Help my citrus survive college! (lots of questions)

stephen90August 30, 2010

I originally wrote a long intro explaining how i got into citrus but I think I'll save it for some other time. :)

Long story short, I'm currently in a small dorm/house in college with 5 trees to tend and only one partially shaded southern window and a college budget to do it with.

My plants used to be outside, which they loved, growing more than four times their original size in a few months. I kept them in a shady area for 2 weeks then re-potted all of my plants into the gritty mix (turface, bark, granite, and a touch of gypsum) and brought them to my dorm, which is kept between 67 and 74 degrees fahrenheit depending on my roommate's mood.

I can't put them outside, my rowdy housemates would destroy them, so they're stuck inside until next spring/summer.

Now what?

Will my measly window provide them with enough light, or will I have to use a grow light to keep them from stretching out of shape in search of a sun they can never reach?

How should I fertilize my plants in this mix? I have regular ol' Miracle Gro. I should add Epsom salts and vinegar, right? Maybe? How much?

My plants:

My newest plant is a Meiwa Kumquat courtesy of a good friend in LA who knew I wanted to try a kumquat. I just wanted to eat one, but she found this site called "fourwinds" and sent me one. ;)

She's a great gal.

It came with flowers all over (that smelled like PEZ candies and lilys) and now it has cute little baby fruits everywhere. Can I grow them into full-sized fruits indoors?

Please help me not kill her gift.

Thanks in advance for your help! You guys are the best!

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Looking into an inexpensive grow light might be a good idea. I am in a small-ish apartment - in Chapel Hill NC BTW - and my situation last winter was as follows:

one small window with a southern exposure
one large window with an eastern exposure

The southern exposure is in a bathroom. Keeping the room functional, and plant-friendly was NOT easy, but it wasn't impossible either: pretend you're an engineer. Add shelves as needed.

Elsewhere I switched all overhead and lamp bulbs to long-life fluorescents. I haven't seen them mentioned in gardening forums, but a soon as I made the switch, I had a few seedlings perk up immediately. They won't be a substitute for grow lights or natural light, but the will make a good supplement during the darkest part of winter.

I have a housemate, and couldn't keep plants all over the apartment, so I was using the two window spaces (bedroom, bathroom), and a kitchen west-facing windowsill for everything.

The citrus came through very well (a few other things like cinnamon and two feijoas did not :-( ). The yuzu dropped about 1/2 of it's leaves, but replaced them simultaneously; the others didn't drop a leaf. The calamondin especially didn't seem to mind indoor conditions at all.

Something that I did - a few times, I put them in the shower to give them a nice misting, to elevate humidity (as a spider mite preventative). Water shouldn't be too hot or cold, don't over water, and - instead of blasting them head-on, angle the shower nozzle towards the shower wall, so the plants get a heavy, steady spray instead of a full-frontal blast. They seemed to like that.

If you can't keep your room too humid, keep a CLEAN spray bottle filled with plain water, and mist them occasionally.

Whereabouts are you in school? I went to App State back in the late 80s/early 90s; Boone is an awesome town - FEROCIOUS winters (I can clearly - years later - call up a memory of seeing a blizzard with hurricane-force winds drop 3' of snow - in North Carolina!), but the summers are unbeatable. Came to the Chapel Hill area about 11 years ago; it's ok. A tad expensive, but it's a very vibrant place. As with everything, there are trade-offs I suppose!

    Bookmark   August 31, 2010 at 12:10AM
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You can grow fruit on a tiny tree, but you really shouldn't. The fruit will grow full-sized (a mini-tree doesn't make mini-fruit) and your trees look pretty small.

Fruit are very energy-intensive for the tree to make. All the sugar and starch and minerals and such that the tree invests in the fruit is energy it's NOT using to get bigger.

For this reason, you really shouldn't let a very small tree set fruit. Even flowering draws energy from the plant (although who has the willpower to pull those delicious-smelling flowers off a tree?) The usual recommendation is that the plant should be at least 3 years old before you try to grow fruit, but that's not a hard and fast rule - you should wait longer if your tree still looks wimpy after 3 years.

But yes, once the tree is sufficient size, you can grow full-sized fruit indoors.

Lighting is a big issue for citrus when they are indoors, and be aware that what looks like a small houseplant now is capable of growing into a 20-foot (for the Four Winds dwarfed citrus) or taller tree. All of those plants WILL get bigger ... some size control is possible via pruning but they =will= get much bigger, so plan ahead now for all the foliage you're going to have. Grow lights will likely be necessary, especially if you don't want a lot of "low light" foliage growth which is incredibly hideous on citrus.

    Bookmark   August 31, 2010 at 9:58PM
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Well I'd always planned on thinning the fruit to only one per branch... would that be enough to keep the little guy healthy? It's hard for me to pluck fruit off of my first fruiting tree.

