repotted Meyer Lemon issues - is it the pot??

westgirl(8 WA)April 8, 2012

Hi All,

I'm having problems with my two oldest Meyer Lemons - they are both in big heavy terra cotta pots, and now I'm wondering if that could be part of their year-long unhappiness?

I'd re-potted them both last summer, moving each up a size of pot and putting them in what is marketed here (Seattle) by our local nursery as a fast-draining potting mix especially created for our wet weather. I added pumice and perlite to the mix, along with slow-release citrus fertilizer (Dynamite).

Neither one has done well at ALL, and since my other citrus are all living in 5:1:1, I thought that would be the solution.

Here are some pictures of Meyer II - repotted 3/24, and still desperately unhappy, dropping leaves, AND the soil is still damp.

I was surprised when I got him out of the pot, to see how little of the pot the rootball is taking, and now I'm wondering if the pots are too big for the roots - and if they are, should I re-pot again? They are both in very thick pots, but I drilled extra drainage holes, and thought 5:1:1 would do the trick. (Maybe the problem is that mid-transplant, I discovered that the bag of what I'd had on hand and thought was peat was actually a potting soil - so the mix is one part potting soil instead of peat!:() Help? I'm obviously doing something wrong and don't want to keep making mistakes!

Thanks in advance.

(I'm posting pix of Meyer II here, you can see Meyer I in the link below. I root pruned him and also foliage prune when replanting, and he's perky now, but YELLOW - yikes!!)

Here is a link that might be useful: Meyer I's problems

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Hi Westgirl

Your 3/25/2012 pics show a lot of root rot. I'll bet it was the mix that did the damage along with the short winter warm non sunny days.

I am hoping that you caught the rot just in time for a come back into the 5.1.1 mix. As long as the potting soil was just one part of your mix to replace the peat, the mix should be fine and so the pot.

I would use a wooden dowel after 3 to 4 days and push in deep into the root zone. Now that those roots are damaged, they are going to take up water very slowly if at all, and you want to make sure that mix is drying out rather quickly.

The pot is fine. Just watch your watering practices and make sure you do not encourage even further damage. I would leave the slow release fertilizer out until that tree starts to show firmness in your leaves.

By the way! You seem to have the same greenhouse as I! Is it warm enough to leave your tree in there instead of your home? I love that greenhouse:-)

Keeping my finger crossed for you. Even if your trees should drop all their leaves, it is quite possible that as long as the 'branches' stay green, you will get new growth once again. It takes time for them to show improvement, so don't fret.


    Bookmark   April 8, 2012 at 7:39PM
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westgirl(8 WA)

Hi Mike - thank you! Maybe I can't recognize root rot - they seemed firm and not squishy or slimey - is it that they are too brown? My concern is that it's been two weeks now and the soil is still really damp after the first top inch. Also, since the root ball only fills up the top 1/2 (guesstimating) of the pot, I'm worried that all the damp mix below will just stay that way. I guess there isn't much I can do now except hope? Maybe wick it? Would starting over again in a smaller pot be a seriously bad idea? Patience is not my strong suit :(
My greenhouse has saved a lot of my plants from our overly wet winters. I use Xmas lights to keep it from getting too cold. The irony is that before I had the greenhouse, my Meyer #1 lived outside under a plastic sheet with Xmas lights, and did fine. Now that I've been keeping it in the greenhouse (2 winters) it seems to not do as well! My only complaint about the greenhouse is that I hit my head a lot - I'll blame my height instead of my clumsiness! Did you check out the link for Meyer #1? I'd love your comments - you replied to me last summer about this one - the title was "suddenly sad Meyer lemon" - now it's no longer sudden, but still sad. Something is seriously wrong with the way it's getting - or not getting nutrients!
Thanks for all your help! ;)

    Bookmark   April 9, 2012 at 1:31PM
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do you have air circulation in your greenhouse? sometimes it gets too stuffy in greenhouses, and even inside the house.

if the roots are firm and not squishy, then they'll probably be alright. maybe no root rot, but definitely wet feet. we had a ton of rain in Houston this spring, and my citrus were having wet feet for several weeks, but now with lots of sun they're doing better.

the pots are good sized, the roots should fill in by the end of the summer. terra cotta pots are good, they are more breathable than plastic pots.

just be sure to give them as much sun as possible. like Mike said, your trees might have some shock now, so i would suggest not fertilizing for a few weeks.

    Bookmark   April 10, 2012 at 4:52AM
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westgirl(8 WA)

This tree lives inside and my other citrus trees living inside all seem to be fine, which makes me wonder if it's something to do with the pot. The poor tree hasn't thrived in this particular pot ever since being transplanted last summer, and I had hoped the new mix of 511 would perk it up. (Maybe I just need to be more patient and stop worrying?!!) I think the photos of the roots may have been misleading because I took the first photo when I was in the middle of washing the old potting mix out. I ended up dipping the rootball in a tub of warm water that had a little B12 added to get as much of the old mix out, and the roots seemed fine to me (no expert!)but smaller than I anticipated based on the size of the tree. I generally prefer terra cotta pots, but this one is so thick and so much deeper than the roots, that I wonder if the mass is just holding too much water. I will try to obsess over something else, and let this one recuperate - I hope!!
Thanks for the feedback, much appreciated!

    Bookmark   April 10, 2012 at 4:38PM
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My problem with terra cotta is the evapotranspiration tends to keep the roots too cool and the roots don't like to grow into cool zones. With all citrus, first the roots grow, then the leaves and branches. Maybe watering with warmer water would help, or insulating the pots.
IMHO the pots appear to be much too small for the size of the tree; and let me say, that my "expertise" is only with Meyers.

