Large mature Lemon tree - Trunk damage

Sugaluv40(9)February 25, 2011

Hello, Thanks in advance for any help.

We have a lovely, large (~20ft) lemon tree in our front yard. In our temperate Bay Area CA climate, it produces lemons nearly year round. I drink a lot of fresh lemonade. I am not positive the species of lemon but my best guess is Meyer.

I am posting because the tree trunk looks very unhealthy. It has looked this way since we purchased the house 1.5 years ago. In that time it has not gotten any worse, but I do still worry about losing the tree in the future.

I've posted several pictures at the link at the bottom of the page (my blog)

Thanks in advance for any thoughts and suggestions, and please let me know any follow-up questions that might help with a diagnosis. Thank you!

Here is a link that might be useful: LemonTreePictures

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mksmth zone 6b Tulsa Oklahoma(6b)

The trunk does look pretty banged up. Aside from that the top looks pretty good,except for some yellowing leaves. Do you fertilize it? Looks like it could use some. I dont think there is much you can do to repair the cut now. You say it hasnt gotten any worse so I would let it do its thing. Since you love the fruit you could always take some cuttings and try and graft or root them so when/if it does die you could replace it with an offspring and continue to enjoy the exact same fruits.


    Bookmark   February 25, 2011 at 1:28PM
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Thank you mksmth for the reply. Yes the leaves and fruit certainly do appear healthy, just a few yellowed leaves, most are green. There are also plenty of new shoots still forming, that I trim off occasionally.

I do not fertilize the tree. But I certainly will! What brand/type of fertilizer is recommended?

Also I plan to landscape that area a little more in the near future. I will most likely put down a circle of wood-chips around the trunk. If this is not a good idea please let me know.


    Bookmark   February 25, 2011 at 3:22PM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

Suga, that kind of trunk damage is probably caused by an injury that occurred a long time ago. It could have been banged into or met the business end of string weeder a few times. It might even be rotted from an irrigation head pointed the wrong way. Wood decaying disease organisms find their way into trees that way and are able to continue the job , often for the rest of the tree's life.

By all means, apply some wood chips near the tree, but not close up against the trunk. You'd be doing it a huge favor if you mulched that entire planting bed...I assure you that the root system is established throughout that entire space. My advice is to forget about 'a circle of wood chips around the trunk', and apply, instead, a generous layer of mulch for the whole area.

You are likely to damage roots if you decide to plant anything further in that little area surrounding the tree. You may decide it looks a whole lot better after you apply a 2-3 inch layer of mulch! Think of mulch as part of the landscape design.

Citrus fertilizer should be available in the garden centers where you live. Be sparing with it. You don't want to encourage a great deal of vegetative growth that the tree may not be able to support (in terms of take care of).

By the way, there is nothing at all you can do to repair the damage to the trunk. The single best medicine for the tree's health will be the mulch. Please know that our 'city trees' (as in city mouse and country mouse) often don't fare very well in the long run. They are confronted with evil machines, concrete and asphalt, soil compaction, over crowding, and the like. ;-) The urban tree has a dramatically reduced lifespan, just because of the nature of its environment.

    Bookmark   February 25, 2011 at 4:10PM
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Thanks rhizo_1. Very informative and helpful reply -- sounds like you know your way around a tree or two.

Good input about the mulching. Given your advice I probably will just mulch that entire area. I had previously thought I would plant grass seed (or sod) but, my main priority is keeping the lemon tree happy. Plus more mulch equals less watering -- and mowing -- I can live with that.

I'll look for some citrus fertilizer at the local SummerWinds nursery, which is very nearby. Will use it sparingly as noted.

Speaking from a strictly cosmetic standpoint...could anything be done to the trunk to make it look better? Concrete? Is that just plain absolutely crazy? Netting around it? Any and all input welcome.

Thanks again for the help!

    Bookmark   February 25, 2011 at 9:53PM
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When I had a tree (oak) in a similar condition (actually a lot worse) one of the things that seemed to help was spraying it occasionally with systemic fungicide. If you do this you should not eat the lemons for awhile - maybe a year. (Others should chime in here with opinions.)

Notice the roll along the edge of the live bark where it meets the dead area. This is a good sign. It shows that the live bark is beginning to grow across the dead area. With lots of time and a little luck it should eventually cover the entire trunk with no dead area showing.


    Bookmark   February 26, 2011 at 12:36AM
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hoosierquilt USDA 10A Sunset 23 Vista CA(10b Sunset 23)

I agree with rhizo. I would first mulch with some very good compost, then top with some bark mulch. Keep both clear of the trunk. You can fertilize with an organic fertilizer formlated for citrus. EB Stone makes a nice product, see link below. It includes mychorrhizal fungi
which will help compete with some of the pathogenic fungii that are probably attacking the trunk. If you use organic products, you cannot use a fungicide spray, or you'll kill off all the beneficial mychorrhizal fungi. But, this might allow you to keep your crop, while still allowing the tree to fend off what I think appears to be continual destruction of the trunk by something pathogenic. I would lay down your fertilizer, then add a layer of compost, then top with bark mulch. Definitely do NOT want to plant grass under a tree, any tree. It will compete for nutrients and water. Better to mulch.

Patty S.

Here is a link that might be useful: EB STone Citrus & Fruit Tree Food

    Bookmark   February 26, 2011 at 6:41PM
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Cath, Patty, et all...thank you for the input. It sounds like consensus is reached -- I will mulch the entire area under the tree, and fertilize lightly with organic fertilizer.

I pulled about 50 lemons off the tree yesterday, gave away half to neighbors and used the remaining for more lemonade. Just had a tall glass on the front porch, enjoying another beautiful sunny CA day. Tough livin'!

    Bookmark   February 27, 2011 at 3:16PM
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Please remember also those remarks about keeping the mulch away from the trunk! You should never allow anything damp to touch the tree at or near ground level, or water close to it, as this is likely to encourage the pathogens that cause bark rot.

    Bookmark   February 27, 2011 at 4:33PM
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Citrange -- duly noted. Will remember to make sure and keep the mulch away from the tree trunk.

I hope to get to this in the next day or two, will update with some photos once I've got it done. Thanks again for the help, here's to a bountiful lemon harvest for many more years to come.

    Bookmark   February 28, 2011 at 1:01PM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

Spraying with a systemic fungicide will do nothing whatsoever to fix, cure, help, aid, or improve this tree. Please don't do it.

Also, any kind of aesthetic repair could really back-fire on you, causing increased decay underneath the cement or whatever you use. Cementing over a large cavity USED to be the norm, but we know a whole lot better now than back in the dark ages, lol.

I promise you, Suga, the very best treatment is fresh air. The wound is too severe and large for it to 'heal' over, I believe, but I expect that you still have a few years left to enjoy all of those lemons.

    Bookmark   February 28, 2011 at 10:46PM
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Try it you'll like it!

I think that the fungicide, at the very least protects the underlying wood which is not alive, I know, and yet still capable of either decaying or maintaining its structural integrity. I prefer the latter.


    Bookmark   March 2, 2011 at 12:40AM
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