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Jun 18, 2012 12:12 AM

My Kaffir Lime Tree is Dying!

I live in the Fresno area and decided to buy a Kaffir Lime tree to facilitate my panang curry cravings. Problem is, I don't know what to do with this little guy. The Fresno made it look like it was wilting, and when I brought it inside, the leaves developed those rounded nodules on the sides, but the color has gone even paler. I'm at a loss. Any ideas on how to save it?

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  1. I'm pretty sure I might have over watered since in the beginning I was competing with the Early Fresnan summer heat and I didn't pay enough attention to the moistness of the soil. I'd like to know what I can do to save the plant. Thank you.

    10 Replies
    1. re: oltexican

      I have 2 Kaffir trees that are approx. 5 years old (3 ft. tall) and live in a climate (NC), where they need to be brought indoors every winter. I noticed they had scale insects on them in Dec. Since I refused to use any type of bug spray, I was hoping for the best. They too developed vey pale colored leaves, but different from yours. Last month, I set them both outside & decided to cut off 90% of their leaves to see what would happen. To my great surprise...both trees starting growing all new leaves. They now look beautiful!!! The leaves have never looked fresher. Your tree looks small. If your brave enough....I'd cut 2 of the 3 leaves off and see what happens. I left a small "nub" at the base when taking off the leaves with scissors. If it's outside, I would set it in a partially sunny/shaded area until it recovers.

      On a side note...Kaffir trees do not like "wet roots" that stay soggy. They also like to be in smaller sized pots. I've only repotted mine once in 5 years. My summer temps get to 90*+ with high humidity and seem to do fine in full sun all summer long. Hope this helps.

      1. re: Phoebe

        Very much! Thank you. Thankfully I'm not entirely new to pruning and such, but ya, it's scary. I'll see what I can do. Your information is really helpful.

        1. re: oltexican

          When I cut the leaves was scary...but I figured I had nothing to lose as they couldn't be used for cooking. If you could only see how much they've come back. Unbelievable!!! What's really great is that when the leaves all came back, they were very tender. Not thick and hard like the prior ones.

          I forgot to mention that I've actually had them both flower and set fruit. The limes are small, but used their juices for Thai dishes I've cooked. Keep me updated as to what you do. Good luck!!!

          1. re: Phoebe

            Okay. So I re-potted it in a more appropriately sized container and I trimmed the four dry leaves to a stump. As much as it emabarasses me to admit, I noticed it had some plastic wrap on the center stalk, and in taking it off, I felt like the tree would be happier. I guess I assumed it was meant for keeping the tree 'dwarfed.'

            1. re: oltexican

              Don't even know what the wrap was about? I wanted to let you know that it only took about 4 weeks before my trees started sending out "new" little healthy leaves. I was surprised it reacted that quickly. Hope the same for yours. Keep me posted!

              1. re: Phoebe

                Ya. Hopefully I'll have good things to say, because I've been checking up on it, and the two leaves that were left curled in on themselves. It is in a good sized pot, and the drainage is excellent. So, I'll try to stay positive. I'll let you know if it starts new growth.

        2. re: Phoebe

          Hi All, I hope someone can help with this:

          I recently moved my Kaffir tree from San Francisco to Oakland, from inside of my old room to outdoors. A couple of days after the move I realized that about 10% of its leaves were turning yellowih/pale/brown, and dieing. I also spotted a clump or two of some kind of white sticky fuzz, and some of the leaves feel like they have sticky sap on them.

          Does anyone know what this could be caused by? The tree was doing SO well beforehand, growing quickly, and I'm worried this damage will spread. Was the tree just damaged during the room, or from the change from indoor to outdoor?

          Any help at all would be so appreciated! Thank you

          1. re: Dorir

            Sounds like you have some sort of honeydew-excreting pest sucking on the tree's sap. Are you sure the "white fuzz" isn't actually a clump of mealy bugs? Any ants present? I would look for pests with a magnifying glass.