Also, the mix I'm using seems to have the same "problems" that the "minor issues with 5:1:1 mix" thread starter talks about here. Mainly, that it just always seems dry when I check with a dowel except at the very bottom, and if I water it to fix that, almost all the water comes right back out. Of course, maybe I just need to get used to the new mix. The plants haven't complained yet, and the mix is beautiful, so I'm happy so far. I just want to make sure my plants are, too. :)

I didn't soak the mix before I put plants in it, but I did thoroughly soak each pot after the mix was added.

My other citrus, if anyone is wondering, are two Washington Navels, a Meyer Lemon, and a Key/Mexican Lime.

    Bookmark   September 1, 2010 at 12:25PM
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When you made the mix, what kind of bark did you use?
Can you post a picture of it so we can see if the bark sizes almost match that of ours? Did you compare to the pictures Al posted?
Did you use composted or decomposed bark?
Did you mix very well?
How big are your pots compared to your plants?
Are they in freshly potted up containers?
Have you ever tried using wicks on the bottom of your pots?

If you used the right bark sizes, and mixed well, you should not be having a problem as this unless your plants have not filled the container yet at times.
Mine always dries out evenly, those with well established root systems, or those they are planted in almost tight pots, and many that are in the mix made correctly....
I do have a few containers that do dry out at a much slower rate on the bottom than on top for a couple of reason, but those are the ones that have plants that have not filled out the pot yet and roots that have yet reach the bottom and tap into that moisture, ones in oversized pots, ones without wicks, and ones in which I incorrectly made the mix....
Of course I never let any mix completely dry out completely to the point of plant wilt, unless it is home to succulent, cactus, or plants that can handle it..Most plants like to be evenly moist to the point of almost dry..:-)
You say that the very bottom inch or two is still damp?That is not always a bad thing..Your tree will eventually fill the container and begin to take up that moisture too. Your roots will also reach for that held up moisture over time. The key is to make sure the ROOT BALL is not still too moist before you water, or to make sure you do not let it dry out completely, even though below the roots line is still damp...

Do you know the difference between letting a mix dry, and then too dry? That fine line? That is something we all get a feel for after knowing our plants and how they react to our watering habits..

Therefore, the 5.1.1 is very very forgiving if you should water before you do so..

Consistency is the key with citrus watering. Citrus trees require soil that is moist but never soggy. Watering frequency will vary with soil porosity, tree size, and environmental factors.

A wilted tree that perks up within 24 hours after watering indicates the roots got too dry. Adjust watering schedule accordingly.

A tree with yellow or cupped leaves, or leaves that don't look perky AFTER watering can indicate excessive watering and soggy roots. Give your tree water less often.

Citrus prefer deep waterings as compared to frequent shallow sprinklings. Deeper watering promotes deeper root growth and strengthens your tree.

You may want to consider adding supplemental lighting over your trees if you find come sooner than you think, if there is not enough of it considering the temps you will keep them in..Again, watch your watering habits now that they are inside..

If you see that you are loosing leaves or that vitality is being compromised in a large way after you are sure the mix is drying evenly, then you may need to check into supplemental lighting possibilities since you can not adjust the temps to compensate for the possible lack of sunlight on some..


    Bookmark   September 1, 2010 at 1:15PM
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When you made the mix, what kind of bark did you use? Pine, which I screened. I'm using the gritty mix, not the 5-1-1.

Can you post a picture of it so we can see if the bark sizes almost match that of ours? Did you compare to the pictures Al posted? You can see the mix pretty well in some of my pictures, I think. I can take more if you want, though. :)

Did you use composted or decomposed bark? I don't actually know, but it seemed fairly fresh / not deteriorated in any way.

Did you mix very well? I did. It was fairly labor intensive, but fun.

How big are your pots compared to your plants? The Kumquat's roots are pretty evenly distributed in the pot, which is about an inch or so larger than it needs, and the others have just a few roots near the top (except some fine roots) and a bunch of large roots circling the bottom of the containers. They were re-potted in the same containers they've been in for half a year.

Are they in freshly potted up containers? The Kumquat is, the rest are not, because they have been in their containers for less than a year, and they have plenty of room on the sides of the containers to grow.

Have you ever tried using wicks on the bottom of your pots? I have not, no.

Anyone have any advice on supplemental lighting or fertilizing?

    Bookmark   September 1, 2010 at 1:46PM
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Hi Stephen..

Now that I am home I can see your plants and the rest of your post..

I noticed that you did use the gritty mix...Nice!
It is hard to tell from the looks of it, but from what I can tell, it seems as if there is not enough turface on top and quite possibly some bark sizes a bit big too..

Grab a handful, from the top, and take a close up shot of it...I may not have access to the pictures again here today, but someone may come along and give you a comment on it, specifically Al or Josh..

