St Teresa Lemon in Al's Gritty Mix

gracesantacruz(z9 CA)June 26, 2011

As part of my vacation this year, I visited Italy's Amalfi coast and got interested in adding to my container citrus collection with the type of lemon trees I found there. They had especially nice fragrances and skin oils.

I found something very close sold here - the St. Teresa cultivar Femminello lemon. I mail ordered it from Clifton's Nursery and got a nice plant - BTW, their packaging was really well done.

Now, I noticed the potting soil Clifton's used was much different than anything I've seen coming from a nursery -- the soil might have come from another planet! It was a little gritty and oddly colored like a washed out clay . So, I got curious. I wanted to perhaps use something closer to their soil when I potted. Also, I've been having some trouble off and on with my trees (growth not healthy, stunted) and wanted to try something completely different in soil mix.

I research here and found everyone raving about Al's Gritty mix. Also, his original post made technical sense to me, so I decided to attempt making it quickly here with available substitutes on a Saturday afternoon.

I had good luck getting my first ingredient - the water absorbent - right off the bat- the #8822 oil dry from Napa auto parts - they have it in the back room. It's really diatomaceous earth fired to high temperature. $6 per 24 quart bag, so I got 2, but more importantly, now I was committed to see this through.

Orchard supply hardware didn't have any grit or gravel appropriate, nor bulk tree bark appropriate. They did have expensive Orchid fir mix "Wonderbark" made of fine fir. Cringing a little, I got 6x 8-quart bags for $5 each to match the Napa #8822. I also got a small bag of Gypsum.

I ran into trouble looking for the grit or any uniformly sized material 1/8"-3/16" diameter - Home Depot had gravel, but was 1/4" to 1/2" diameter which is too big, plus I don't know how inert the material composition. I tried lumber and material's yards with no luck. Then I thought aquarium gravel and headed to Petsmart. They had a natural gravel, much of it a polished quartz a little bigger on average than I wanted (a little closer to 3/16"), but it looked uniform and looked nice aesthetically. The price, however,was very high - about $14 per 20 pound bag. I did not know at the time of chicken grit,etc, so I just decided to do it for this batch and see how it goes since I really wanted to complete the project this weekend.

I got home, spread out a tarp on my patio, and mixed equal mounds of #8822, orchid fur bark, and gravel. I added the gypsum and mixed. It immediately struck me with a light, uniform, fluid feel to my hands and fingers and very clean. It actually cleaned and dried my hands as I worked the mix. Wow! The mix does not compact much at all and does not clump. It's very fluid, but does hold a shape especially when wet.

I watered thoroughly. The mix held lots of water and yet remained easily movable with my fingers. The water dripping out the bottom of the pot stopped almost immediately after I stopped watering - almost like an empty pot - something I never experienced before with any mix.

I had enough mix to also re-pot a 4-foot tall Meyer lemon and Valencia Orange. I had to work the old soils out of the roots with garden hose water jet and some elbow grease. What a mess it made! I made the gritty mix in batches and each time, and it cleaned my hands off mixing it.

The mix ended up being something entirely different than the Clifton soil. I kept the new lemon in it's as-received nursery soil to help prevent shock, and I just surrounded it with the new mix for now - I'll replace it entirely later especially if the mix does well on the other trees.

I have more citrus trees (had some of them 13 years in pots) - I repotted them a few months ago in regular plant mix you buy at the store, so I'll leave them until I see how the gritty mix works out on a few.

Here are the images below.

A closeup of my version of "Al's Gritty Mix" - with the polished gravel, it actually sports some aesthetics, but not worth $4/gallon. I'll get the poultry grit next time.

The St. Teresa Lemon in the gritty mix.

This is where it all started for me 2 weeks ago. Hillside terraces full of lemon tress on the Amalfi coastline as scene from the high hill town of Ravello.

We'll see how things grow, but I do like the look and feel so far.

-husband of gracesantacruz

Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Thanks for sharing. Looks nice.

You'll find the smooth rocks also do not hold much water at all on the surface as the granite is intended.

Got any pictures of that gritty Clifton mix? Be careful surrounding the existing soil with gritty mix. There has been trouble doing so, maintaining consistent moisture levels and such. just depends on how different it is.

Good idea to leave your existing older trees alone for now. Honestly, I don't even know how well very mature trees would take to a complete bareroot. Many aged trees I've heard of are potted up (or re-freshened) and kept in the same container, by removing the outside few inches of soil and the bottom soil... not a complete bareroot.

But if you attempt it, sounds like you're prudent enough to do them one a time.

Since you got some gravel at the local Petsmart, I'll share that I also bought some there a long time ago. I found it buried a month ago and lo-and-behold it's granite pieces. A little larger than I'd like but certainly 75% would work for the gritty mix. Take a closer look next time at the various gravel there... if I can remember I'll go lookup the name tomorrow and post it here again.

    Bookmark   June 27, 2011 at 3:47AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
gracesantacruz(z9 CA)

Thanks for your input.

The Clifton mix has lots of finer particles and is a whitish grey. Unclear how it will behave, but I made sure the drip irrigation lines run over the Clifton mix part so it's still as if it's in the original container. The surrounding gritty mix seems to drain well and provide lots of air. I didn't want to shock it with a complete change.

