Is this orange tree worth saving?

Dreaming_NoviceJanuary 1, 2011

We recently bought a house in San Diego and this orange tree is in the backyard. I know it used to produce quite a few oranges from the neighbors.

As the pictures show, its leaves have completely fallen off and the only remaining yellow leaves appear to be from what appears to be a well-established sucker branch. Like most of the soil around here, it's planted in clay-like soil and has been pretty neglected for at least a few months (but it has looked the same since early October). If it's worth saving, I am eager to do so. If it's not, though, I would rather not spend the energy doing so.

Any advice would be most appreciated. Also, if it's worth saving, I'm eager to hear what you think could save it.

Here's a picture of the entire tree:

Most of the bark is cracking:

Closer view of the sucker branch leaves:

Thanks in advance for your help!

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Hummm: A very personal question?

Is that sucker branch above, or below the graft line, if there is one?

I am very partial towards these trees or any plant for that matter. If I see a hint of life, I usually do all I can to save it, and have been very successful at it.

If that branch alive is above the graft line, I would chop the tree right down to that live part and a clean prune cut. I would let it grow from there up as a nice short tree full with life.

From here, maybe someone else can tell you what to do if you decide to do so with the tree once trimmed back and the soil along with fertilizer. I am not experienced with in-ground trees although I have plenty at my house in the tropics that do fine with no help at all.

I would still save it though and give it a chance. That is just me:-)


    Bookmark   January 2, 2011 at 2:24PM
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Ok, I am a complete novice... Here are my 2 cents...

Assuming it is a sucker branch, would you consider grafting something nice on it? It would be an option if everything else (above the graft line) is completely dead. Of course, you will need to cut all dead branches.

The thing bothering me is that leaves on that branch are yellow. I may be totally wrong but it might be a sign of root damage, severe nitrogen (?) deficiency, etc. Gurus, please, correct me. Also, assuming the branch comes from rootstock, it does not seem to be any trifoliate hybrids, which may mean insufficient hardiness for your tree to be. Again, let experts decide.

Under any circumstances, I would wait till spring and just watch the tree meanwhile.

    Bookmark   January 2, 2011 at 5:36PM
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call_me_wizfire(7b Central Arkansas)

i would look at it closely, to see if those branches with no leaves are alive, you can nick the bark to see if it is still alive in there
i also would prune some branches off so it has less to deal with
agreeing with mike: try to find where the graft line is and where the branch is relative to that
one last almost random theory, look for the graft, and see if it is dying, or traumatised, or coming apart in any way,

    Bookmark   January 2, 2011 at 7:25PM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

I view this kind of situation from a different angle. I don't feel traumatized (AT ALL) when a plant begins to die, whether it's in my own yard or a client's. I do try to determine the cause of the problem, so that it can be a learning experience for all involved. But a tree with the bark falling off, and a large amount of top kill need to be put out of its misery. The sooner the better.

If this were a tree of historical significance, sentimental value, a wonderful shade provider, or contributed to the property value, I'd feel different. It is, instead, an hurts my feelings to look at it.

So, no it's not worth saving! You could nurse it for months or years and it is unlikely to ever recover or even resemble a healthy plant. Think of this as an opportunity to REPLACE this tree or even do without.

The whole process of selecting a tree, preparing the site, planting it, and nurturing it....THAT'S what you should get emotional about.

    Bookmark   January 4, 2011 at 11:27AM
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Thank you all so much for your advice. I finally was able to go outside and take a closer look (it's been raining quite a bit here lately). The branch with leaves is definitely a sucker branch:

I couldn't actually find a graft line. The bark is still pretty wet from the rains, so I'll look again when it dries out a bit.

Moving forward, I'll remove the overgrown sucker branches (you can see that that sucker branch actually is two!) and prune back some of the really twiggy branches on the top. The neighbors have told me that it has recently produced fruit, so I'll start feeding it (I know that it has been neglected for quite a while) and see what happens in the spring. I might get lucky! Thanks again everyone!

    Bookmark   January 4, 2011 at 11:42AM
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Your tree is a hopeless case. It is clearly rotten from ground level up. Even at soil level you can see how the bark is being destroyed. I love trying to nurse poorly plants back to health, but not this one.
Get a new healthy tree which will do well for years to come.

    Bookmark   January 4, 2011 at 6:06PM
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Looking at the last picture, I would probably agree with Citrange. Considering the bark damage (rodents, weed eater?), it is unlikely that the main plant will ever recover (assuming it is not completely dead yet). Graft on the sucker, wait for a couple years for fruits... Or just replace the entire plant while selecting a nice and healthy one.

Good luck!

    Bookmark   January 4, 2011 at 7:18PM
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hoosierquilt USDA 10A Sunset 23 Vista CA(10b Sunset 23)

I'm with gleb and citrange on this one, Dreaming. I, like MeyerMike, try to save just about any plant, but I can almost guarantee you, based on the splitting and peeling bark that your tree is verily and truly dead. The way to find out is to make some pretty severe pruning cuts on the main branches. Leave about 2-3" length from the main trunk. If you cut into live wood, your tree MAY come back. If you cut into dead wood, it's a goner. Based on what I'm seeing in your photos it most likely due to being within a sprinkling system, getting way too much water. That, in combination with a clay soil is fatal to citrus. They need once a week deep watering in our area, and hopefully not planted in an area with alot of clay. Another possibility is the roots were damaged by gopher activity. Look around the tree, behind your fence line in the other lots around you near the tree to see if you've got signs of gopher activity. If you dig out the tree, check for tunneling. The do love to snack on fruit tree roots. I've managed to save my beloved Meyer Lemon from the lone gopher I've seen in our yard since we moved in, in the fall of 2009. We rarely have gopher activity, but I am very quick to to trap them with Black Boxes at the first sign (where there is one, there will be a gazillion.) If you want to replace your orange tree, see if you can find a better spot, with good drainage, and not in the sprinkling system. Put it on a drip where you can do a slow drip for about 30 minutes once or twice a week (depending upon the temperature.)

Patty S.

    Bookmark   January 4, 2011 at 10:28PM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

Sheesh, I was wondering when you guys would see that it is pretty much a dead tree, lol! Shall someone play 'Taps'?

    Bookmark   January 4, 2011 at 10:44PM
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Rhizzo, you are too darn funny and yet spot on again.

Aren't you glad I am not your landscaper? lol

Hope you are fairing well:-)


    Bookmark   January 4, 2011 at 10:53PM
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I bought a house that had three very neglected orange trees! They all had cracked barks and looked dead! I cut them way back (all the branches left the main barks and branches) and now two of them are full of fruits and doing well but one of them still strangling. So i would say the tree may look dead but you need to give it what it needs and be patient and see what happens! Don't cut a mature tree because it take very long to get another mature tree and if you get these back it is worth it

    Bookmark   November 9, 2014 at 11:20PM
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