Advice for my sad container Eureka lemon tree?

Discussion in 'Citrus' started by kotlet00, Apr 30, 2021.

  1. kotlet00

    kotlet00 New Member

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    Hi there,

    Last year, we were gifted this lovely Eureka lemon tree; it was tall, full of foliage and lots of buds, and we placed it in our very bright solarium where it received full sun for 6+ hours a day during the summer (Vancouver, Canada). We were told by the garden centre to repot it immediately but I did wait about two weeks and then repotted it into a larger container with 1/2 garden soil and 1/2 potting soil (Miracle Gro which I didn't realise was garbage soil to use...live and you learn I suppose). We also fertilised it with two Jobe citrus sticks for container citrus plants as per the instructions for the size of the container. The tree had one bout of mealybug infestation and for days upon days, I handpicked off mealybugs and sprayed the tree down with neem. During the first month, the tree lost all its leaves and all the initial flowers and little lemons which I was told would be expected as it got used to the new surroundings. As it got warmer, we moved it over a few inches on to the patio and it was having the time of its life. It recovered very quickly and had tons of new growth, buds everywhere, and 17 lemons!!! This was a very hot summer so I was watering it about a litre of water a day but it was flourishing so I figured it was all fine.

    Then winter came around so we brought the tree indoors into our living room which had less sun but was warmer than the solarium as we were told by the garden centre that the tree won't be able to tolerate the cold. Here is where everything went wrong (a lot of it was my fault, too). It dropped all of its leaves but the lemons all ripened. We figured perhaps this would be a good time to prune it down a bit too because it was pretty gangly looking. I know I overwatered it because I was watering it about twice a week and later found out that was wrong. The tree was miserable and I was sure it was dying. But it seemed like it was pulling through somehow so I kind of left it alone.

    At the start of April, we moved the tree back to the solarium and we had a wonderful two weeks of very warm weather and lots of sunshine. During this time, the tree just exploded with new growth! There were new little branches shooting up everywhere but mostly closer to the base of the tree. Because it was so hot, I watered the tree once every three days and allowed for it to drain completely and also thought it might like some fertiliser so I added one of the Jobe's sticks as well. But suddenly in the past two weeks, the majority of the little new growths shrivelled up, turned black, and fell off. Now some of the branches that seemed to have been okay after the pruning sessions have turned brown. I thought maybe I overwatered and now I check with a water metre which still reads "wet" so I have not watered the tree for over a week and a half which works out because we've had some gloomy days anyways. I then thought maybe it's the fertiliser so I dug that up and tossed it. I have not touched the actual roots of the tree but I have dug deep a bit to check and see if there is potential root rot but I don't think there is because there is no slim or smell - nothing. There were some spider mites that I treated and it looks like they are gone. There is no new growth.

    I would love to get some advice on what I could do to bring back my tree from this weird phase or death potentially. Do I cut the browning branches even if there is a somewhat healthy-looking green stem poking out? Also, the branches do seem like they were grafted so is pruning that a no-no? I would be terrified of repotting my lemon tree as this poor thing has had so much stress already - I would feel like that might just kill him off entirely. It is not dropping any leaves and it doesn't seem like the leaves are curling up, but as you can see from the photos there are some weird spots that turned up on the older new leaves but not on the newer new leaves if that makes sense.

    I have included here some before, during the winter, and recent photos of the tree. The tree is in a well-draining pot and is elevated so that water does come out completely. When I water him I do wait for it to drain and then I just use a turkey baster to get rid of the water at the base of the saucer.

    Before: (First two images) When the tree first arrived, it dropped its leaves and little fruit but then flourished again.
    During the winter: (Two Images) Leaves drop, lemons ripen, sorrowful tree.
    Now: (Last six images) Back to the solarium area. Browning branches, loss of cute new growths, leaves with some weird spots, overall depressed (or am I imagining it and it's actually fine?).

    This tree is so loved. I would give anything to have it flourish once more.
    Any and all advice is much appreciated. Thank you for taking the time to read this essay! :)
     

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  2. Junglekeeper

    Junglekeeper Esteemed Contributor 10 Years

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    Welcome to the forums. Here are some of my thoughts, in no particular order.

    Ideally, the soil should be more porous. I start with regular indoor potting soil which typically consists of mostly peat mixed with perlite, pumice, and sand. To that I add small bark nuggets, calcined clay, and more perlite. The result is a medium that is much faster draining.

