Meyer Lemon making flowers despite leaf drop

MaryMiserApril 7, 2013


My lemon tree had a bit of a shock this winter when it came home (not the best time to buy a lemon tree, or so I've heard) and lost most of its leaves.

It lives in a pot on the balcony, and I bring it inside when it is particularly windy or cold. I water it regularly, around once every ten days, or when the soil is dry to the bottom of my finger. I haven't been fertilizing, since it's winter and I was advised against that, but I'll start once the weather is reliably warm.

As you can see, the tree has a fairly strange shape. It came this way; I didn't tell it to grow all it's branches off to one side! I just put it like that on the balcony so that it gets plenty of sun.

Now it is finally getting warm, and my tree is putting out really TONS of flowers, every day I see four or five new ones, but it isn't making a single new leaf. The buds just fall off after a couple days, so I think maybe the tree has a psychological problem more than anything.

I would really appreciate any suggestions on how to help my tree grow new leaves! I'm open to any suggestions whatsoever, actually, I'm barely a newborn when it comes to plant care.

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Mary, congrats getting a new lemon tree.

Often during IL winter months, 'between dry air and lack of light,' foliage drops from my citrus trees.
Yet, they bloom like crazy.
I have to be honest...this problem is mainly my fault. Soil needs more water.

I wouldn't worry about leaves..As time progresses, new foliage will sprout.
Plant is focusing on flowers..
I don't know if fertilizing will force leaf growth. Now that days are longer, you can fertilize your lemon at half-strength.
Imo, an ideal climate balances both foliage and buds.

One thing I would do. Stake the tree.
Do you rotate? Note, your citrus is leaning to the left?
Plants should be rotated, 1/4 turn every two weeks or so. This way, the entire tree recieves equal amount of light.

Your tree needs a semi-thick stake so it stands erect. Eventually, with rotation and staking, your lemon will straighten out, stand erect on its own.
Place stake on the right side of trunk, then attach with ti's.

Perhaps, someone has advice, whether or not to prune. Maybe, wayward stems should be removed? One problem with can halt bud/flower production.

Good luck, Toni

    Bookmark   April 7, 2013 at 1:58PM
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I would prune all the branches off with the exception of the one thats growing strait up. That way all the trees energies will go into growing the way you want it. Then I would stake it.

    Bookmark   April 7, 2013 at 3:04PM
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Thanks alot for the replies! Maybe I should clarify that the tree came leaning, and to my untrained eye, it seems that the graft is just not straight. In fact, the one straight branch, given it's completely different character (it has long thorns and much bigger leaves, and grew a foot since I've had it) could be a 'sucker' even though it seemed subject to the same leaf drop as the other branches... Is there any way to tell for sure?

    Bookmark   April 7, 2013 at 3:17PM
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Most citrus have some thorns. Some of the popular rootstocks have bigger thorns. Having said that if it's point of attachment is above the graft union all is well. As long as it's above that point it's not the rootstock. It could be a sport or perhaps the tree had more than one variety grafted onto it at some point in it’s young life. Stranger things have happened.

    Bookmark   April 7, 2013 at 4:05PM
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I know you're all more experienced, so I'll probably follow your advice anyways, but before I haul out the shears, what would you think of just trying to repot the tree at an angle so that the majority of the branches are upward pointing?

I think I'll post another pic in the morning. What I think is the graft line is really high, and everything to the left appears to be right 'above' the line, and the big one seems to be 'below', but there is another thing that could be the graft line which is right at the soil line.

    Bookmark   April 7, 2013 at 4:18PM
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The long thorny shoot is what is called a watersprout; generally an indication you are being too kind to the plant in terms of fertilizer. I would prune it back to the level of the general canopy and it will revert to normal growth. As for the lopsided nature of your tree; it is because it was budded, not grafted, at what I would think too old an age for the rootstock; in time it will grow more balanced, especially if you keep turning it. If it were mine, I would head back the longer branches on the "lopsided" side; it will cause them to branch and make the tree more bushy; and it will also encourage growth on the other side.
PLEASE do not stake your tree; it does not need it; and the stake will prevent the natural strengthening/thickening of the trunk

    Bookmark   April 7, 2013 at 4:22PM
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To be honest, the tree being lopsided doesn't really bother me. I'm just worried that if it ever does make lemons, the weight will make it unstable. How long does it generally take to grow branches?