            1. re: StringerBell

              Hi, thank you for your reply. This could very well be the case. I need to get a magnifying glass, so I can't say for certain. The white fuzz could be a clump of REALLY tiny bugs - when you touch it is almost feels like cotton candy, and acts like a spider web. No ants present. I've attached pictures of the yellowing leaves, as well as the best shot I could get of the white clump (ive taken the clump off before and a new one has taken it's place). I also have a photo of a nearby houseplant that has some leaves turning yellow and dieing as well, although this could be from moving damage? Do such pests move easily from plant to plant?

              If you're right and this is pest, what can I do to save my poor tree?

              1. re: Dorir

                It really sounds like mealybugs to me, but I can't really see anything in the picture. I've never had any experience battling them, I have seen them on my plants before but something took care of them before I had to do anything. Supposedly established populations can be very difficult to control. They secrete a waxy substance that makes pesticides somewhat ineffective at penetrating. I would probably just physically remove them (and their eggs which look like tiny cotton balls and may be hard to spot), spray the tree well with a hose, and then spray some pyrethrins and see what happens, but I don't know how effective that would be.

                There are natural predators you can buy online such as parasitic wasps and a species of ladybug known as mealybug destroyers, if necessary. Interestingly the larvae stage of the mealybug destroyer actually looks a lot like adult mealybugs.

      2. A little OT but still about citrus. I have a lemon tree that I started from a SEED... easily 30 years ago. NJ is NOT the climate for lemons. I haul the tree out onto my deck sometime in May and then back inside in late fall. Trunk is probably 2-3" in diameter. I have to keep it trimmed to less than 6" in order to drag it back inside. Over all this time, it only had blossoms 2 years... and never any fruit. Not like I'm planning to retire with a lemon-ade stand, but would LOVE to get it to bear fruit??

        2 Replies
        1. re: kseiverd

          Most citrus grown from seed don't do very well. They take an eternity to fruit, if they ever fruit at all, and if you do get fruit it's likely to not be true to the type. All or nearly all the citrus in grocery stores are from cuttings from exceptional trees grafted onto hardy dwarfing rootstocks (trifoliate orange, sour orange, flying dragon, etc…) Seedling citrus trees grow far larger than those in commercial orchards, so being in NJ with a potted seedling tree it's probably going to be very difficult for you to ever get fruit, and if you do there's a high chance of dissapointment.

          You can always get some grafted dwarf citrus trees. I bought an Improved Meyer Lemon dwarf at 8 inches tall early one summer that produced 4 normal sized lemons (they are ~25% orange or tangerine and ~75% lemon actually) that were fully ripened by the middle of that winter (indoors since I live in Indiana). The second year you can easily get 10 or more lemons. They are the best lemons I've ever had, probably about 2x more juice than the Meyer lemons they sell in the grocery stores here. The only downside is that they're really addicting, now I have 7 or 8 citrus trees and counting. :o

          1. re: StringerBell

            i agree that its always best to buy "grafted" fruit trees from a good will get good quality fruti and much faster...Having said that,I have a grapefruit tree that came up by itself from seed and they are very did take 20 yrs to get fruit though...I also have a huge Florida rough skinned lemon tree that came up from seed and has LOADS of the best lemons i have ever tasted....

        2. My kaffir lime has recovered from a horrible freeze, but it looks kind of weird. The rounded nodules, i'm thinking, are typical kaffir lime leaves, that's what makes them unique. If you're keeping it indoors, that's what's making it pale. Let it dry out completely if it's indoors, and water very sparingly over the winter. Give it as much light as you can.

          1. A good resource...


            After five years my kaffir lime tree finally flowered and bore fruit this year. Three limes, but two disappeared when they were no bigger than a pencil eraser. I checked on the third everyday, hoping it would make it until picking time - kaffir lime peel is the only ingredient I've been missing in my curry pastes. It made it and the peel went into a green curry paste.

            My biggest problem with the tree is leaf miners - they inject their larvae into the leaves. The larvae then have to eat their way out, leaving a serpentine trail on the unerside of the leaves, which then shrivel up and are unusable. My only solution so far is to just cut off affected leaves/ branches and hope to have enough usable leaves, which I do.

            Does anyone have any good, organic solutions for these pests?