Should I remove a huge thorny limb from my grapefruit tree?

lilystaug(9)April 7, 2013

I just joined this forum, and read an interesting discussion about thorns on an orange tree. It didn't answer all my questions, and seemed to peter out anyway, so I hope it's OK to start the discussion again?

I moved to St. Augustine Beach, FL in Fall 2011. The yard has several citrus trees, which hadn't received a lot of care for a while before we bought the house, and I've done some work on them, but without a lot of knowledge, since then.

Today I started seriously pruning a small orange tree which has not produced anything since we bought the house. It was completely covered with vines from the nearby fence (passion flower, bougainvillea and something else) which I cut to the ground in order to get rid of the vines last year. (They came back like crazy and I pruned them again last month.) After removing the vines a year ago, the tree seemed to flourish but there was no fruit. There is still a lot of dead wood which we cleared out this afternoon, using a saw and removing large limbs. We left everything that turned green this year. There are blossoms and some fruit on the tree!

Then I went to work on a grapefruit which was HIGHLY productive this year, but hardly produced anything last year. I did fertilize the tree last spring. The fruit this year was OK, not great: FULL of seeds and not very pretty, but juicy. The juice was a little too tangy, but not awful. It's a large tree, and as I pruned, I found fruit that's from two winters ago as well as some small fruit still from this past winter. I figured it couldn't be good to have two year old fruit, and those branches don't have new leaves on them, so I started cutting those branches.

I noticed (ouch) some brutal thorns and was horrified to find at the center of the tree some branches and limbs that look like something out of a fairy tale (the evil part of the tale). I felt like they should go, suspecting those branches might be some kind of suckers from the root stock. I found this forum and my reading confirmed that.

Back at the tree, saw in hand, I realized that this horrid limb is a major limb of the tree - maybe THE major limb. If we remove that limb, basically ALL the fruit remaining on the tree will come with it! Perhaps it produced ALL the grapefruit we used this year. Does that mean all that fruit was from the root stock? If I cut it off, what then?

This same tree produced some wonderful seedless limes in 2011 - more than I could use, but this year, it produced very few, although still good. There are lots of tiny lime "embryos" on the tree now.

One final wrinkle: My husband picked up all the grapefruit we were sacrificing (maybe more than 100) in this pruning and ONE of them, which he found on the ground, not on a branch, looked like a large orange! I cut it and sure enough, a tasty, juicy orange with just a seed or two! What?!

I'll gladly post some pix if someone is out there and can advise me. I really want to do the best I can with these trees, which are such a gift! Our biggest, most beautiful tree, which produced a bounty of wonderful seedless pink grapefruit last year produced next to none this year, in spite of my fertilizing. It also has fruit way up high from year(s) prior to 2011. I pruned this one a year ago also, and the foliage is gorgeous and it bloomed and set fruit last year, but the harvest just didn't happen! Where did I go wrong?

Lily G

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You really need to post photos, including where the thorny limb originates. It sounds like you may have what is called a cocktail citrus, meaning a number of varieties grafted onto the same rootstock. Now would be a good time to give it a good quality citrus fertilizer, applied at the drip line of the tree and watered in well.

    Bookmark   April 7, 2013 at 8:17PM
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Here's a photo of the trunk, which shows the thorny limb.

    Bookmark   April 8, 2013 at 12:27PM
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a close-up of the thorny limb

    Bookmark   April 8, 2013 at 12:29PM
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This photo shows the main limb, and equally thorny branches extending from it.

    Bookmark   April 8, 2013 at 12:32PM
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hoosierquilt USDA 10A Sunset 23 Vista CA

Lily, can you provide a photo of where this wickedly thorny branch is emanating from? The front normal branch is obscuring where the thorny branch is coming from. We are all thinking that you've possibly got a (massive) rootstock sucker, but we can't tell unless you can give us a photo of where this branch starts exactly. If it is emanating from below the graft union, it is rootstock, and should be removed.

Patty S.

    Bookmark   April 8, 2013 at 12:49PM
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It's a bit hard to say for sure from the photos; but if it were mine I would keep fertilizing it and wait to see what fruit that limb produces. If you like it, leave the limb, if not, take it out.

    Bookmark   April 8, 2013 at 1:56PM
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It sounds to me like you have a cocktail citrus, too. And, some grapefruits produce a heavy crop every other year, and a light crop the other years. Some other citrus might do that too. It's the way they are genetically programmed, but they do need fertilizer from time to time.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2013 at 7:28AM
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