Why won't my container citrus tree bloom?

ToastMISeptember 4, 2012

Hi, Everyone,

I bought a very sad little citrus tree at Lowe's about three years ago. It was basically an eight-inch twig and one green leaf in a drenched, molding paper pot, and I got it for $.99 on the clearance table. It was even missing the tag that said what type it is, but the possibilities were either a Calamondin Orange or Meyer Lemon. I named him Milo and resigned myself to the fact that there was a good chance he wasn't going to make it because I wasn't much of a gardener.

Fast forward almost four years, countless raised eyebrows from my doubting husband, hours of one-sided conversations with Milo, and he's now about three feet high. He lives outside in the summer in a three gallon plastic nursery pot filled with Miracle-Gro citrus mix and mulched with coconut coir. I was mulching with pine needles for awhile to keep the cats out of the pot and because I read somewhere online that the acid might be good, but I removed them early in the spring in case that was the problem. I've pruned him a couple of times around the bottom so he'll look more like a tree than a bush, and I've pinched back a couple of branches that went shooting out way beyond their peers. I let him mostly dry out between waterings, and I water about once a week. He's never shown any sign of wanting to bloom.

Someone told me that I should let him dry completely out, then water well and fertilize with nitrogen to get him to bloom, so I did that using composted manure. He had a little growth spurt, but no flowers. Now it's nearly time to acclimate him to living indoors again.

Any idea what I should do this fall and winter to help him out? Is it possible he'll just never bloom? I know sometimes they take awhile, but the woman at the nursery said that when the twig-trees were healthy, some already had blooms, so presumably, he's old enough.

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First off you should pat yourself off the back for keeping a citrus tree alive that long and for the growth that you have been able to accomplish.

I was wondering, do you think it might be a cutting? On different root stock? Is there anyway you could give us a pic? I would love to see it.

Have you been fertilizing this tree all along and with what?

How much sunlight does it get?

You should never shock a tree into flowering since it almost always takes a good amount of time to get it back to full vigor after that.
What will work is a very good fertilizer, consistency, a good porous mix, lots of sunlight, and good temp changes.
Environmental and cultural needs if met properly will greatly reward you.

I think this info along with the suggestions to follow from the good people here will help a lot.

By the way, nice to meet you.


    Bookmark   September 4, 2012 at 12:31PM
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Thanks, Mike. I hope I'm posting this right. I have no idea if he might be a cutting. I dug around a little at the base and I don't see an obvious graft, but just because I don't recognize it doesn't mean it didn't happen!

I've been top dressing every so often with composted manure and plain old compost and a little worm casting tea a couple of times. He dropped his leaves once about a year ago because he was too wet, and that was when I repotted him in the citrus mix. He came back fast after that.

In the summer (we're zone 5) he sits on a SW corner of the patio that is sunny all day. I acclimate him to that location, of course. In the winter, he has a west facing window right next to him and a south facing window a few feet away. I haven't been giving him extra light, but maybe I should. I have a container fig that will join him inside this year, so it's probably time to think about more light. Our indoor temps are right around 68, but he's in a window, so probably cooler.

    Bookmark   September 4, 2012 at 8:08PM
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krismast(6 S.E. PA)

I can't EXACTLY tell for sure but it looks to me that you're just growing rootstock, maybe some type of trifoliate relative. That would explain why such a healthy looking tree hasn't bloomed. I hope I'm wrong, though!


    Bookmark   September 4, 2012 at 8:43PM
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...if I had put three years of TLC into a tree that will never give anything in return! :)

    Bookmark   September 4, 2012 at 9:49PM
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Exactly Kristopher! That is what I was thinking Toast and that is why I asked you to post a picture.

It does look like the rootstock may have taken over and the graft some how dies or was cut off in the store, or maybe a Kaffir Lime in which the leaves look like that, but I have never seen flower for any of my Asian friends here.
Have you rubbed the leaves between your fingers? What odor do you get?

Maybe someone with a good eye can tell us. I am very curious as to whether it is root stock because of the shape of the leaves, or some other citrus other than a Kaffir?

I hope you find out Toast.
Good catch, I think Kristopher.


    Bookmark   September 4, 2012 at 9:51PM
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Maybe a better picture will help.

The leaves smell like tart orange juice. Definitely not Kaffir leaves. I cook with those all the time, and I wouldn't be so lucky as to accidentally have a hundred of them growing on the patio. That's my next citrus tree. I was waiting to get this to bloom to make sure I could keep a little lime tree alive, but maybe I should give up! I'll decorate him for Christmas to make us both feel better about his lack of flair.

    Bookmark   September 4, 2012 at 10:07PM
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most of it is trifoliate, can you get a close up of the lower left side of the light green leaves. those maybe the remnants of the grafted part.

    Bookmark   September 4, 2012 at 10:09PM
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krismast(6 S.E. PA)

I really don't think it's a kaffir lime. On kaffir limes the first section of the leaf is much wider than in Toast's picture. See how in the picture the leaves are in clusters of three? That's definitely pointing towards TRIfoliate. Sorry toast but I'm pretty sure that's what it is! :( But on a positive note since it is a rootstock you could always continue to grow it and use it as a grafting experiment. You could graft cuttings of mature citrus trees on it and have fruit pretty quickly. I was thinking of growing a flying dragon just for that purpose for fun!


    Bookmark   September 4, 2012 at 10:10PM
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I went out and looked at the entire plant, and all the leaves are the same. Then I went and looked in the compost pile for the branches I pruned off a couple days ago, and... thankfully, the same! So, essentially, Milo will never bear any sort of fruit? But I can turn him into FrankenMilo with some grafts? An interesting idea that deserves some Googling.

Thanks so much!

    Bookmark   September 4, 2012 at 10:29PM
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well, trifoliates do bloom, and do have fruits. but they are very seedy, and are a somewhat bitter.

it can be grafted.

    Bookmark   September 4, 2012 at 11:11PM
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RyanLo(NC 7B)

You certainly have a trifoliate, probably flying dragon, whatever was grafted to it is long dead and gone. Bitter you say? that's an extremely nice way of putting it, probably means you have never tasted one :) trifoliate only serves as a rootstock or nice trees to look at, The fruit is disgusting, even the smell is bad if you cut one open. probably the best thing to do it start over with a grafted tree. you can plant the trifoliate in ground as they are very hardy and can live in zone 5 just fine, it will loose all its leaves in the winter and flush out with leaves and blooms in the spring.

    Bookmark   September 5, 2012 at 8:51AM
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