What is wrong with my orange tree?

art_1(10 CA)April 5, 2011

I bought this dwarf orange tree a few months ago and put it in my backyard. A large hole was filled with the following mix:

55% clay

25% pine bark mulch

10% green and brown organic matter

5% perlite

5% peat moss

amended with dolomitic lime and flower-tone fertilizer

1 bag of steer manure as mulch

When temperatures dipped below freezing for about a week, I covered the tree with a tarp and soaked the area nightly.

The tree does not seem to have grown very much if at all during the past few months. When there is no rain, I water weekly with pH ~6.5 water with white vinegar. How does the tree look? Anything I might improve upon? Thank you

Full size pictures:

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hoosierquilt USDA 10A Sunset 23 Vista CA(10b Sunset 23)

Actually, Art, it looks just fine to me :-) It's actually a very healthy looking citrus tree? I would wait a little, until your weather warms up for it to start flushing out and pushing out some blossoms. Not sure where you live, but I'm guessing it just hasn't been warm enough for long enough to get new growth started. Also, I would make sure you get rid of all that grass around your tree. It is competing for water and nutrients. Instead, form a nice well around the tree and fill with some compost and mulch, keeping it away from against the trunk. And, be sure the lawn sprinklers are not watering the tree or hitting the trunk. Citrus really do not like being in a lawn or being sprinkled by sprinkers, but prefer a nice, deep drink (like you're doing.) And lastly, is there a reason why you're acidifying the water? I live in S. California where our water and soil certainly isn't acidic, and we never acidify our water. Citrus really don't need it unless you've got some crazy alkaline soil and water??

Patty S.

    Bookmark   April 6, 2011 at 12:20AM
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art_1(10 CA)

That's good to hear, thank you. Some of the tips and leaves are dried and brown, but I think that may have been caused by the frost. I have read online that orange trees prefer an acidic pH, but I have also read that they prefer alkaline soil, go figure. If it isn't so important then I guess I'll just use rain or tap water.


    Bookmark   April 6, 2011 at 2:42AM
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hoosierquilt USDA 10A Sunset 23 Vista CA(10b Sunset 23)

Yes, most likely a little cold temp damage. And no, citrus do not need acidic soil, or they'd all never survive in California, lol!! The big thing for you is to get rid of the grass. THAT is more harmful than water or soil on the alkaline side. A nice big well to the drip line or a bit beyond. Lay down some nice worm castings and compost. Mulch with bark mulch but not up against the trunk. Then deep water as you've been doing. If you can put them on a drip system, then you don't need to hand water, which I happen to think is a 4-letter word around here, lol!! I'm all for drip systems, all my fruit are on their separate drip station, and the entire rest of my yard (1 1/2 acres, all landscaped) is also on drip. Some overhead sprinkling, but very little, mostly drip.

Patty S.

    Bookmark   April 6, 2011 at 2:21PM
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When planting a citrus tree a hole should be dug only large enough to receive the tree's root ball. Further no amendments are ever used when planting a citrus tree, only the dirt that was removed, when the hole was dug, should be used when refilling. When a large hole is dug, you made a "lake" that your tree's roots are setting in with each watering.

    Bookmark   April 6, 2011 at 5:44PM
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art_1(10 CA)

Would you ever consider using a piece of carpet as mulch/ground cover?

    Bookmark   April 9, 2011 at 12:23PM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

A planting hole should be dug no DEEPER than required to place the ball at or above the natural grade. However, it should be dug a lot wider. It's recommended that a wide, basin shaped hole with NO amendments is best for a speedy establishment process. No peat, no manure, no compost, no bark...just the native soil. Loosen the soil, remove large debris and stones, and backfill gently.

Time will tell if your mixture will create problems for this tree. It often does.

I'd be quite anxious, as the others are, about adding dolomite to a mixture that I had no idea what the pH might be. Same with vinegar.

I see a major issue with the weeds,too, Art. Weeds are 'designed' to win the below-ground battle for space, water, and dissolved minerals. Also, many grasses (even from our lawns) have allelopathic properties that fight the root systems of other plants chemically.