    It seems you're aware of the danger of over-watering. However I suggest you discontinue using the water meter and use the weight of the container instead. Water the tree thoroughly, allow the excess to drain, remove the excess, then feel the weight of the container. Use this weight to decide when the tree needs to be watered. That is, water when the container feels relatively light.

    For fertilizer I'd recommend using a high-nitrogen, water-soluble mix containing a full complement of micronutrients.

    Your tree may not be grafted. The only citrus tree from Record Buck Farms that I've seen that is grafted is a 'cocktail' tree; the rest were ones growing on their own roots. If there were a graft it would likely be at the spot a few inches above the soil line as seen in photo 0671. There is some difference in the bark texture above and below that point. Whichever the case may be, you'd be safe to keep the growth above that point. The remnants of a pink label can be seen in the same photo. I'd remove it in case it is constricting the stem.

    Your solarium is entirely indoors and is part of the living area, is it not? In that case its temperature shouldn't be that different from other areas of the condo. Are you then concerned about it be slightly colder due to the proximity of the windows? How cold does your condo get?

    There appears to be another citrus tree in the bottom right of photo 0666. Have you had any problems with it during this time?

    I think the leaf loss may have been partly due to the tree not getting enough light. The top of the tree, as seen in photo 0129, is almost touching the ceiling where there would be very little natural light. Which direction does your window face?

    Going forward, if this tree will be spending its time entirely indoors, it may be better to maintain it at a much reduced height where it would be easier to get the light it needs. It looks like the tree is trying to do that on its own as all the new growth is in its lower parts. With that in mind, you may consider removing large portions of the long stems in order to get more compact growth.
     
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  3. kotlet00

    kotlet00 New Member

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    Hello Junglekeeper,

    Thank you so much for your response!!

    Moving forward, I will use the container weight as a way to figure out if the plant needs watering - that is a great point, though the container is very heavy but it should be easier to figure out.

    As to some of your questions here:

    - The solarium is south facing and in a separate part of the condo not near the living space. In addition to the windows, there are two patio doors on either side. This area of the condo gets very chilly in the winter even with the patio doors closed tight. During the winter, the lemon tree was moved to the living room which is on the other side of the patio and closer to the heating as we figured this would be a warmer area for him to winter.

    - The little citrus you noticed is our new valencia orange. It has been with us now for two weeks and seems fine - no leaf drop or drooping and still has its blooms. *fingers crossed*

    - You make a really interesting point about light; I didn't realise that perhaps the new growth so close to the bottom of the tree may be for this reason. I figured now that it is in the solarium where it is so bright, it may get more now.

    I have included further images in regards to the branches that I thought might have been grafted on to the tree as there are some scars but now I am not sure if they are grafted as your pointed out. As you can see in the photos, there are two branches that are dying/dead but there also are small green stems growing out.

    I am a bit reluctant to cut the branches because I don't know how far I should cut? Any advice on this is much appreciated.
    Do you recommend I place the lemon tree back out onto the patio where it was during the summer instead of keeping it indoors?
    I have water-soluble plant food that is 28-10-10. Would this be okay as fertiliser? If not, do you have any recommendations?
    How often do you recommend fertilising for a tree this size?
    Any ideas what the spots on the leaf might be?

    Thanks again for all your advice here!!
    Wishing you a wonderful Saturday!




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  4. Sulev

    Sulev Well-Known Member

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    Peat based potting mix is not good for citruses. Citruses like mineral soil with good drainage - they come from semi arid subtropics, not from a peat land. Sandy loam or loam are good soils for your lemon. You may mix in some manure or compost, but do not overdo - although manure or compost have more useful nutrients than peat, they can positively affect water retention and hence to cause poor drainage and soil aeration. But peat is just a cheap garbage in a citrus mix - there is nothing useful in it.

    It is not good idea to fertilize a plant, that has strong stress because of some unfavorable conditions other than nutrient deficiency. Your plant hardly suffers of nutrient deficiency - this never causes rapid change in plant's appearance/vitality. Fertilizing often makes watering issues more acute. So always wait until your plant has been recovered from some major rapid damage, before fertilizing.
     
