Help! Sick Meyer Lemon

Discussion in 'Citrus' started by dandelionkatie, Feb 25, 2021.

  1. dandelionkatie

    dandelionkatie New Member

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    Hello all! I'm hoping someone will be able to help me figure out how to save my Meyer lemon tree- despite a rocky start in owning it, everything was leveling out until about three days ago when a large portion of the leaves suddenly started to dry up.

    Ever since I got the plant, it has been dropping a few leaves a week, which I assumed was because it probably came from a much more tropical environment. It started dropping more, which is around the time I noticed spider mites. After I got the mites cleared away and the watering schedule more regular, the leaves stopped dropping. The plant was doing really well for about a week and half, but now they just all seem to be dry and/or have small black spots.

    Soil + Water: I received this plant just at the end of December, and definitely made some mistakes in the first few weeks of owning it. It stayed in the plastic pot it arrived in for about two weeks and was not watered because the soil was moist that entire time. I then re-potted it into a terra cotta pot of about the same size (12"), fertilized it, and began watering it 1.5 cup water every third day. The 1.5 cup is just enough that it begins to drain, and the every third day is just when the soil starts to dry out down to 2.5" deep. I haven't fertilized it since. About three days ago, I forgot to water it (it was watering day) but I watered it the day after.​

    Pest History: When the plant arrived I saw a few snail shells on the bark of the tree, but they were dry and did not have live snails in them. Several weeks later, at the beginning of February, I noticed the beginning of a spider mite infestation and wiped down the leaves with soapy water, with follow-up sprays of Dawn + water the following week. There are no traces of spider mites anymore.​

    Details on Location: It's in an east facing window (we do not have any southern-facing windows), elevated on a table so it receives as much sun as possible (which is not as much sun as I'd like to give it), and about 1ft away from the windowpane itself. This space is above a heat vent on the floor, but the vent is closed and the table is a good 2ft above the floor. The only other thing I think might be relevant is that the weather in Nashville was freezing last week and we had plenty of snow, and the past three days have been much warmer at 60-70 degrees. I moved the tree outside on the porch just before I took those photos, and am planning to bring it back inside in about an hour (maybe it needs more sunlight?)​

    There might be more than one problem going on here, but I would love to know if there's something I could do to fix this. I've seen a lot of different ideas - bottom watering, more sunlight, more fertilizer, might need more/less water - but I'm really not sure which one is most suitable for this issue. Also, is there any hope that the leaves that have already started to dry up might revive??

    About the images: 1905, 1904, 1903, and 1902 were taken today, and show how some of the branches have all the leaves dried up (but still with some color), and how other branches are much less affected. 1781 is a great image of how the leaves looked at their healthiest (after the spider mite issue). 1779 shows some of the black spots present on some of the leaves. 1776 shows how the leaves had been drying up before this major instance- like when only a couple of leaves were drying up per week, this is what some of the leaves looked like. Sorry for so much information! I just wanted to be thorough upfront. I really love this tree, and wish I knew how to help it.
     

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  2. Junglekeeper

    Junglekeeper Esteemed Contributor 10 Years

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    Welcome to the forums.

    Photo 1905 appears to show one half of the tree being affected more than the other. Any idea why that might be? Could it be that one side was facing the window? In addition, the lower leaves appear to be the ones more affected. Perhaps the problem is the result of insufficient moisture, combined with the drying effect from the slight heat rising from the register (even though it's closed).

    Judging by the same photo, the tree does not look that bad off at this time. Normally I would recommend that the rootball be inspected. However it would probably create a mess since the tree had been repotted recently. Therefore I suggest you water the plant thoroughly, allowing the excess to drain away, with the goal being to attain an even moisture level throughout the soil. Once this is done, lift the container slightly and get a feel for its weight. In the future use this to gauge whether the tree needs to be watered. In other words, water not on a schedule but as needed.

    Do not fertilize until the tree shows signs of recovery. I suspect there is not enough light from an east-facing window. Do you have one that is west-facing? If not, you may need some artificial lighting. It may be a good idea to allow the tree to spend time outside during the warmer months of the year.

    Also, going forward, I suggest you switch to using a commercial insecticidal soap for treating pests. It's much more economical if you buy it in concentrated form and dilute it yourself.
     
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  3. dandelionkatie

    dandelionkatie New Member

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    Thank you for your response! Unfortunately, the tree looks so much more miserable today. If I'm being honest, I burst into tears when I checked on it this morning. I was gifted such a beautiful full tree and all I've done is kill it. There are entire branches now with no leaves on them at all. Will leaves ever grow back on these branches? Or do I really have to prune them off and resign myself to a Charlie Brown tree? (See images attached.) If the current status of the tree would change your advice, please let me know.

