Help - Mandarin tree not looking so good

michael988April 26, 2012

Hi, first post and my first attempt in raising citrus trees. I bought two mandarin trees, a seedless kishu and a tango from costco (W&N is the supplier). I have limited space in the backyard, so I decided on putting these semi-dwarfs in a container. With the seedless kishu, I transplanted it into a half wine barrel (deciding not to gradually move up container sizes. A person at my local home improvement store said I could use a layer of mulch on bottom, followed by half azalea mix for acid and half cactus mix for drainage (kellogg branded). I decided to see how it would go with the first transplant before doing the tango.

After a few weeks, the kishu doesn't look so well. After flowering, the tiny fruits turned yellow then black. The new leaves are looking more yellow-green than some of the older leaves. And recently, the inner, skinny leaves have turned yellow and are dropping. I water about every 3 days, is that too much? I thought the yellowing was due to nitrogen deficiencies so I added some miracle grow shake n feed for citrus trees. What am I doing wrong, please help, very new to this. Thanks in advanced!


Flower -> Yellow -> Black -> Falls off

The container

Older vs. Younger leaves

Yellowing inner leaves

Tango still in nursery container

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blazeaglory(10 SZ22/24 OC Ca)

Ooh. I think it looks a little too wet? That soil mix looks a little too dense. I think it could use some aeration maybe. Citrus like to almost dry out between watering.

The pros will chime in shortly:-)

    Bookmark   April 26, 2012 at 8:19PM
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too much water.

one problem with overpotting is the potting medium does not dry out as readily, especially when its being watered 3 times per week.

i would pull it out, gently shake off any excess potting mix and stick it back in the nursery pot for about a 3-4 days in full sun, do not water. do not add any mix, just whatever sticks to the roots.

after the 3-4 days, make a new mix. go buy a bag of perlite. mix 1/3 perlite, 1/3 azalea mix, and 1/3 cactus mix. take the tree out and check the moisture, if its fairly dry, then pot it in the barrel with the new mix, and do not water for another 3-4 days. just shake the barrel to settle the mix.

water lightly for the first few weeks until it has put out a good amount of green leaves. only water once per week unless you have +90'F temps. do not fertilize for the first month or so, it is very stressed.

if the new mix settles a lot you can add a little more on top.

once your tree is healthy again, you can fertilize about 1/2 strength once per month during the growing season(warm months). if its very hot, over 90'F, you can increase watering to twice per week if needed.

    Bookmark   April 27, 2012 at 12:19AM
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DWD2(10a, Sunset 17)

michael1988, It appears that the mulch you added is either a pine bark or fir bark mulch which is pretty acidic. The azalea mix is very acidic. I do not know about the cactus mix's pH or its ability to buffer the low pH of the azalea mix and the mulch. Citrus likes a pH between 6.0 and 6.5 which is discussed in the University of Florida publication (pages 14 -15) whose link is below. Over watering may well be part of the problem, but I would be very concerned about the pH of the mix as the bigger problem. It sounds like the person at your local home improvement store is not a very good source of advice. You might go to 1 or 2 of your local nurseries which are a nurseries only that sell citrus trees and ask for advice as to what you might need to successfully grow a citrus tree in a container if you were to buy one of their trees. Four Winds Growers also has some suggestions about growing citrus in containers at the link below. I would find a way to get the pH of your mix checked and, if it is well below pH 6, get the tree out of that mix ASAP.

There is a lot of information about citrus tree nutrition here:

Good luck with your trees!

Here is a link that might be useful: Four Winds Growers container suggestions

    Bookmark   April 27, 2012 at 3:02AM
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hoosierquilt USDA 10A Sunset 23 Vista CA(10b Sunset 23)

Highly unlikely this is a pH issue. I use 1/2 compost and 1/2 Azealea potting mix for my blueberries, and it still isn't under 6.5. I have to add soil sulfur for my blueberries. It is certainly due to being a bit too dense. I plant my citrus in EB Stone's Cactus Mix straight. You can TOP with some compost or mulch, but your azalea mix may have just had too much organic materials in it, and it's not breathing well enough. Check to see how wet it is down towards the bottom of the container. You'e going to get some degree of transplant shock, so that's unavoidable. You might even lose most/all of the leaves, but as long as the roots can breath, your tree(s) will come back.