If you understand the mix well, and learn to work with the top few inches of your mix drying out where the majority of the roots of some of your plants are, then you have the greatest opportunity to keep your roots very healthy while indoors, and out, one of your top priorities...

Do you have access to Foliage Pro?

Growing in the gritty mix, you can fertilize in small doses all year long at every watering as I do..Maybe someone might have a different idea, but this is what I do..;-) At those room temps, your citrus will continuously look for food if the roots are healthy and more light is added into the equation..

If you use a different fertilizer than Fp, make sure it provides Mg, if not use epsom salts..


    Bookmark   September 1, 2010 at 3:05PM
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It's possible that the bark may be a bit big, but it seems unlikely. I screened it down to 1/4 inch, and most of the pieces were smaller still.

    Bookmark   September 1, 2010 at 4:52PM
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"Anyone have any advice on supplemental lighting or fertilizing?"

Up until now I used clip lights. Here's one of them:

That's a 2650 lumen CFL grow light in it. It's set up right now for the Sarracenia which is actually outside at the moment.

These things are so useful and versatile that they don't make them anymore. Agrosun makes one (called the Dayspot) that is functionally identical to mine except that the reflector is way, way smaller, far too narrow to fit those really huge bright CFLs in them. They're so identical that when one of my lamps developed a short, I was able to buy an Agrosun and swap out the reflector, but where you'd find that nice broad reflector for a Agrosun I have no idea. Also: Agrosun sells their Dayspots with incandescent grow lights in them. Incandescents are so inefficient and so HOT that I'm frankly surprised they are still made. You could heat your house with an incandescent grow light.

I have four of them, and they worked great when my trees were smaller, but we're going to install a shop light for this winter. My trees have outgrown them (actually they outgrew them last winter but it was too late then to switch things around). Your trees are still small enough that a similar kind of clip light (one per tree, or maybe one per two trees) might work for you.

Alternatively, if you could find a desk lamp (one of the ones with the long bendy neck) that is both tall enough to fit over the trees AND has a wide enough reflector to hold a bright CFL, that might work for you for a while.

I am fortunate in that I have a garden center not far from me that specializes in hydroponics. The hydroponics guys have all the best indoor lighting things, and that's where I get my CFL grow lights.

    Bookmark   September 1, 2010 at 9:14PM
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Home Depot carries those clip lights ($18.00.) I use them on my orchids over winter for additional light. I also use CFL's with floor lamps (octopus type). They are good because you can bend each light.

An observation, your mix looks very dry. Some bark takes quite a while until it holds moisture. I soak bark overnight before potting my plants. For plants which like more moisture, I add some sphagnum moss in the mix. However, I am not a citrus grower so I will leave it to the 'experts' on this forum to give you advice.

Good luck with school and your trees,

    Bookmark   September 1, 2010 at 10:46PM
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Have you seen those clip lights at Home Depot recently? I looked everywhere for one last year and could only find the ones with the narrow reflectors. I wanted a fifth one (and would still like a fifth one) but was denied. When's the last time you saw one there with the wide reflector? If it was recently, I will have to make a trip there!

    Bookmark   September 2, 2010 at 6:50AM
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jojosplants(9/ Tucson, Az.)

Around here we've gotten them in the past at feed stores. They are used over cages with baby chickens and ducks.


    Bookmark   September 2, 2010 at 8:11AM
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Displacer, you might be right. I bought mine about 5 yrs ago. Next time I go there I'll look. They are great, I clamped mine to bookshelves and even clipped to the octopus lamp to increase the light.

I'll keep an eye out.


    Bookmark   September 2, 2010 at 11:44PM
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The last time I saw one with the wide reflector was in 2008, and it was the last one on the shelf. I would love, love, love to find them again.

The octopus lamp is a great idea though! I wish I'd thought about that when my plants were smaller. They probably would have liked me more through the winter heh.

    Bookmark   September 3, 2010 at 7:23PM
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Hi Displacer,

If you get desperate and really want one of those wide clip lamps, here is a a place to get some, I think..:-)


    Bookmark   September 3, 2010 at 8:29PM
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LOL thank you! I scrolled down some through the ebay listing and didn't see the one, but that's for the best I think because "ebay" is better spelled "ebil."

The light in the Home Depot link is pretty close! But nevertheless probably not good for an indoor grow purpose. Apparently it has no power switch - you have to plug/unplug it to turn it on and off - or so the review says. I can't imagine trying to plug/unplug a lamp every day. I'd probably end up shocking myself on accident.

Thank you very much for checking though! These clip lights are insanely useful for filling in dim spots so that your light coverage is comprehensive, or for lighting up small plants. They are far too useful to keep on the market, obviously.

    Bookmark   September 3, 2010 at 10:13PM
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Listen, I know for sure I have what your looking for, one that I never use...

