Should I repot my ailing Meyer lemon tree?

socal_dendriteJune 11, 2010

Dear all,

I need some advice about my dwarf improved Meyer lemon tree! I bought it last October, and was told it would be fine to stay in the pot it was sold in for a couple of years. I have it on my east-facing balcony in Pasadena, CA.

About five months ago quite a few leaves dropped off and the rest started to curl under and show "burnt" brown tips (photos in the link below). I read up on these forums and found lots of useful info which led me to believe that the brown tips could be due to build-up of salts in the pot. I have tried flushing the pot through with lots and lots of water several times, but there has been no improvement and I think it is getting worse (especially regarding the curling). There are no signs of leaf miners or other pests. It flowered in May, and there are a few small lemons coming, but I am worried that it is dying nonetheless :-(

I am now wondering whether the main problem is that the roots have rotted (perhaps I over-watered it in the winter?). I would be grateful for any input from the experts on here about this! I was thinking about repotting it in a more free-draining gritty medium and pruning away any rotten roots but I don't want to make things worse: will it survive if I attempt this at this time of year? (This is my first citrus tree and I have never done root pruning before.) Also, would it be better in a different type of pot (currently in a black plastic nursery pot)?

Many thanks,

Lindsay

Here is a link that might be useful: Lemon tree photos

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meyermike_1micha(5)

Lindsay,

It sounds like it is very very unhappy in the soil mix that is has been in..I would transplant ASAP before it dies..

The fact that you have salt build up tells me that you do not have a free draining mix that flushes out extra fertilizer at ever watering, therefore the burnt leaf tip and curling leaves.

You are experiencing poor root function which causes many other poor symptoms..

Just as soon as those root breath freely in a very porous and open mix, along with a fresh transplant, those roots should be respond nicely in time..

I would not let sun hit it for at least a couple weeks though, especially if you root prune..I would also clear ALL the old soil mix off the roots carefully by soaking the root ball in water an gently shaking off the mix. You could also use a soft jet stream of water.

There are many suggestions here for good soilless mixes that hold their structure for quite sometime...I am afraid that the soil in the pot you have it in now has collasped on that poor plant about now...Roots not happy...Suffocating most likely. The cause of salt build up too..

Hope this all works out for you. Others wil be here to give their suggestions too...I am sure I missed something.

Good luck

Mike..:-0)

    Bookmark   June 11, 2010 at 1:33PM
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socal_dendrite

Thank you for such a quick reply Mike! I will transplant it into a better medium straight away (hopefully tomorrow if I can find a good soilless mix, or buy the ingredients to make my own - I checked out those very helpful posts about gritty mixes and CHC etc.)

I now have renewed hope that if I act quickly I may be able to save it :-)

Should I replant it into the same pot, or would it be better to look for a different type of pot (eg a white one, or one not made of plastic)? I was a bit worried that the sun on the black plastic pot was heating up the soil too much.

I'll let you know how it gets on after the repot.

Cheers!
Lidnsay

    Bookmark   June 11, 2010 at 1:54PM
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meyermike_1micha(5)

I love to plant my plants into teracotta pots...They provide great drainage and the side are even porous for more air..

I find that when I leave them in black plastic pots, they are much lighter and easier to carry, but come summer, boy can the sun cook the roots in those..

Good luck, and don't forget to tuck in new soilless mix in well around ALL the roots and no sun for a few days...

Mike..;-)

    Bookmark   June 11, 2010 at 3:09PM
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socal_dendrite

So, I repotted my little tree yesterday as planned. I didn't have the time to locate all the ingredients for Al's gritty mix, so I used the 5-1-1 mix instead. Amazingly, there were no rotten roots after all, but the soil was *very* compacted and the poor plant was also pretty pot-bound. I pruned some of the roots, and put it in its new pot in the shade. I noticed straight away how much better the drainage is in the new mix! The photo below shows the new set-up.

The hardest part for me was getting the tree out of its old pot: does anyone have any advice on how to do this easier in the future?

(Actually, the hardest part was doing all the repotting without getting dirt all over the cream carpet as I trailed between balcony and kitchen!)

I'll post an update in a couple of weeks to let you know how it's doing. Many thanks again - these boards are a wealth of information for newbies like me :-)

Here is a link that might be useful: Repotted lemon tree

    Bookmark   June 13, 2010 at 3:00PM
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meyermike_1micha(5)

Wow...It looks fantastic Lindsay.

Strong work...Just remember to add lime...You did right?

Your plant will be very very happy down the road... I hear what you say about trailing soil..I have been sweeping behind myself all day. I made a huge batch today and transplanted several plants I just acquired.