I'd pull out all of the weeds in a large area around that tree and replace them with a 2-3 inch layer of that pine bark mulch. THAT'S the best use of that material! I'm not talking about a little patch the size of a dixie cup, either. Be generous in how wide you spread the mulch. Your tree will thank you for it, believe me. I would never recommend the use of carpeting as a weed barrier. One objective for the mulch is to create a great environment for the essential beneficial microorganisms that abound in a soil. Natural mulch will do that beautifully but not a slab of carpet.

Hold on to the fertilizer for a while. Let the tree develop some roots first.

Say, just out of curiosity...what is that orange thing I see in the picture?

    Bookmark   April 9, 2011 at 12:59PM
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art_1(10 CA)

Considering all of the knowledge and advice you've given I'm a bit embarrassed to say, but that is actually last year's pumpkin. I will clear the area around the tree, mulch with pine bark, and hope for the best. Thank you again.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2011 at 10:06PM
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Silica and Rhizo are 100% correct in advising no amendments to an in ground citrus. (See exception below.) If that stuff is organic, it rots or holds too much water. When it rots the crown of the root ball sinks below grade and that is usually fatal. If the surrounding soil is tight, there is usually some rootrot which seems to be part of the problem here. I doubt the tip damage is freeze related. The chlorotic condition with the new growth and the tip die back is something we see a lot of around here, especially on citrus with trifoliata rootstock where there is alkaline soil/subsoil or water. It is the rootstock which determines if the citrus tolerates acid or alkaline conditions and this one looks like it is going downhill. You should check your water with a pool test kit (methyl red indicator) or pH paper. These methods are vastly superior to a pH meter. Unless you can calibrate the meter with standardized buffer solution it is not reliable.

If you have an alkalinity problem then you should use a foliar spray to replace metals the roots cannot absorb.

Magnesium sulfate (Epsom salt) is one you can try adding to your acidified water @ 1/2 to 1 tablespoon to a gal of water.

Rhizo is also correct about the weeds. The "goose grass", properly, blue crabgrass, will win over young citrus. When it matures, the tree will win. If it were me, I would use half pine bark or even pine needles and the rest good partly composted "native mulch". Good native mulch has all the additives your tree needs. Pine bark has very little or nothing.

One exception; if I have to unwind a badly rootbound pot I sometime put a little clean sandy loam in the center of the hole and make a rounded dome like a little round stool to set the plant on and drape the roots all around it letting them go out and down.

    Bookmark   April 10, 2011 at 2:12AM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

Whoa nelly! You aren't getting away that easy, Art! lolol LAST YEAR'S PUMPKIN? (I'm laughing with you.)

Anyway, you do those few things and we'll all keep our fingers crossed. I hope you will post some more pictures in a few months and brag about how well the tree is doing.

By the way, in case we forgot to mention this....don't pile any of the mulch up against the trunk. I'll like to see it go well past the area where the great pumpkin now resides, so that the roots may be encouraged to go far and wide.

    Bookmark   April 10, 2011 at 2:02PM
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art_1(10 CA)


Full size pictures:

    Bookmark   April 10, 2011 at 9:33PM
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art_1(10 CA)

Here are two soil samples from different areas of my yard. The jar on the right is from right next to the tree. The top picture shows equal parts soil and water shaken for 20 seconds and left undisturbed for 12 hours. The bottom picture shows the same samples after adding 1/2 teaspoon of dish soap to each jar, shaking for 30 seconds, and sitting for another 12 hours.

The soil and tap water are both alkaline in this area. The soil I mixed for the tree has a significant proportion of ~2 year old pine mulch (needles, twigs, chips) in it. Could this be causing any problems? The tree looks a little yellow. How long does it take for (store bought) chicken manure to become available to plants?

