can lead to it dying quickly. A good tip to keep the roots cool and soil moist is to mulch around the base of your orange tree. Just remember not to let the mulch touch the tree directly as it can introduce disease.

Another symptom of over or underwatering is when the tree’s leaves curl. For more information about citrus leaf curl, make sure to check out my recent post: Why Citrus Tree Leaves Curl (and How To Fix It).

2. Wrong Growing Environment

Some of the signs that your orange tree isn’t in an ideal or too wet location include dull leaves, weak branches, premature fruit drops, and little to no growth.

Similar to providing proper watering, orange trees are more likely to die when they’re planted in locations with poor soil drainage.

If your orange tree needs better soil drainage, consider moving the tree to an elevated spot or planting it in a raised bed. Gravity will help excess water drain from the tree’s soil (but still keep the soil moist).

The raised bed should also have loose and loamy soil to help the orange tree’s roots spread and grow properly.

For potted orange trees, consider drilling more holes in the pot or repotting it with new soil if the current soil is collapsed.

Lastly, consider planting orange trees in locations where they’ll receive as much sunlight as possible (aim for at least 6 hours daily, ideally more).

3. Lack of Nutrients

Nitrogen deficiency is the most common nutrient deficiency that orange trees can get. It’s essential for foliage growth and the overall health of the tree.

You’ll know that your orange tree has nitrogen deficiency if its leaves turn yellow and start to fall off. If not addressed early enough, the deficiency can lead to a complete loss of leaves.

At the same time, avoid overpowering the tree with too much nitrogen. Excess levels in the soil can chemically burn the tree’s roots and kill the tree.

So, what’s a good balance of nutrients (including nitrogen)?

A good rule to follow is to use a citrus tree fertilizer with an NPK (nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium) of 2:1:1. For example, a 6-3-3 fertilizer would be a good choice for citrus trees.

To see which citrus tree fertilizers I recommended, check out my recommended fertilizer page.

4. Diseases

By far, one of the most common diseases an orange tree can get is root rot (a fungal disease). The reason why root rot is so common is that it’s directly caused by overwatering, which is easy to do to orange trees.

For example, I overwatered my potted kaffir lime tree once, and when it started dying and the soil smelled like a swamp, I knew I had to fix it. Luckily, the solution was simply planting it in the ground (I could have also repotted it). The new soil absorbed the excess moisture and the roots were able to breathe and grow back.

Naturally, there are many other diseases (and even pests) that can cause orange trees to die. Since this blog post would be over 10,000 words if I covered them all here, it wouldn’t be fun for you to sort through.

If you believe your orange tree is dying from a pest or disease, I recommend searching Google with the symptom (for example yellow leaves, leaking sap, etc). You likely already thought of this, but it’s the best way to get you the most relevant answer.

Tips To Make Orange Trees Live Longer

While some orange trees can die for seemingly no reason, there are some best practices you can use to help make sure your orange tree lives for as long as possible.

Here are the top best practices I’ve found in my research and experience:

  • Avoid transplanting unless necessary. Transplant shock can stress orange trees and shorten their lifespan. However, sometimes transplanting is necessary—such as if the soil is waterlogged or you need to repot your orange tree. Typically, repotting is done every 3-5 years to prevent the tree from getting rootbound.
  • Provide compost and mulch. Compost not only provides amazing nutrients but improves the soil’s richness. Every 1% increase in the soil’s richness can hold an additional 20,000 gallons of water per acre. On the other hand, mulch dramatically reduces evaporation from the soil. Both of these practices will go a long way to keeping orange trees alive.
  • Shelter the tree from extreme temperatures. Generally, orange trees prefer temperatures between 27ºF and 100ºF. You can insulate orange trees from frost with sheets or cardboard, and shade the trees from the hot afternoon sun with umbrellas, shade sails, or other trees.
  • Only water when the top 2-4 inches of soil are dry. Over or under-watering is easy to do and can lead to drought stress or waterlogged soil. This can lead to other issues such as leaf drop and root rot.

Final Thoughts

Orange trees will typically last around 50-60 years, but you can extend this by grafting the tree onto rootstocks to make clones. An example of this are naval oranges, which are from a tree 200 years ago.

While grafting will make a new tree, the genetics are the same as the original tree. This means you’ll be getting the same fruit, even after the original tree is long gone.

If your orange tree is currently dying, and you’d like some steps on how to revive it, you might find that my recent post can help: 3 Quick Steps To Revive a Dying Citrus Tree.

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