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  5. Will B

    Will B Active Member

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    I think that as with many things that people are passionate about (like citrus plants!) you ask 5 people their opinions and you will get 10 different opinionated answers ;-) I can positively say peat based soils can be great for citrus. I have grown citrus for decades, grow hundreds of citrus now, and have over 56 varieties in my collection that are all doing great. I have experimented with many mixtures and I much prefer a peat based mixture now. That said, you do need to be careful about nutrients in any soil and soilless mix. Peat is very low nutrient, but very good at water and nutrient retention and longevity. For drainage a coarse Perlite is very good. In general a coarse soilless formula such as what you can get at the big box stores (home depot, walmart, etc. ) seems very good for citrus as long as you ensure proper nutrition and watch your watering carefully.

    If you want to really understand citrus nutrition there is great info at this link that has taught me many things and I think is a wonderful resource:
    Ask IFAS: Citrus Tree Nutrient series

    I provide a lot of information and tips on growing citrus in our area on our growing citrus pages:
    Growing Citrus on Vancouver Island | Aprici
     
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  6. Sulev

    Sulev Well-Known Member

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    Of course, peat is not the worst possible growing medium for citruses. But it is still far from optimal. Its most important properties are availability, cheap price, light weight and relatively sterile environment (mostly disease free).
    Water retention is rather negative property for growing citruses. You have to be very careful with watering citruses in peat. I'm using sandy soil for my mandarines and never worry about root rot. I water my citruses once a month or even more seldom in winter time, and maybe up to twice a week in summers. I almost saturate my soil with water, any excess water drains out quickly. Really easy!
     
  7. Sulev

    Sulev Well-Known Member

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    Many sources agree with me, that sandy loam is the best soil for citruses:
    best soil for lemons - Google Search

    Definitely advanced growers can grow citruses in practically any growing medium without major problems, but definitely for beginners the peat mix could complicate things a lot. It is possibly major contributor to OP-s problems.
     
    Last edited: May 1, 2021
  8. Junglekeeper

    Junglekeeper Esteemed Contributor 10 Years

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    If you find the container is too heavy to lift, try tipping it on its bottom edge.

    Your 28-10-10 is a better fertilizer to use but make sure it contains micronutrients. Apply as per directions on label. Agree with previous comment regarding not fertilizing a stressed plant. The tree's new growth appears to be healthy and there are no obvious signs of deficiencies so the problem is not from a lack of nutrients. Wait some time after the tree develops new growth then resume feeding the plant at half the recommended rate to start.

    How cold does it get in the solarium? It's not clear to me how your solarium is set up so I can't make any specific recommendation. However as a point of comparison I can describe my environment. It is an enclosed, south facing balcony in a condo in which I leave the windows open slightly year-round. During the colder months the heat seeping in from the surrounding areas of the building moderates the temperature inside. The containers sit on top of a thin layer of outdoor carpeting which helps to insulate them from the cold concrete. I think this setup is more accommodating than the typical living room. You may be able to do something similar with your solarium. I also grow a Eureka lemon. Have a look here: Appreciation: - Colorful fruit in the darker days of the season.

    If the tree was sold as Eureka lemon then that's what it would be above the graft, if indeed there is one. All growth below the graft should be removed but other than that you're free to prune as you wish. The brown portion of stems seen in the photos are dead and can be removed by cutting back to wood that is still green. Doing so would make it easier for you to decide how to proceed with pruning the rest of the tree. Keep in mind the need to reduce the tree's height, have it grow back and be esthetically pleasing.

    Now that temperatures have warmed up outside, your tree would benefit from some time outside. You may notice new growth along the stems as before.

    The leaf spots in photo 0676 may be due to a moisture related issue: Edema and Intumescence. I wouldn't worry about it if the new growth is normal.
     
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  9. Junglekeeper

    Junglekeeper Esteemed Contributor 10 Years

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    I don't think there is such a thing as an ideal citrus medium. There is a wide variety of rootstock, each with its own soil preference. Also, as I recall, citrus is adaptable to the soil in which it is grown. For the home grower it pretty much comes down to personal preference. Peat-based mediums and coconut husk chips are two popular choices.
     
  10. Sulev

    Sulev Well-Known Member

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    Sure, peat-based substrates are popular - they are cheap and readily available everywhere. That's the reason why so many beginners loose their citruses.
     
  11. Junglekeeper

    Junglekeeper Esteemed Contributor 10 Years

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    And that's exactly why it's necessary to amend the peat-based mixes with other materials to make them more porous.
     
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