Patty S.

    Bookmark   April 27, 2012 at 1:43PM
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DWD2(10a, Sunset 17)

hoosierquit, You may well be correct that is a root oxygen problem. From the small amount of information Michael988 has provided us, I think we are all guessing. I also think you might benefit by finding a new azalea potting mix or check the pH of your 2 components before you mix them. The azalea mix I use for my blueberries starts out at pH 5.07. So, you either have a mix that will kill azaleas (entirely possible) or your compost is at a pH of 6.5 or higher with significant buffering capacity (also entirely possible), but to get a pH of 6.5 in your 1:1 mix, one of my 2 statements must be correct. There is TREMENDOUS variation in the quality of retail mixes and components that people put into mixes out there which makes it very difficult to advise people when they encounter a problem. Here are 2 publications discussing the variability:

The point I was trying to make about pH I think is still a reasonable guess. As I tried to say above, over watering leading to the roots not getting adequate oxygen could be part or all of the problem. I will say I know of no mechanism whereby "too much organic materials" should cause a problem unless the particles are very small and comprise a high percentage of the mix such that you do not have adequate air space. But small particles in no way have to be organic to cause that problem.

Why couldn't the azalea mix Michael988 used be pH 5 or even somewhat lower? I know it is entirely possible to get pine bark and presumably mulch that is below pH 3. The first bag of pine bark I ever bought was pH 2.9. Ted Bilderback, a professor at North Carolina State University and possibly the primer expert on growing in pots in soilless media in the world, discusses problems with pine bark that extend to all conifer chip products in the link below. Even under normal circumstances, the pH of pine bark should be between 4 & 5. So, if his mulch is pH 5 or lower and his azalea mix is pH 5 or lower, I do not think it is unreasonable to think another mix is not going to raise the pH to 6 and it seems to me there is a significant likelihood that the pH of his mix is in the low 5s. Bad for citrus.

I have been reading these forums for some time now & only recently started posting. I do see very similar sorts of problems arise again & again. It is extremely unfortunate that many, even most based on the publications above, of the potting mix manufacturers do not produce a quality controlled product. hoosierqulit, you clearly encountered that problem with your blueberry mix. Entirely to your credit, you solved that problem and, I bet, you are happy with your blueberries now. I also bet that solving that problem was a real pain and cost you some bucks.

michael988, good luck with your problem! You have a number of guesses of things to try or look at. Wherever reality lies, it appears you need to get that tree out of the mix you have it in. A possible, reasonably straight-forward fix is to ask hoosierquilt for pertinent details on where to get EB Stone's Cactus Mix and how she would transfer a tree under your set of circumstances. I grow my citrus in a home made blend that you do not appear to have time to make as it takes awhile to get the components.

Here is a link that might be useful: insights into pine bark variables

    Bookmark   April 28, 2012 at 3:17AM
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hoosierquilt USDA 10A Sunset 23 Vista CA(10b Sunset 23)

Still, extremely unlikely it is a pH issue, DWD. Our municipal water here in California will also affect the pH, and our water here in S. California is in the mid-7 range for the most part (with minor fluctuations of course).

And yes, there is variability in bagged mixes. Bagged mixes here in Calif. don't tend to be all that acidic because they're mixed with products here in Calif. which which don't tend to be overly acidic (with exceptions, of course). I have yet to find a bagged Azalea/Camellia mix that was under 5. But, I haven't bought them all, so perhaps one exists that is commercially available. I tend to use EB Stone's products, as they are reliable and they use high quality ingredients. EB Stone products are widely available at good nursery centers.

And yes, we always are "guessing" here, even with lots of photos. That's kind of what we do here when trying to problem-solve on this forum - make the best educated guess we can. And, with container citrus grown in high-organic matter potting mix, the "odds" are soil compression and retained water.

