At one point, our lime tree wasn’t doing well at all. It was dropping most of its leaves and fruit, and we were pretty worried they weren’t going to grow back. I wanted to know more about what we could do, so I did some research. Here’s what I found about lime trees that won’t grow or produce new leaves.
If a lime tree is not growing or showing new leaves, the tree is most likely going through a state of dormancy. Other causes can include a lack of sunlight or nutrients. If your lime tree isn’t growing, it’s best to observe and wait one full season before changing its environment or growing conditions.
So, while lime trees can become dormant and pause their growth for a season, is there anything we can do about this? Also, how do you know if your lime tree isn’t growing from a lack of sunlight or nutrients? Let’s take a further look.
Why Lime Trees Won’t Grow or Produce New Leaves
The Tree Is Dormant
The most common reason why lime trees don’t show signs of new growth is due to dormancy. While lime trees are evergreen and don’t normally lose leaves in the fall, they do go into a state of dormancy to conserve some nutrients. So, if it’s currently fall or winter, and you haven’t noticed new growth or leaves, try waiting until springtime.
Another reason why your lime tree could be dormant is if you’ve recently planted or repotted it. Generally, lime trees need at least several months to establish a new root system and get adjusted to their new environment. If you’ve recently planted or potted your lime tree, then consider waiting for another season before changing anything.
It’s also best not to disturb the tree any further during this time, so hold off on amending the soil, repotting, or heavily fertilizing.
Lack of Sunlight
A lack of sunlight could also cause lime trees to have little to no growth. Like all citrus trees, lime trees do best with at least 4 hours of sunlight per day, but 6 hours or more is ideal. If your lime tree is shaded too much or is indoors, there’s a chance its limited sunlight is stunting it.
For best results, plant your lime tree in an area of the garden that has at least 4 hours of direct sunlight. The morning sun is best, but the afternoon sun works nicely too (for context, my Meyer lemon doesn’t get any morning sun, but plenty of afternoon sun).
If your lime tree is an indoor plant, consider moving it to a window that has more sun. Typically, this means a southern-facing window. If your windows don’t let in much sunlight, then consider getting a grow light for your tree. Keep in mind that grow lights aren’t as efficient as natural sunlight, so you’ll likely need to provide the tree with light 2-3 times longer (12-18 hours), depending on the type and spectrum.
Lack of Nutrients
When lime trees grow new branches and leaves, it uses a lot of nutrients, and especially—nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (abbreviated as “NPK”). If you aren’t yet aware, these are the three main nutrients that most plants require.
Just about every fertilizer will contain sufficient NPK, along with trace nutrients, but the best fertilizer for lime trees is one with an NPK of 2:1:1, or twice the nitrogen to phosphorus and potassium.
For more information about lime tree fertilizer, and what some of the top brands are, you can check out my recent post on the full guide to lime tree fertilizer.
Keep in mind that lime trees also need a balanced soil pH to properly absorb nutrients. If the soil’s pH is imbalanced, the lime tree will be unable to use many of the nutrients (which means your fertilizer will likely go to waste).
Lime trees prefer a slightly acidic soil pH of 6.0-7.0. If the pH is above or under this, then your lime tree likely has an issue with its nutrients.
An easy way to measure soil pH is with pH strips or a pH meter. I personally prefer using a pH meter since it’s affordable and easy to use. If you’d like my recommendation on which pH meter to get, you can check out my recommended tools page.
Why Lime Trees Lose Leaves
There will likely be times when your lime tree doesn’t have new growth and loses its current leaves. Compared to just a lack of growth, the causes of leaf loss are typically a bit more serious and require a slightly different approach.
Over or Underwatering
The most common why lime trees lose leaves is due to over or underwatering. The best way to tell if a lime tree is over or underwatered is to use a finger to feel the first 2-4 inches of soil. If the soil is sopping wet at least 2 hours after watering, then it’s likely overwatered. On the other hand, if the soil is bone dry, it likely needs more water (and can also benefit from being mulched).
How to Fix Overwatered Lime Trees
When a lime tree is overwatered, its roots become prone to root rot. This actually happened to my Kaffir lime tree—I saw the leaves falling off and noticed the soil smelled swampy, like stagnant water. After repotting it, my lime tree made a full recovery.
Additionally, potted lime trees can be overwatered much easier than planted. This is because the soil is typically more compact and might lack enough drainage holes. If you believe your potted lime tree is holding too much water, first try only watering when the soil gets dry. If the soil is not drying after several days, you’ll likely need to repot it with fresh soil.
If you’d like to learn how to make your own potting soil for your lime tree, make sure to check out my recent post: Create Amazing Homemade Potting Soil for Your Citrus Tree.
On the other hand, if your lime tree is planted, consider transplanting it to a more elevated ground (such as a mound or raised bed) to let gravity assist the draining process. If you have clay soil, consider amending it slowly by adding 1-2 inches of compost every 1-2 months (this also works as a great fertilizer!). Just make sure to keep the compost at least 3 inches away from the trunk of the tree.
How to Fix Underwatered Lime Trees
Lime trees naturally benefit from deep watering. This is because deep watering mimics rainfall (a heavy, sporadic watering). Primarily, deep watering encourages roots to grow deeper to access the water, which improves the tree’s survivability, especially in times of drought.
To deep water your lime tree, provide 10 inches of water every 1-2 weeks (depending on how hot the climate is and your soil type). Use the finger test to confirm how quickly the soil is drying. If it’s drying too slow, your soil is likely heavy in clay. In this case, use compost or sand on top of the soil to help amend it and provide better drainage.
For best results, also mulch the base of the lime tree. This will help the soil retain water and protect it from drying out in the sun. Leaves, bark, and pine needles make great mulches for lime trees. As with compost, keep the mulch at least 3 inches from the trunk.
Another reason why lime trees can lose their leaves is due to an over or under abundance of nutrients. Too few nutrients and the tree can’t get what it needs to grow. Too many nutrients and the tree’s roots can become chemically burned, damaging the tree and stunting (or killing) it.
If your lime tree could use more nutrients, check out the section above that goes over-fertilizing lime trees.
If instead your lime tree has too much fertilizer or nutrients, provide fresh soil and plenty of water to dilute the nutrients. The nutrients should leech through the soil fairly quickly, especially if the lime tree is planted. On the other hand, if your lime tree is potted, you’ll likely need to repot it to save it.
Stress from Extreme Temperature or Transplanting
Lime trees generally prefer temperatures between 35ºF-90ºF. If the tree’s temperature is over or under this range, then the lime tree will become stressed. Additionally, lime trees can commonly become stressed after transplanting, especially if their roots were damaged in the process.
One of the first symptoms of stress on lime trees is the loss of fruit and flowers, followed by leaves. If your lime tree is stressed and it’s not making a full recovery, make sure it’s receiving the proper sunlight, water, and nutrients (see above for more information on these).
If all of these needs are met, then your lime tree should improve. You still might need to give it at least a few months before you see any process.
Will Leaves Grow Back on Lime Trees?
Lime trees will grow new leaves, as long as the tree is not in a state of dormancy or stress. Dormancy usually occurs in the fall and winter, so consider waiting until spring to confirm any new growth. To correct any stress your lime tree may have, check its sunlight, water, and nutrient levels.