Mike..-)

    Bookmark   June 13, 2010 at 4:02PM
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socal_dendrite

Follow-up, 13 days after re-pot.

Unfortunately my tree is in trouble again! Less than a week after repotting, the veins of many of the leaves started to turn yellow. The yellow then spreads outwards, and the leaf drops off (see photos in the link below). It looks like the little tree will lose most of its leaves :-(

Searching through the forum, I found a thread from a year ago where Mike had a tree with exactly the same symptoms - did you ever find out what was wrong? I hope your tree survived!

Do you think it is just a stress response (I pruned some of the roots when I repotted)? It also developed flower buds, which I know can be a sign of stress (I removed most of these to help the plant concentrate strength). I have had it in the shade since the repot and it has only been watered on the day of the repot and once since. I haven't checked the pH of the new soil, but I made it as per instructions (including lime, although perhaps I didn't include enough?). Would it be worth checking the pH?

On the positive side, I have noticed a few tiny new leaves forming at the end of a couple of the branches (but not lower down on the branches).

Do you think the tree will drop all it's leaves and then recover? Or is it a goner?

Yours hopefully,
Lindsay

PS I have some Foliage Pro due to be delivered next week that I planned to start using, if the tree is still alive...

Here is a link that might be useful: New problems with lemon tree

    Bookmark   June 25, 2010 at 5:54PM
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zecowsay

I think your tree should be fine. I've never had a tree that doesn't get stressed when you repot. Since you pruned the roots it is going to take a little longer to bounce back. I just repotted a meyer and it had a LOT of yellow leaves. Some fell but most regained their color pretty fast and are fine now.

Are you keeping it out of the sun? I can't tell for sure from your pics but it looks to be right in the sun again. If you root pruned, it'll need to be in the shade for a couple of weeks. Then slowly reintroduced to full sun. This is the hardest part for me.

    Bookmark   June 25, 2010 at 9:27PM
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socal_dendrite

Thanks for the reassurance!

It is out of the direct sun: it is on an east-facing balcony that typically gets direct sun from ~8:30 am - 12:30 pm, but I put it in the most shady area and also put an umbrella over it so that it is only getting filtered light. Perhaps I'll put a towel over the umbrella too, to block out even more of the light for the next couple of weeks.

I have my fingers' crossed for the little tree, and I'll let you know if it survives...

Cheers,
Lindsay

    Bookmark   June 26, 2010 at 12:36AM
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meyermike_1micha(5)

Hi Lindsay,

Did you lime your mix?

And Zecowsay is totally right about a plant going through shock, especially after a root prune. Some, do and some don't. Sometimes it depends on the health of the plant before all the changes..

I have seen some plants take root pruning very well, and if a plant has decided to shut down for a brief period of time for some reason, then it is not taking any nutrients at al, including water...Therefore the leaf color and loss.

The above poster gave great advice and encouragement...

I wouldn't go over board about a towel and darker. Just leave it, let it get a lot of light, and DO NOT overwater. It is a balancing act, because the mix has to dry out also, and darkness will keep it wet which causes a further problem keeping the roots wet too long..

It is possible to overwater even in the 5.1.1 mix if the roots have shut down for a brief period of time..Did you get a wooden dowel or anything to check your moisture in the root zone yet?

It is also easy to underwater depending how accurate you made your mix, where you are located and hot hot and dry it is...

    Bookmark   June 26, 2010 at 8:23AM
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joedsgirl

Is my tree stressed if it's flowering? I thought the flowering was a good thing!!

    Bookmark   June 27, 2010 at 10:42AM
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meyermike_1micha(5)

It is a common for citrus to bloom when healthy..:-0)

Mike

    Bookmark   June 27, 2010 at 12:15PM
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socal_dendrite

I'm sorry I made you worry, Joedsgirl. I've heard that when the trees are stressed they sometimes flower as a last chance to reproduce before dying; of course as Mike says, healthy citrus flower often too!

I did lime my mix, and I checked the pH yesterday (with an indicator rather than an electronic device, so not sure about the accuracy). It came out at 6.5, which I think should be okay (esp if I add vinegar when watering, right?).

I've started using a pencil to check the moisture level - such a handy piece of advice (I definitely overwatered in its previous pot).

We've been having "June gloom" weather here for the last few days, where it is cloudy in the morning and sunny later. I think this is good for recovery of the lemon tree as it is getting plenty if light but no direct sun, as it is east facing. More tiny leaves are appearing, so I am optimistic :-) I'll post again in a couple of weeks to let you know how its doing.

Thanks again for the encouragement!

    Bookmark   June 27, 2010 at 1:52PM
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