I have a reader who has a ten year old Meyer lemon tree that has produced beautifully until this year. This year it has approximately six or seven lemons on it. I would appreciate your opinion on what caused this and what he can do to bring it back to its former productivity.
I had to smile when I read your email. We are often asked, in all seriousness, to come up with an exact reason why a fruit tree produces a smaller than normal crop, and specific advice on how to force the tree back to producing normally.
We frequently cannot determine why a specific tree has an off production year. There are simply too many possibilities and variables. Even healthy trees may produce poorly on occasion. This may happen the year after a tree produced a really large crop. It may occur due to weather conditions in the spring over which we have no control.
It is interesting to note that the owner of the tree likely did not do anything special to the tree all those years it produced well. If the tree produced well in the past without special treatment, why would it suddenly need something special now?
Gardeners often feel that they have more control over situations with plants than they really do. In the case of citrus trees (and plants in general), our job is to do a good job of providing them the care that they need - the rest is up to the plants.
Unless there is some obvious issue (such as a major insect or disease problem, late freeze, etc.), it is very difficult to say why a healthy tree has an off year. Control any insect or disease problems. Fertilize the tree with a general purpose fertilizer or citrus fertilizer following label directions in early February. Make sure that over the years nearby trees have not grown enough to shade the tree too much. Pruning reduces production, so keep that to a minimum. There are no silver bullets in these situations.
Consumer Horticulture Specialist
The LSU AgCenter and the LSU College of Agriculture