Full size pictures:

    Bookmark   April 18, 2011 at 3:33PM
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gardenlen(s/e qld aust)

boy i'm going to be the odd one out here hey, maybe i just let this one slip by?

your soil looks pretty miserable to me, at the very least it needs lots more organic material added. have you ever had a PH test done? maybe get an opinion from the local plant/garden centre on what they think the soil is missing. most do free PH tests so take a good sample along the sample should be from around 6"s down.

to me (and we've planted a lot of citrus in alot of gardens with total success) the citrus looks less than as healthy as it should be, the green is yellowish incipid, could mean wrong PH as well as lack of nutrient level around the plant.

as for never using amendments when preparing a planting position for citrus, that is a new one to me and goes against our successes. for one when planting citrus in a poorly drained heavy clay spot (common problem here), we generally dig a whole about twice the size of the pot of the potted plant then we back fill tamping down to minimise settlement to create a planting mound, to create drainage for the feeder roots.

all our 6 or 7 citrus in this poorly drained garden are about 4 years old from the pot and all are producing full crops of fruit (have done for 3 years now)on acontinuing basis. we mulch heavily around them we don't feed them, and do very little pruning (probably slack on my part), there is no bug attacks.

our ammendment was mushroom compost from the farm, around 3 to 4 bags per planting position. now they are all established we don't water, they get rain water only around 1100mm per year av'.

so if that citrus was mine i'd dig it up, dig a larger hole ammend the hole, just in case you get lots of water that is slow to drain i would plant it in a raised position, and mulch heavily. buy yourself a PH test kit if the PH is too acid say then use dolomite at the prescribed rate to amend the hole and the planting area.

we are gypsum fans so all plantings here get at least a good dose of it, works in our area for us.

that's how we do it i guess.


Here is a link that might be useful: lens garden page

    Bookmark   April 19, 2011 at 1:54PM
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One more possibility: From your description, you have wood chips mixed into the soil and not merely spread around on the surface. If the pine mulch is in fact mixed into the soil and does contain un-decayed wood, that might very well be causing the yellowing. Note, this has nothing to do with whether the chips are "green" or dry: the wood, as it decomposes, ties up nitrogen that is thus unavailable to the tree. If you have enough of it in the soil, I would say that it definitely would be a problem.

    Bookmark   April 19, 2011 at 3:01PM
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art_1(10 CA)

Thank you very much for the advice and replies. Perhaps I will replant the tree in a mound of bedding mix from a local supplier.

    Bookmark   April 19, 2011 at 3:39PM
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hoosierquilt USDA 10A Sunset 23 Vista CA(10b Sunset 23)

I would also add to top with either compost or worm castings, and then a nice layer of bark mulch to keep the weeds down and to continue to allow organic matter to break down and provide nutrients. Just keep the compost and mulch away from the trunk. Very interesting studies being done right now with bark mulch under citrus that are giving some very nice results.

Patty S.

    Bookmark   April 19, 2011 at 11:32PM
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art_1(10 CA)

What would be an economical, effective way to remedy this soil? Mixing in 1-2 yards of "compost," or "bedding mix," from a local soil supplier? Using the bedding mix for ~18" high mounds or raised beds, at least for this season?

Tomatoes have grown well in this soil in the past, but I'd really like the orange tree and some other vegetables to thrive this year.

    Bookmark   April 22, 2011 at 3:31PM
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tryinginfla9b(9B North Port, FL)

I have very poor sandy soil and the only thing that seems to work for me is to rake up the surface soil a little and put down some blood meal. I've tried the commercial time release fertilizers but they didn't seem to do anything. My soil also tested as high PH. My tree is 8 years old and since I started using blood meal it perked right up turned a nice shade of green and last year I had the biggest harvest of oranges the trees produced. (I started the blood meal the year before, also a good harvest). (I have to keep the dogs away from it until it is thoroughly watered in, it does have quite a smell)
Just my two cents from SW Florida.


    Bookmark   April 23, 2011 at 7:14PM
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art_1(10 CA)

Doing a little better :)

    Bookmark   April 7, 2012 at 4:19PM
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