Young Kieffer (makrut) lime - cry for help

Arkaaito(8 (Seattle, WA))June 13, 2014

Sorry for this very long post... I am a neophyte, so I'm not entirely sure what information is important. I'm hoping that someone can help prevent me from killing off my adorable sapling with my cluelessness.

Last year I bought three tiny Kieffer lime trees - no branching, just the main trunk about 10 inches tall and a dozen or so leaves each. I've been keeping them indoors mainly because of their size (they're so small and fragile looking!). They are grafted onto what I believe to be some type of trifoliate orange. (It's been a while since one of them grew a rootstock sucker, but it had trifoliate leaves - and I think flexible thorns as well.)

All three have gotten the same care, or lack thereof. I've made pretty much every mistake that there is, yet somehow they are still hanging in there.

They live on a windowsill. For the last three months I've given each about a half-teaspoon of Espoma every 4-6 weeks. (They're very small.) Recently I sprayed all three with chelated iron, in two applications about a week apart. I usually catch and pinch suckers before they can grow longer than an inch or two. My watering is very inconsistent, but I always check all three at the same time (and water each if it needs it). All three have the same pest problems - spider mites which seemingly materialized out of nowhere, and scale which they acquired when I very unwisely brought home a new potted lemon to keep them company.

Two of the three developed new branches and are growing, looking pretty dark green, etc. They have very large leaves - I think the size is probably due to not getting enough sunlight - but otherwise seem healthy aside from the pests. Both put out a couple of tiny flowers a few months ago, but otherwise they haven't shown signs of stress that I can see.

The third, however, is in really bad shape. It only added one very small branch, and began to lose leaves about a month ago. I opted to move it outdoors so it could get more sunlight, despite the risk of shocking the poor thing with the sudden change.

Unfortunately, it's gotten a *lot* worse since then. At this point it's lost most of its leaves, and the remaining ones are very pale green in color. Sunscald, overfertilization, underfertilization, overwatering, under watering, disease, micronutrient deficiency, slugs, or did the relocation just weaken it enough for the pests to start finishing it off? Do I risk traumatizing the poor thing even more if I pull it out of the pot to check for root rot? Is there a way I can treat the pest problems without using any chemicals that will further stress it? Is it allergic to the cottonwood which keeps shedding on it on a daily basis? (Okay, I'm pretty sure that's not it...)

P.S.: Thank you to all of the brilliant citrus lovers here - even though this is my first post, I have already learned a lot by reading your responses to others. Unfortunately, I was starting from zero, so in absolute terms I still don't know that much. ;-)

Here is a picture. It's not normally perched on that pile of junk - I took this at night so I had to move it into the potting shed, er, porch light area.

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

Oh boy. Definitely severe spider mite damage, and the scale certainly didn't help. Get rid of both pests asap, if you haven't done so, already (make sure they really are gone, spider mites and scale can be very stubborn.) The soil looks awfully wet, and you didn't mention what potting medium you've used, but you will want to make sure you use a well draining potting mix, such as 5-1-1 or Gritty Mix suggested on our forum. Or, at the least 3 parts cactus mix, 1 part small bark chips (like a reptile bark mix) and 1 part perlite. I think you have to determine the state of the roots, so I would try to re-pot. I would switch to Foliage Pro - Espoma is pretty low concentration, may cause biuret build up in a container citrus (it is really designed for in-ground citrus) Gradually acclimate to full sun and try to keep your trees outside as much as possible. Citrus really are not indoor plants, although with a lot of good care, you can grow them inside during the winter months in areas that are not suited for citrus. But, being up in Seattle, you should be able to grow them outside most of the year. Good luck, and let us know how this little tree fares.

Patty S.

    Bookmark   June 14, 2014 at 10:10AM
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Arkaaito(8 (Seattle, WA))

Patty - thanks so much for your suggestions. To be honest I wasn't really sure what it was potted in, since I had never repotted it since buying it. So, I pulled it out and discovered it had some kind of green beads mixed in. I guess they must be for water retention... should I be worried about that? I've read a lot about how important drainage is for citrus - should I try picking them out?

The good news is, I don't think there's any root rot or significant damage below the soil. Actually, to my inexpert eye, the root system looks great - maybe a little potbound, but less so than other citrus I've procrastinated on repotting. (You've probably already guessed, but I'm a really awful plant caretaker...)

I've started treating the tree with neem oil again (I'm using a spray I bought pre-mixed), but I don't see any improvement in its health. In fact, it's lost a few more leaves since I first posted, and is looking very miserable. In the past I've tried removing the scale by hand, but I'm scared to death I'll pull off one of its precious few leaves. Can anyone advise something beyond the neem oil? I've heard about deploying insects which feed on or parasitize the scale if you're really desperate, but I have no idea where to start...

I've seen the 5-1-1 mentioned but I can't seem to find a thread on it now, so I will try making some gritty mix. Some saint has put together instructions on where to find all the ingredients in my area! Now I just have to figure out where I can do all this sifting as a condo dweller...

Here is a link that might be useful: The gritty mix instructions for Seattle

    Bookmark   June 20, 2014 at 3:01AM
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Ohiofem(6a Ohio)

I hope you won't take offense, but with your admitted irregularity in watering, I don't think gritty mix would be a good choice for your limes. If you can find the pine bark for gritty, that will work for 5-1-1, and the other two ingredients (peat and perlite) are available everywhere. Citrus plants don't want to dry out completely between waterings, and gritty mix requires careful attention to watering. Here is the 5-1-1 recipe:

The 5:1:1 mix:

5 parts pine bark fines, dust - 3/8 (size is important
1 part sphagnum peat (not reed or sedge peat please)
1-2 parts perlite (coarse, if you can get it)
garden lime (or gypsum in some cases)
controlled release fertilizer (if preferred)

Big batch:
2-3 cu ft pine bark fines
5 gallons peat
5 gallons perlite
2 cups dolomitic (garden) lime (or gypsum in some cases)
2 cups CRF (if preferred)

Small batch:
3 gallons pine bark
1/2 gallon peat
1/2 gallon perlite
4 tbsp lime (or gypsum in some cases)
1/4 cup CRF (if preferred)

It may be that the spider mites and scale have done too much damage for these plants, and I doubt the premixed Neem will eliminate them. You might do better to throw them out and start fresh with a healthy plant in better soil. Sometimes discretion is the better part of valor.