    Bookmark   April 7, 2013 at 4:36PM
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To be more clear, this was my idea for making it straighter in a less invasive way. But in real life, not only in ms Paint:)

Has anybody tried something like this?

    Bookmark   April 8, 2013 at 12:49AM
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You can do that, if you like; there are lots of "tricks" to fool nature. If it makes you happy, do it; it is your tree and you have to live with it.

    Bookmark   April 8, 2013 at 1:00AM
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The tree was a gift, and I have to admit it's kind of like getting a puppy for Christmas... I mean I fell in love with it pretty fast, but the only plant I ever had in the past was a fake cactus and some parsley, so maybe this plant will have to undergo some experimental rearing before I learn how it all works...

    Bookmark   April 8, 2013 at 2:17AM
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Yes, I was going to suggest exactly that; put it in a larger pot and plant it at an angle. Inground it is not important but in a container if you get a lot of lemons on one side it can tip over the pot.

    Bookmark   April 8, 2013 at 12:19PM
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birdsnblooms eyesight isn't the best. I can't see the graft line...
I expanded your photo, but turns out being the same size as the picture posted here. :)

Growth below the graft line is root stock and should be removed. Stock WILL take over, kill your lemon.
Stock should be removed ASAP, otherwise the larger the growth the bigger the scar.

I agree..repotting in an angle would work, too.

    Bookmark   April 8, 2013 at 12:58PM
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I'm afraid it's not possible to take a proper close up pic with my webcam, I tried a couple times but it's too blurry to be useful. All I can say is, there are two noticeable variations in the bark which I think are candidates for the graft line, one is up on the top of the trunk, and one is on the bottom close to the roots... But given that the bark on the suspicious branch is quite old at the bottom, I'm beginning to think that Johnmerr is right, and it's a 'watersprout', which would put the graft line on the bottom of the tree, so I just pruned it back. If it grows back double quick, I'll take a more aggressive stand.

I've been looking at the other trees on the citrus forum, and I'm afraid my poor darling is a bit of an ugly duckling! I always thought it was beautiful until I saw the round and perfect ones you guys are all showing off:) Hopefully it will survive this health crisis and the repotting, I'll be sure to update either way!

    Bookmark   April 8, 2013 at 1:09PM
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Keep all the limbs; just prune them back a bit to encourage new growth. The bud union (graft) is clearly where the growth angles away from the trunk... looks to be maybe 8 inches from the ground?..

    Bookmark   April 8, 2013 at 1:17PM
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Johnmerr, what you say makes sense. having browsed through several grafting sites, I think that is the raft line!

It will be a funny looking tree for some time yet, but I'm starting to think of it as my own personal Pygmalion:)

    Bookmark   April 8, 2013 at 1:52PM
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hoosierquilt USDA 10A Sunset 23 Vista CA(10b Sunset 23)

Mary, I wouldn't worry about how the tree is leaning. Water thoroughly and fertilize with every watering with 1/2 strength Dyna Gro Foliage Pro. There is some thing called "Apical Dominance" which will occur on the branches that are going out sideways - that means that at the nodes, those branches will start sending out new growth that will be pointed upwards. This is the tree's natural attempt to right itself and balance itself. I had both a Chironja orangelo and an Ortanique tangor that had a very similar tilted start, and now they are both upright in their appearance. So, plenty of sun, fertilizer and adequate water. Looks like you've got a well draining potting mix, so you're good there.

Patty S.

    Bookmark   April 8, 2013 at 2:46PM
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All this great advice..Now I need some..

How in the world did you get to manipulate a picture like that Mary?...Not bad!

Hoping everyone is well:-)


    Bookmark   April 8, 2013 at 6:58PM
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I would like to post a followup regarding my lemon tree...

First of all, while I think all the advice I got was excellent, it was of course impossible to take everybodies, so in the end I heeded the wise words of Johnmerr, who had so helpfully informed me that I am the one who has to live with the tree, and I did what my instincts told me, which is to re-pot it.

I thought that re-potting a tree would take at MOST and hour, but it ended up taking around four, and I'd like to post my experiences there, in case someone is going through the same thing.