    The half that appears most affected is the back half furthest from the window. I have both a west-facing and artificial grow lights available, so since it's very cold and cloudy still, I will try the artificial light. When I repotted the plant, the rootball did look extremely concerning. A lot of roots broke when I removed it from the old pot, and they looked medium tan in color. I read that rotted roots would be brown, but I wasn't sure if tan qualified as closed to white or to brown. Maybe I should have done something different then. I won't try the water trick yet, since it was recently watered, but I will in a day or two. I plan on bringing it outside in the summer, and was hoping it would be able to make it for just a few more weeks until mid-March when the temperatures would be suitable, but alas, I hoped in vain.
     

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  4. Sulev

    Sulev Active Member

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    According to the Past Weather in Nashville, Tennessee, USA — Yesterday or Further Back there was very sunny and the first really warm day of the season 3 days ago, when you forgot watering your lemon. The plant could have been in too dry soil in such conditions and suffer from intense sun. I would heal the plant by covering it with large plastic bag, that is sprayed inside with some water.
     
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  5. Junglekeeper

    Junglekeeper Esteemed Contributor 10 Years

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    I think there's still hope for the tree. A much worse off calamondin managed a recovery with some care. Have a look at the following thread; you may find some answers there: Calamondin help needed.
    Perhaps the reduced light level exacerbated the problem on the interior side.
    The loss of roots doesn't help but some loss can be expected during repotting. Going by your description of the roots I would say they were healthy at that time.
     
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  6. dandelionkatie

    dandelionkatie New Member

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    Thanks for the forward to that Calamondin thread- It's really interesting how you had said that new growth can begin in as few as 10 days. I hope I am that lucky! I'm not sure if it's getting enough light even at this point with the artificial light since it is at a bit of an angle, so I'll try to jerry-rig something that will put it closer to the light (The lights are primarily for some of our other spring plant seedlings).

    More dry leaves have dropped since yesterday, which I expected. See Img 1911+1912. It's also much more apparent how the entire back half of the tree has been more affected.

    Today I am giving it a thorough soaking as I write this post- It's already been happily drinking for about 7 minutes. It sounds like the soil is fizzing or whistling, with little bubbles coming up in certain places, which I assume is the sound of water entering really dehydrated soil. When I first put the pot into the sink filled with water, the root ball of the tree floated up out of the pot about 2", which I am certain affirms that hypothesis.
    Update: At 22 minutes, the fizzing sounds almost completely stopped, and although the rootball still floated a bit, it felt more spongey rather than floaty. At that point, I emptied the sink and I will now leave the pot there to drain for a few hours. How should I know when to water it again? Should I base it off of the weight of the pot after a few hours, or the weight of it now?

    I very gently brushed back some of the top soil to check the roots nearest to the trunk of the tree when it was submerged, and as I neared the rootball there was plenty of resistance in the soil and I could see very light roots, so I think it's true that the roots are still doing ok. (As soon as I felt resistance, I stopped brushing back.) Granted, root rot would be more likely at the bottom of the pot, but I didn't want to stress the tree any more than it already has been.

    Something new I noticed today is that the healthy leaves have started to appear a lighter green on the tips. It seems like it is affecting almost every healthy remaining leaf. On some it is a straight split 1/2 and 1/2 on the leaf, but on others it has a slightly more mottled appearance. See Img 1926-1928 I think this could be a sign of underwatering (which I've already taken steps for, as mentioned above) or a nitrogen deficiency, but not sure which. I have a granular 3-5-5 citrus fertilizer available, but as you said before, I don't think I should fertilize until it shows signs of recovery.

    Thanks again! I really appreciate your expertise.
     

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  7. Junglekeeper

    Junglekeeper Esteemed Contributor 10 Years

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    It'll put out new growth when it's ready. Let's hope it's the leafy kind.
    Feeling the weight some time after the process would be fine; there wouldn't be much difference anyway. Water when the container feels relatively lighter and the soil appears to have dried to some extent. If the container is too heavy for you, tip it on the bottom then lift the side so you don't have to deal with the full weight. You won't have to water again for a while because of the reduction in foliage.
    From your description I don't think this is a case of root rot.
    I would consider this to be part of the tree getting rid of leaves it cannot support.
    I suggest using a water-soluble fertilizer - one with a better NPK ratio - which you can dilute for the initial application. See the calamondin thread for details It's a long thread but I suggest you skim through it in its entirety if you have not already done so. I think the situation is much the same with both trees so the advice given there would also apply here.
     