We do talk quite a bit about the 5-1-1 mix or the "Gritty" mix on this forum, and you can search to find the ingredients. We have some very accomplished container citrus growers on the forum that can assist in putting together this mix for Michael or anyone else. Feel free to post your mix, we're all about sharing our solutions :-) I use EB Stone Cactus Mix because it is very close to the Gritty Mix recipe, and I don't do a lot of container citrus, since I have a pretty large lot and have the ability to put my citrus in the ground due to my weather and available land. So, not worth going to the extra effort to make my own mix.

And, solving my blueberry "problem" (wasn't a problem, this was actually purposeful), cost a couple of bucks. Soil Sulfur is cheap :-)

We can all offer up our opinions here, it's a friendly forum. Checking drainage is the easiest thing to do first, and still, in my opinion, the most probably cause. If this isn't the issue for Michael, then he'll need to invest in a decent pH meter to test his mix's pH and move on from there. The symptoms his trees are demonstrating, however, appear to be from over-watering and transplant shock to me. But again, that's just my little ole' opinion :-) Yours is also welcome, we welcome all opinions on the forum.

Patty S.

    Bookmark   April 28, 2012 at 10:48AM
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blazeaglory(10 SZ22/24 OC Ca)

I think you both might be somewhat correct.

In the pics I see a possible iron deficiency due to a possible Ph issue. I also see MAJOR symptoms of over watering in a THICK soil.

First cut back on watering. Second invest in a soil and water Ph meter. Third when planting citrus in a pot I would recommend the gritty mix as the citrus I have seen growing in this mix look GREAT.

As a rule I think every backyard citrus grower should invest in a soil Ph meter and water Ph meter. If growing citrus in a pot I would use a neutral gritty mix and monitor the Ph levels of my water.

I do know that the holly tone brand sells a good acidic fertilizer with iron that helps to correct alkaline soils.

I live in Orange County where I used to think citrus grew itself. Well, a year into growing my first Navel Orange I am finding out the hard way that there is MUCH MORE than meets the eye. Soil acidity and over watering being the top two main issues.

    Bookmark   April 28, 2012 at 2:07PM
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timsf(CA Z8B/Sunset17)


I would agree with the others - you have the classic signs of overwatering. I've included a link to Al's very informative post on dealing with water-retentive soils.


Here is a link that might be useful: Dealing with Water-Retentive Soils by Al/Tapla

    Bookmark   May 2, 2012 at 12:42AM
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Hello all,
Having read through this thread, I must believe the issues with my dwarf Meyer Lemon, planted in a half barrel, are due to over-watering and lack of air/oxygen in the soil. I'm planning on taking the tree out and replacing the soil with something more breathable and water less. But, when should I do this? I am in Sunset zone 15 where temp do occasionally drop below freezing. Should I wait until March when risk of frost is pretty much over, or does it not matter and I should do it rather sooner than later! Thanks so much for any advise. Also, those of you who posted in this thread over a year ago, how have things changed for you? Have your citrus plants gotten healthier? Stefanie

    Bookmark   December 21, 2013 at 1:22PM
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hoosierquilt USDA 10A Sunset 23 Vista CA(10b Sunset 23)

Stephanie, I just came across you post tacked onto an old message thread. You really should start your own message thread, but to answer your question - if you tree is suffering, waiting could spell the demise of your tree. I would carefully re-pot, and if it threatens to drop below 35 degrees, I would simply move your tree into your garage for the night, then bring it back out during the day as it warms back up. I use about 2/3 cactus mix or even MiracleGro Garden Soil for Flowers & Vegetables (yes, this exact mix), 1/3 small pine bark chips (the best I've found is a reptile mix that I bought at PetsMart), and some Perlite mixed in (can't really tell you exactly how much, but about 1/2 as much as the pine bark). The small amount of fertilizer helps to keep my citrus green, and then I will fertilize in February with a time-release product, and again in about June/July. I also will use DynaGro Foliage Pro with my waterings during spring flush, and periodically through until October.

Patty S.

    Bookmark   December 27, 2013 at 9:41PM
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