I think I should have simply waited until it adjusted fully here, then barerooted into the gritty mix.

I'll watch it closely - I may pull it out later and replace the Clifton mix. I might need to sift some of the fine particles out that got into the gritty mix. Or if it does well, just leave it.

I did bareroot 2 older trees in my largest containers with the mix. I chose them since I tend to have trouble with consistent, uniform moisture levels on these larger containers. I've been more gentle before like you said - we'll have to see what happens here. I've given them a good watering for a few days, including initially plugging up the bottom hole and filling the container with water for a few minutes and shaking them in the gritty mix to settle, then drain. Now back to routine irrigation every 4 days.

The climate here is very mild and gentle, morning fog in the summer, and rarely gets above 80F.

    Bookmark   June 27, 2011 at 11:21AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Everything sounds great and again thanks for sharing. I'm not personally aware of any mature citrus (>10years) in the gritty mix. When I started a few years ago I had read about every thread, but since then I've only popped in and out of the forums so maybe I've missed some folks. My point is, you have an excellent opportunity to share, and we have an opportunity to learn from your experience. Do you mind posting pictures of your trees and/or describing the process you took? I realize this takes significant time but I'm sure many would be grateful.

Have you ever chatted with Axel? He's a gent in your area (scruz) participates here and on his CloudForest (dotcom) site and belongs to the local CRFG. He grows citrus and various other subtropicals. It's been interesting as the Citrus forum has a "local feel" with discussions re: care and flavor here in various micro-climates of CA.

    Bookmark   June 27, 2011 at 1:45PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
gracesantacruz(z9 CA)

I don't mind sharing my experience. May have to wait until next weekend for photo's of older trees I did, but if I get a chance before/after work, I can post.

Our mild climate here may impact things differently (usually much more favorable for lemons), so I am very curious to see how this goes with the gritty mix.

Personally, I'd be surprised of a difference on older trees - if the mix is done right, it shouldn't matter I would think: it transports moisture (w/ nutrients) with good aeration, and cannot think how that can be bad. Also, if tree is older and in decent health, they shouldn't be too shocked by this if done right. The only concern I had was to get enough of the gritty mix in and around the roots so it doesn't die of thirst to start out by lack of soil compactness around the roots, or maybe worry I didn't do the mix just right.

I did trim the roots back some and remove some of the root clumps, and I am keeping it quite saturated the first few days.

My older trees in containers are still quite compact, maybe 4-5 feet at tallest, but 2" to 2.5" diameter trunks. I haven't been able to get them to grow much more than 4 feet here ), not sure if it's the climate (I'm basically ocean front, and it's milder/cooler here) or if I'm doing something wrong with pruning, or soil/nutrients - hence part of the reason to try this mix approach and see the effects.

I haven't been on this forum for a number of years, but I do remember running across CRFG a few years back online. I'll probably run across them sooner or later - I'll either be sharing a success, or clamoring for rescue :)

    Bookmark   June 27, 2011 at 3:17PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
redshirtcat(6a MO StL)

The gritty mix is working fine for my old trees. They do require quite a bit more attention to watering in the gritty mix. In full sun on warm days I have to water twice daily to avoid droopy new growth.

The danger in moving to the gritty mix is in the bare-rooting. I put the tree below into the gritty mix on an odd warm winter day. It was ~60 degrees outside temp. Then I brought it back in and kept it in the sunroom there at ~70 degrees. I was as gentle as I could be with the bare-rooting process but I didn't know the underwater trick at the time. I used tools and a sprayer.

The pic below is the tree just after the repot - over the next few months it dropped nearly every leaf (I refuse to take a pic of it post-drop, too depressing). It is now on the mend and has flushed twice.

The mix will certainly work with large trees but I'd prepare yourself for a lot of dieback if you aren't a professional repotter... especially if you also root pruned.

I too am interested in the progress that your older trees make, please keep us updated..

    Bookmark   June 27, 2011 at 5:43PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
gracesantacruz(z9 CA)

Just learned the Santa Teresa cultivar really is more like the lemons in part of Sicily, not Amalfi.

The tree I am really after is Femminello sfusato or Sfusato amalfitano. These are Amalfi coast lemon trees. Not sure there is a source here in the US.

I've got a good looking Santa Teresa lemon that seems to love its spot here. It should still have good skin oils for usage in liquor and marmalades, and with a milder climate here, I'll see what the fruit can do here.

The link below describes the cultivars - not too kind to Santa Teresa, but if they grow it in Argentina and Turkey, it should still be interesting.

If I run across the femminello sfusato, I might make room for it here too.

I have 2 Eureka's, 3 Meyer's, 1 Santa Teresa.

Here is a link that might be useful: Italian Lemon Trees - link to more info

    Bookmark   July 3, 2011 at 5:33PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
gracesantacruz(z9 CA)

An update.

After months of cold and damp coastal weather, we finally are getting some warm sunny days here in coastal N. California.

The Santa Teresa is now almost 3 months into the new pot and gritty mix surrounding. It's sporting new purple leaf growth on most major branches.

