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What’s wrong with my lemon tree?

Trevor Nottle

Trevor Nottle

August 9, 2016

‘What is wrong with my lemon tree?’ This question, along with the one about possums, is the reason why TV garden programmes changed from being about plants to being about make-overs and landscaping. Sponsors and advertisers, producers and presenters got sick of the same questions week in and week out, so the format was changed to stop the questions being asked.

Lemon. Photo by Hans

The questions are still asked but not on TV shows. Just listen, if you dare – or care, on any Saturday or Sunday morning to any radio talk-back programme about gardening. The lemon tree and its problems are a mainstay of many an expert. So just what can be wrong with a lemon tree?

◊  The leaves have fallen off.

The tree has experienced a sudden drop in temperature, or overnight frost. The stress causes the leaves to fall.

Bare lemon tree

◊  The leaves have fallen off.

The tree has experienced a sudden rise in temperature ie. a heatwave. The stress has caused the leaves to be shed.

◊  The leaves have fallen off.

The soil is too wet, or badly drained, and some of the root system has rotted. The remaining roots cannot support the leaf canopy and so the leaves have dropped off.

◊  The leaves have fallen off.

The soil is too dry and so some of the root system has died. The remaining roots cannot support the top growth; hence the leaf fall.

◊  The leaves are curled up.

See any of the above but in this case the cause has been moderate environment change rather than extreme.

◊  The leaves are curled up and there are grey-black bugs inside.

They are aphids. Squirt off with a hose or spray with anything with a label that says it’s an organic/natural but effective pesticide. The aphids should disappear for about as long as it takes you to go back inside, unless they have also read the label and know better. Repeat as required, so keep a bottle handy. If you can’t follow the instructions, refer to No 19 immediately. (ie Read The Label Stupid)

◊  The leaves are yellow.

The leaves are reacting to an extended period of cold ie. Winter. When the weather warms up feed the tree citrus fertiliser.

Chlorosis on lemon tree leaves

◊  The leaves are yellow.

The leaves are showing signs of deficiencies in the nutrients the tree is drawing from the soil. Feed the tree with a citrus fertiliser – or get an assortment of males to pee on it. It won’t make any difference if they are strangers, friends or family members. Any male will do.

Lemon tree showing iron deficiency on leaves. Photo greghristov

The leaves are still yellow.

Sprinkle Trace Element blend of fertiliser around the drip-line under the canopy. Scratch it in and water.

◊  The leaves are still yellow.

Sprinkle Mineral Mix blend of fertiliser as above.

◊  The fruit have brownish pin-prick spots on them.

The spots are brown scale. Spray with a horticultural pest oil or a systemic pesticide. Observe the with-holding period.

Lemon tree with dead leaves

◊  The twigs and branches are dry. The leaves have fallen off. The flowers have fallen off and the fruit has fallen off too.

The tree is dead, buy another one. Repeat the sequence with a new tree until successful. The nursery industry needs your support in these difficult times for small businesses.


My husband pees on my lemon tree; what should I do?

I am treading on dangerous ground here I know. As one who from time to time does radio talk-back about gardening I have learned this topic is one of the hottest ones around. Men peeing on, or around lemon trees is a demarcation zone between masculine behaviour and feminine niceness. Along with ownership of the barbie this is one of the few male ownership things in a garden. The garden shed and its contents would be another sacred site for men.

man peeing on lemon tree

In itself the act is a natural one, a manly reaction to the outdoors and expressing mastery over it. It is also quite good for the tree itself as the pee is almost pure uric acid, from which the highly nitrogenous fertiliser Urea is derived. Well, it was, now it is reconstructed synthetically in chemical fertiliser works.

Women, in a vast generalisation on my part, do not appreciate such expressions of male dominance and frequently object to it even if they do not actually see the act itself. The very idea of it is enough to bring out the most awesome declarations of intense dis-satisfaction from even the most mild-mannered woman.

As I have shown my observation is based on the experience of talk-back radio and what has happened to me and the men in my family. So what can you do if your husband pees on ‘his’ lemon tree?

The answer, however distasteful, is to avert your eyes and leave him to it in peace. And don’t forget to enjoy the good lemons he grows.

Watch the movie ‘The World’s Fastest Indian’ for a full introduction to the lemon tree pee mystique.


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7 years ago

Very amusing Trevor. – you made me laugh out loud. Having answered plenty of lemon questions in my time I can appreciate your points. But I have to ask – must it be male pee? You say any male will do, but couldn’t a female make an equally valuable contribution? Of course it’s more difficult for us – but does the lemon tree care?

7 years ago
Reply to  Helen

Yes, I would like to know this too, maybe he is just being horticulturally sexist!!

Florian Wolf
7 years ago

Anything wrong if I pee on my mandarin trees instead ? The huge spines of our lemon tree are a working deterrent against “manly activities”

7 years ago

Pure gold, Trevor! Pure golden showers, in fact!

7 years ago

You forgot, “What are the lumps on my lemon tree?” Answer every week – citrus gall wasp.

Clare Bell
Clare Bell
7 years ago

Hi Trevor
Great comments but I think that was going to be the name of my ‘next’ book-
just joking!
Sadly, people don’t seem to listen to the advice given by patient Horts and they probably wouldn’t read my’ book’ either…!

7 years ago

a female might not appreciate the thorns on some lemon trees—john

7 years ago

I have heard that men on medication should *not* pee on lemon trees as traces of the medication present in the urine will be absorbed by the tree … which should rule out almost every ‘old fullah’ from doing this.

When he was a kid my brother took to peeing on a particular piece of lawn rather than use the toilet – my mother’s yelling from the kitchen window got rather louder when that patch of lawn started to die. Happy days.

3 years ago

If I dilute the urine can I also water the leaves and stem?

7 years ago

Oh Thank you…brilliant!

Trevor Nottle
Trevor Nottle
7 years ago

Hi Clare – don’t be put off by people who do not read. The idea is for them to buy the book, what they do with it after that is entirely up to them – door-stop, decor item, coffee table show-off, status item, pot-plant stand, coffee cup putting place, throw at cat object and so on. Seriously tho’ if you’ve got a book bubbling away inside get writing. With e-publishing there are more options to get it out there than when writers were entirely dependent on the whims of print publishers. cheers TN

Kim Woods Rabbidge
7 years ago

Thanks for the chuckles Trevor. Oh, and the advice of course!