  8. Junglekeeper

    Junglekeeper Esteemed Contributor 10 Years

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    How's the tree doing? Has there been any new growth?
     
  9. dandelionkatie

    dandelionkatie New Member

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    Yes, it's doing much better!! It has new growth on a lot of the branches, and I'd say it's about 60% flower buds and 40% new leaf. (IMG_2089). I've been watering it when the pot feels light with enough water that it drains significantly out of the base (which ends up being about 2x week with half or three quarters of a gallon. Much more than before!) and it seems much happier. I also included images of the progress of growth with the dates, which I mostly took just because I was curious. I think it's especially interesting that the new leaf shoots looked different from the bud growth even as soon as the very first images I took! The tiny nodes in IMG_1965 turned out to be buds and those in IMG_2015 are now leaves.

    Two things I have questions about going forward:

    Should I pinch off all of the buds to focus growth on the leaves or only some to focus growth on a few fruit? At what point should I do this and is there any way to determine which to keep?

    Also, what should I do about the crossing branches? When I received the tree it had many branches crossing each other on the interior, but these branches (which I probably would have pruned eventually) are now the ones bearing a lot of the new leaves, so I definitely don't want to cut them now. Does it matter in the long run?

    The rest of the leaves seemed to have stopped going brown, which is good news, and although the tree lost probably 120+ leaves, it still has about 20 mature leaves and 19 new leaf branch shoots. And lots of flowers that are just about to bloom - probably close to 40 or 50 clusters of them.

    Thank you so much for all your help thus far, by the way! :)
     

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  10. Junglekeeper

    Junglekeeper Esteemed Contributor 10 Years

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    I would pinch off all the flower buds and not even think about fruit until the tree has a full complement of leaves. This variety of citrus produces flowers year-round so the delay should be shortened somewhat because of that.
    I would consider the tree's legginess to be more of a problem than its crossing branches. Assuming the tree was healthy before the incident, it should have enough energy reserves to recover even with the removal of some stems. Therefore I would take a chance and trim back the branches now rather than later even though you'll be sacrificing some of the new growth. Looking at photo 2089, you may want to consider removing 1/3 or even 1/2 the length of each leading stem. Also consider altogether removing stems which are poorly placed. For example the long stem extending to the left at the bottom can be severely shortened or removed completely. It's difficult to explain but imagine what would look good after the leaves grow back. Aim for a more balanced and compact form.
     
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  11. dandelionkatie

    dandelionkatie New Member

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    What do you mean by leading stem? Also, is it important that I cut the branch at a particular point (like at a thorn, between leaves, or something like that)?

    I also read that branches that are vertical (watershoots?) should be trimmed because they produce little fruit - would you agree? About half of the new stems are vertical or at least very acute. If I end up trimming off most of this new growth for being poorly placed, will the tree continue to put out poorly placed branches in these same spots?
     
  12. Junglekeeper

    Junglekeeper Esteemed Contributor 10 Years

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    A single stem at the end which does not have branches.
    Make an angled cut a little above a node where a thorn or leaf is located. Note the tiny bump next to the thorn. That is where new growth will likely emerge, roughly at an angle forming a 'V' with the thorn. Not all nodes have a thorn but you can imagine one there for forming a 'V'. Generally speaking, you'll want to direct growth outwards from the main stem.

    You may want to decide where to make all the cuts before actually removing the various bits. This allows you to make an overall assessment of the end result. Wrap grocery ties at the points where you think a cut would be good. The new growth should be evenly spaced while avoiding crossing and crowding. Vertical growth can be avoided, if so desired, by making cuts where growth will be angled.
     
  13. dandelionkatie

    dandelionkatie New Member

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    Good afternoon! Two little questions:

    Today I noticed that some of the new stems are bending over themselves (2156). They seemed to start drooping a couple days ago, but even after watering they haven't perked up. Also, there's one stem that is drying up from the end (2155). This is old wood that I pruned a few days ago. Admittedly, that branch was the only one I pruned because I just didn't have much time, but now I'm wondering if the way I pruned it caused it to brown like that. Any idea what these branches are trying to tell me?
     

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  14. Sulev

    Sulev Active Member

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    Don't over water your citrus. You should decide about need for watering based on dryness of the soil.
    The tip of the fresh shoot curves downwards because of it has had some fast growth and many large leaves on this thin branch weigh too much. I suppose, the problem disappears when the branch lignifies.
     
  15. Junglekeeper

    Junglekeeper Esteemed Contributor 10 Years

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    Nothing to worry about. The stem dieback was probably going to happen anyway and the droopiness will rectify itself as the growth ages.
     

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