My 2 older trees are showing signs of blossoms or new leaf growth now. My previously rootbound Valencia that got bare rooted lost about half its leaves, but has stabilized. It has dozens on young green fruit that are still holding and expanding in size. I did get a fair bit of branch die back over the past 3 months, and I did some light pruning.

Because I am starting to seeing signs of the trees thriving , I decided I'd go ahead and repot the remaining 3 older trees last week. This time, I SIFTED the fir bark and Napa 8822 to remove the fines. It was much work, but it makes a cleaner looking mix and doesn't seem to separate as much after watering. One day, I may redo the others (sift them), but for now, they need to recover and thrive some before disturbing them again. I'm hoping the fines don't adversely effect things for the time being - I will be able to compare them with the trees in sifted mixes.

On fertilizer, I took advice here and got Foilage Pro (FP). I went light at first then increased to 1 tsp per gallon manually applying by hand once a week. On top of that, because I have a drip irrigation system (no fertilizer feeding into it), I later added some CRF (Osmocote), but then started to get leaf burn. I backed off to 1/4 tsp per gallon FP and the burn subsided, that's when I started to notice all the new growth coming in (after 2 months). My drip irrigation system comes on every 3 or 4 days, and I manually water once a week with the light dose of FP fertilizer at 1/4 tsp per gallon.

I'll post some photo when I have more to show - right now, all the older trees are not in the greatest health, partly I suspect the previous soils were old and the roots never penetrated the lower parts of the pots (all except my orange tree which became rootbound). Hopefully, as the months go by, they will thrive in the new soil.

The next 3 months will be the sunniest/warmest for us no more coastal fog) until the winter rains start, so I am hoping we'll get some growth.

One good sign I did notice- I have some onions nearby that have gone to seed. The winds blows the seeds into the pots, and I am finding them sprouting very rapidly in the gritty mix. It must be very good on any fine/delicate roots.

    Bookmark   September 18, 2011 at 4:22PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Did you broadcast the Osmocote CRF on the top of the gritty mix? and feed FP at the same time, but then later backed off the amount of FP?

I'm in Orange County and it's still pretty darn cool here. I bought a Bearss lime tree Feb 2010, let it grow in its growers pot on my deck all summer and winter with a drip system watering every day. Last winter it was cold and probably overwatered during some months I had health problems. It started dropping leaves and didn't bloom or set any fruit this spring.

This July I repotted into gritty mix with quite a bit of root pruning. I can't get granite grit here either, but I can easily get large perlite and pumice which I find are great substitutes. The tree then dropped more of its few remaining leaves, which became a pure light yellow. I did a little reading on citrus and it seems that they are heavy feeders and need lots of nitrogen to replace lost leaves. I upped the dosage and frequency of FP, and started seeing a little green come into the few remaining leaves. Upped it still more and saw blooms beginning and more green. Upped it STILL MORE and saw a new leaf appearing and I think signs of bedswells on the bare branches. At this point I am giving it 1 tsp of FP almost every day, and I think it needs more food still.

So at this point I would prefer to have some sort of CRF in the gritty, because I would rather not have to mix and apply fertigation every day. One of the sites I read recommended palm food for citrus, and I do have a bag of palm food, but I think only the nitrogen is CR so I fear burn if I broadcast the other granular ingredients on the top of the gritty mix in a pot.

    Bookmark   September 19, 2011 at 5:04PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
gracesantacruz(z9 CA)

I applied CRF at the top and dug in a bit on pots already transplanted with gritty mix. I was generous on the dosage (maybe 1.5x dose)and got leaf burn with FP 1 tsp/gallon applied once a week. The St. Teresa lemon still had original nursery mix (I did not bare root it), so it likely already had some fertilizer in the soil around the roots. The other trees, my older ones that I did bare root, didn't show much if any leaf burn.

My 3 newer pots I transplanted, I distributed the CRF into the gritty soil during mixing.

I agree - CRF in the gritty mix is very helpful, especially with drip irrigation.

I've never heard fertilizer rates like you described. Something isn't right. I've seen citrus trees go through a strong bloom when they are unhealthy (root rot/overwatering) - they try and blossom to reproduce before they die; it can give a false sense of "recovery". So, I'd be careful especially if there are few leaves and you still see some leaf drop.

My experience after root pruning - the tree sometimes needs months (3+) to get its act back together - it may use much of its energy re-establishing roots below, so no new top growth for awhile no matter what you do. Trimming top branches seems to help it recover faster.

-DH of gracesc

    Bookmark   September 20, 2011 at 4:48PM
Sign Up to comment
More Discussions
Looking for a good LED grow light
Can anyone suggest a good LED grow light to be the...
Citrus maxima flower buds?
When should I start fertilizing pomelos?
Has Anyone Tried "Atomic Grow"? Does It Work As Claimed?
I was browsing through some YouTube videos on "citrus",...
Polyembryonic seeds
Hi to all I'm germinating some kumquat seeds and some...
Fertilising in Gritty mix
Hello everyone, OK, this may be a really basic question,...
People viewed this after searching for:
© 2015 Houzz Inc. Houzz® The new way to design your home™