    Bookmark   April 10, 2012 at 8:48PM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

It is a rather deep pot. But it's good thing that it is clay. The evaporation through the sides will be helpful. I think that the roots appear to be in good shape, at least as far as I can tell.

One thing to be watchful for is that because the container is rather disproportionately deep, the bottom depth of the root/soil system just might stay too wet for too long. Even though you will probably lose some of the water via evaporation from the sides, it 'might' not be adequate unless those thick clay sides act like sponges.

The reason I mention that is because of a very thick sided pot that I have. Boy, does that thing ever suck up water!

    Bookmark   April 11, 2012 at 11:48AM
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westgirl(8 WA)

Thanks Johnmerr and Rhizo - I hadn't considered the evapotranspiration which might explain why my citrus in plastic pots (admittedly, not as old) are doing fine. I think maybe in general it's the wrong kind of pot for Seattle weather - keeping the roots too cool (at least until we get some warm weather in...August?) and too deep - at least in comparison with the root ball. I guess though that I shouldn't put it through any more trauma for a while...?
Thank you! Learning a lot here - the hard way, sometimes!

    Bookmark   April 11, 2012 at 12:56PM
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Learning from experience is often painful and costly; while learning from the experience of others is painless and free... it is the reason I found this site (looking for answers) and the reason I am a frequent visitor.

    Bookmark   April 11, 2012 at 1:36PM
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Hey Westgirl, please link me to that Meyer#1. I do want to tell you that I would not fret. I should do fine.
I would use a wick if you find it stays too wet towards the bottom and hope that the sunny warm days encourage a lot of root growth to prepare for next winter.

I think it will be fine. The thing that John said about clay getting cold makes me think of something I never thought of. I shall have to keep a close eye on my clay ones, or at least see if this is something to consider. Hum...

    Bookmark   April 11, 2012 at 10:01PM
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The one thing to remember about pots, or amended soil when planting in the ground... always err on the side of width and not depth; Meyers get their food from the first 18 inches of soil, but the feeder roots will extend beyond the existing canopy, or what you envision the canopy size to be. About clay pots... I know (from the experience of others?) that certain crops AKA organic entertainment/tobacco substitute, do not do well in clay pots because the evapotranspiration cools the roots resulting in an abundance of male plants, -vs- the more desirable females. Hahahahaha! I didn't get to be this old without learning a few things along the way.

    Bookmark   April 11, 2012 at 11:12PM
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westgirl(8 WA)

Hi MM - the link to Meyer #1 is at the bottom of my original post (see above) let me know what you think! You did advise me on this particular tree last summer. I'm particularly concerned because he's my baby & has been struggling now for almost a year. Currently the tree looks perkier than it has since last fall, but the foliage is an alarming color, despite fertilization.
Johnmerr, you crack me up - I laughed out loud & scared the cats. Duly noted & I appreciate your (or the experience of others;) expertise. So interesting...
Muchas gracias,

    Bookmark   April 12, 2012 at 1:16AM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

Plant roots behave differently within the confines of a container than they do when planted in the soil. You CAN use a deeper container, as long as the potting medium is very porous. John is describing, correctly, how plant roots develop when properly planted outside. As soon as the roots hit the sides of a container however, they'll seek 'accomodations' elsewhere...and DOWN is a good direction to go as long as roots have access to oxygen. That, by the way, is a primary reason why root systems in the ground stay close to the surface...oxygen.

Evapotranspiration is the term for the combined loss of water from plant surfaces (transpiration occurs from leaves) PLUS evaporation from the soil surface. In the case of clay containers, evaporation occurs from the top of the planting medium as well as through sides of the containers. Evaporative cooling can occur, but it has never been anything that I've been concerned least not any more than other containers.

Conductive cooling can be a problem for plants, as well. Taking care of the root systems of our containerized plants can be something to think about for sensitive plants, whether grown in plastic (or other non porous material) or clay.

I much prefer to use clay pots, as I feel that the benefits of oxygen infusion and moisture evaporation far exceeds any issues with evaporative cooling.

Of course, I am speaking from the south! The benefits of evaporative cooling are very important in the long hot days and nights of a spring/summer/fall.

Speaking of cool temperatures...that's just one more reason to be patient about your plant's recovery. Though you've used a good fertilizer, plants are slow to absorb and utilize elements when it's cold. In a native soil system, dissolved nutrients remain locked in the soil and aren't even available to uptake until it warms up.

    Bookmark   April 12, 2012 at 12:39PM
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westgirl(8 WA)

Thanks rhizo - I'm getting such an education here and it's very much appreciated! I wish we had long hot days here. I hadn't thought about the roots being too cool, but prior to re-planting, Meyer1 who has spent the winter outside in a greenhouse had had twinkle lights wrapped around the pot. Because temps aren't in danger of freezing any longer, I'd taken the lights off - spring is here! Now I'm thinking that both Meyer 1 & 2 would appreciate warmer roots to equalize the amount of light (quite a bit) they're now receiving. All my other citrus in plastic pots are thriving with a lot of new growth and blooms. Thank you for reminding me to be patient in cooler weather!

    Bookmark   April 12, 2012 at 10:57PM
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It seems the tree is "rootbound" which means the roots have outgrown the pot. I would take a pair of good root scissors and trim approx. one third of the roots and repot it with good drainage soil.

I have done this with my bonsai plants when the roots get too big. Hope this helps.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2012 at 6:04PM
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