If I can find it I will send it to you to finish off your collection...I will let you know...I will take a picture and you will be able to tell me..I NEVER use it, and it would serve much better to one whom I know would..

Take care,


    Bookmark   September 3, 2010 at 10:29PM
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Oh, thank you very much, but I couldn't take your light. You may not be using it now, but the moment you part with it (or throw it away) you'll see a spot where it would have been perfect. Those little clip lights are 10 different kinds of useful.

    Bookmark   September 4, 2010 at 10:31PM
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If you can afford it a 150w HPS will make you trees a lot happier.

I did a quick eBay search and found this to be the lowest price from a reputable company.

Here is a link that might be useful: 150W HPS

    Bookmark   September 5, 2010 at 7:08PM
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My kumquat has dropped many of it's immature fruit, but shows no other signs of damage or stress. Is this a sign that it needs more light? More of something else?

Now for some light questions:

Would one 150W HPS light be enough for all my trees? Would it be loud enough to bother my roommate? He's kind of a jerk, and finds the fact that I like anything related to nature to be bothersome. He's also the type to unplug other people's things if they displease him. If its not something that he would want to dismantle, that wouldn't cost me much more than building my own rig using CFLs, so I'd definitely look into it.

HPS are a reddish light, right? Would that result in a leggy plant?

Thanks for all the advice!

    Bookmark   September 12, 2010 at 4:44AM
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Hey Stephen..

Sounds like things aren't going so smoothly with the plants just yet:-(

I linked a site for you that I did not even know existed until over a year coming to these
Your roomate thinks it's bothersome? That's nothing...At least he is not labeling you gay as they do me, because I grow plants...Nice hah? There is always some sort of stigma when men grow plants that flower, or cut

There are a few here that know there stuff when it comes to lights, and many more where I would consider starting another thread with explaining your situation..

Yes, it is normal for many plants to loose fruit with drastic enviromental changes, even loose leaves..It doesn't mean it is going to die though..Just watch your watering habits and how long it takes before the mix dries out..If you used the gritty or 5.1.1 mixes, you should be fine..

Good luck


    Bookmark   September 12, 2010 at 12:36PM
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I wouldn't worry about fruit drop as long as the tree continues to be healthy. Fruit and leaf drop are a common reaction by citrus to sudden environmental changes, and probably kumquats do the same thing even though they aren't really citrus. Additionally, a tree that has more fruit than it can comfortably handle will often drop some of it.

"At least he is not labeling you gay as they do me, because I grow plants...Nice hah? There is always some sort of stigma when men grow plants that flower, or cut"

Ahh, I long for the day when people cease to feel insulted by the suggestion that they might be gay.

    Bookmark   September 12, 2010 at 1:40PM
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Lol//Me insulted? Not ..... Many of my friends are since they keep their passion for growing flowers a secret for fear of what people might view them like....I could care less...

Displacer, in my life, I have been falsly arrested and then exonerated, kicked to the curb, stepped on several times over, friends that have stolen money from me, been called wierd for not being married yet, a momas boy for caring for my aged parents in my own home, accused of things I have never done, fired at a job for false trumped up charges against me from a jealous workmate, slapped in the face, spat upon, and I still smile deep within, AS LONG AS I HAVE MY CITRUS TREES AND MY HEALTH to get me by.....

Nothing isults me more than insulting
As long as my trees are left alone, I can deal with anything to a certain extent..:-)


    Bookmark   September 12, 2010 at 2:03PM
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I'm also an Eagle Scout, a scuba diver, an amateur guitarist, into hiking and exploration, a collector of knives and multi-tools, an unashamed geek and techie, an artist (I'm studying to one day write professionally), and dating a (female) biologist who works with raptors all day, and that's just to name a few of my odd interests! He has no idea what he thinks of me, and that makes him uncomfortable. :P

I'm not bothered by it. As long as he respects me and doesn't bother my things, he's welcome to think whatever he likes about me.

BTW, the local florist in my hometown is gay (and makes no attempt to hide it) and everybody loves him because he's such a great guy. You might not expect that to happen in a (VERY) small southern town, but it just goes to show you that there are good people and bad people everywhere. You just have to hope that you meet more of the former than the latter. :)

    Bookmark   September 12, 2010 at 4:07PM
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Stephen90 a 150W HPS is not ideal but still much more light than any of the others recommended by others. I have not used the light in question and some ballasts do produce a perceptible hum. If thats a problem an HPS with a digital ballast would be better. As far a the trees getting leggy it more an issue of not having enough light or having the light to far away.

The best prices I have seen on digital HID's is HID HUT. A 250w system is better and 400w better than that. If you could afford a 600w system it would be good for years of growth.

Here is a link that might be useful: HID Hut Discount Grow Lights

    Bookmark   September 13, 2010 at 2:43AM
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