1) Timing: It was cold enough so that I couldn't work in a t-shirt and shorts, which would have significantly cut down on the laundry afterwards

2) Materials: I'm a pretty cheap person, so I went for another plastic tan pot, and in the absence of the materials required for a homemade potting mix, I went for a commercial mix.

3) Location: If I had carried the tree down to the common area, instead of trying to re-pot it on my balcony, I would have saved myself hours of misery, because a balcony just doesn't have enough space, and if you're outside, you don't have to clean up as much.

So, now to the general experience. I went up two pot sizes to accommodate the tilt I wanted to use. After pruning, the pot looks much too large, but I still prefer the tilted look to the way it was before.

My intention was just to break up the root ball a little bit and then plunge it into a waiting bucket of water to kind of sort of wash off some of the old soil, and then to put it in the new pot. This did NOT happen.

What happened is, I pulled the tree out of the pot, and the roots were visible all over the outside of the soil, and FALLING OFF, they were so rotten and dried out. When I started to break up the ball, there were whole sections of the roots which were slimy and disgusting, and some were totally dried out.. and I spent alot of time washing off the 'soil' which was pretty much clay, to find out which sections of roots to cut off. Then I had to put the tree in the bucket of water and take a rest and throw out some of that horrible rocky clay. The moral of the story at this point is:


Really. I can't stress it enough. I thought my soil was well draining, because it looked nice and rocky, but it wasn't. Obviously, when I watered, I was missing a whole lot of the roots. I really regret not taking more effort to make my own mix, because now I'm worried that the new spoil will have the same problems after a while.

So anyways, I came back and I started to put it in its new pot. First I added a slope of soil on the bottom of the pot (because I was intending to tilt it substantially) and watered it well... then with one hand I held up the tree while with the other I added soil. Holding up a tree is actual hard work, I would advise having a tree holder helper if you can. In the end I had to stop and restart this process four or five times. Let me tell you, my beautiful balcony was covered with clay, leaves, buds, sweat and tears by the time the tree was more or less inside.

But it didn't stay that way. Turns out I hadn't packed in the soil hard enough, and before long, the tree was tilting one way and then the other, and I was left with a corrections algorithm of seeing how it was tilting and adding soil and water. Lather rinse repeat.

Then I wanted to prune it (the watersprout was going off WAY in one direction) so thus started a whole new list of new experiences. Mock me if you will, but I live in a small apartment, and I don't own gardening shears. With a steak knife I slowly sawed of all of the offending branches, a process which took around 5 - 6 minutes per branch.

Then came the cleaning up. Oh the cleaning! Me having put down newspaper was of no use at all. By the time the cleaning period had started, the newspaper had turned into a soggy staining mess. It would have been 10 times faster if I hadn't put down newspaper.

Anyways, we're well into spring over here, and my tree looks ... better? I don't know, it's hard to tell. The problem with the flowers still exists... this tree is making literally thousands of flowers, but no new leaves. There are some leaves which are yellow and falling off (slower than before) and some of the leaves look significantly healthier (glossy, smooth) while others are cracked and dry (probably due to the wind).

I hope you all enjoyed my re-potting experience, any advice is warmly appreciated.


    Bookmark   June 1, 2013 at 4:32AM
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I'm adding an image to show that the trunk did not miraculously straighten!

    Bookmark   June 1, 2013 at 4:41AM
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Your tree looks fine. I suspect you moved it drastically from one light condition to another; and when you do that to a Meyer it will drop many/most/all of its leaves, to replace them later with new leaves better suited to the new light. The mass of flowers is because the tree is stressed, thinking it will die; so it is making seeds (fruit). Wait until the flowers have stopped; then cut off all or most all of the fruits at BB size. You should soon see new leaves/shoots and then you can give it a rest for awhile and enjoy the benefits of your labor.

    Bookmark   June 1, 2013 at 12:56PM
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You're right, the problems started when I moved the tree outside. Thanks for the encouragement!

    Bookmark   June 1, 2013 at 1:22PM
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If you have it on a balcony, I don't know what is the solution; but generally the rule is move from inside to outside, full shade; after 2 weeks move to partial shade; then another 2 weeks to full sun; and reverse in the Fall. If you do that, you should avoid the heartbreaking leaf drop that is all too common with Meyers in containers.

    Bookmark   June 1, 2013 at 1:31PM
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