Here is a link that might be useful: The original 5-1-1 and gritty mix posting

    Bookmark   June 21, 2014 at 7:14PM
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What throw it out. I wish I could have that plant . I would have it cleaned up in tops 30 minutes and repotted into very good draining potting soil in 5 minutes and within 3 weeks it would look like a totally new tree you would not recognize it. I see a lot of very nice roots there . I have seen worst. If it was the middle of winter there might be a problem but it is summer now the sun works miracles.


    Bookmark   June 21, 2014 at 7:41PM
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Arkaaito(8 (Seattle, WA))

WOW! Ohiofem, thank you for the link - it is a treasure trove of knowledge. I have seen a number of references to gritty mix and 5-1-1 (I think) on this forum, but I had not found the original thread.

And, no need to worry about offending me - if one is better for unreliable waterers, that's probably the one for me.

Orangelime, no worries - I'm too stubborn to throw it out, so I'll see how much I can do with it. And this little one and its siblings have proven remarkably tough in the past! (I would love to know how to clean it up, though - I have not been picking or scrubbing things off by hand because I'm too scared I'll knock off a leaf, but I'm so desperate that I'm about ready to try...)

So far, no changes to speak of - the surviving leaves look a little greener, but that may just be my imagination. Thank you all for your help and encouragement. Fingers crossed!

    Bookmark   June 25, 2014 at 2:42AM
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livreosa(6b / Sunset Zone 35)

I'm not sure about scale (no experience with it yet, knock on wood), but you can blast spider mites off with just pressurized water. Focus on the underside of the leaves Spider mites are miniscule, you can't pull them off because you can't really see them.

I found an old thread (linked below), sounds like you can spray rubbing alcohol to kill scale, or use horticulture oil, or neem oil. With all of these, please don't apply them to your tree when it is directly in blazing hot sun or over 85 degree (Fahrenheit) temperature outside, as they can damage your tree in those conditions (but won't if applied in appropriate conditions).

Oh, I re-read and it sounds like you are already using neem. :) It should work. Here's a link on how to use neem to kill pests. Be sure you are coating the leaves, top and bottom, and especially on places where you see pests.

Here is a link that might be useful: Discussion of scale treatment.

    Bookmark   June 25, 2014 at 2:03PM
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Arkaaito I have 15 citrus trees and they all get scale from time to time . It is a very common problem ask any forum member. You really have to keep them in check or you will end up with a massive problem and that goes with spider mites . Every spring I go through this with scale . I have 15 trees in a small green house during the winter months so you can just imagine how fast they spread in there . In the spring when I bring the trees out I wash them 1 hour per tree , these are really large trees. I use the flat setting on the water nozzle and let me tell you those suckers really fly off. When cleaning check both sides of the leaves and check everytime you water.

I had a tree similar to yours , variegated lemon . 3 weeks ago I washed it and repotted and placed it in the full sun. This tree had only 1 large leaf at the bottom . Here is a picture of it today .

I am glad you are going to care for it. It will come back fast if you give it lots of sun and good soil , proper watering and fertilizing .

    Bookmark   June 25, 2014 at 3:55PM
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Arkaaito(8 (Seattle, WA))

Well, I had almost given up on this little guy, because I had to leave on vacation for two weeks (!) and leave it tended only by a Hydrospike (!!!).

By the time I left all the existing leaves, save one-and-a-half, had fallen and there was visible branch dieback starting. On the plus side it's very easy to scrub nasties off a leafless tree! %-)

Before I left, I took the risk of dosing it with a little Foliage Pro. When I came back, it had beautiful new purple leaves coming in all along the little trunk!

It's still not entirely out of the woods (no pun intended...) but there's hope. Thank you three so much for your help (and encouragement).

    Bookmark   August 2, 2014 at 8:22PM
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westgirl(8 WA)

Hey there,
I'm in Seattle, and years ago I had a Kaffir Lime that after a winter inside was doing so poorly (scale, leaf drop, etc) that I, in my frustration, decided to just "let it go". I put it outside under my big Tulip Poplar and left it alone. I'd spray it with water every once in a while when I was watering my other plants, but basically, I was waiting for it to tell me if it wanted to live. To my surprise, it did wonderfully! It loved the dappled light and fresh air (and, I think was also happy to have me stop trying one thing after the other). It grew back beautifully. Last year, it succumbed to over-watering by losing most of it's leaves, and with a lot of branch die-back. I put it out with my clematis and left it alone, and once again it came bounding back. In my experience, here in Seattle, Kaffir Limes prefer humidity (of being outdoors) and NON-direct light. My Kaffir is outside right now, but taking less direct light than my other citrus. My experience is that KL gets very unhappy outside later than say October. I tried mine in my unheated greenhouse, and although some of my citrus love it, and some manage it, my KL was not happy. I try to make sure that it gets as much humidity as possible when indoors and nice Eastern light, it's rewarded me many times over. Now one of my favorite trees, although I'd almost given up! Good luck and keep us posted....

    Bookmark   August 3, 2014 at 1:52AM
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