Potted Citrus Question

ohiojenOctober 1, 2011

Hello! This is my very first post, but I have been a long-time lurker, and you all have convinced me to try growing things I never would have attempted before, so thanks!

Now that I have taken the plunge and ordered several citrus trees, I figured I have to join so I can ask my questions. I am a moderately experienced gardener with veggies and things in OH, but I am by no mean an expert, and have no experience at all with citrus.

Last spring I ordered some 2-3 year old trees from Four Winds that were beautiful. Due to a mix-up in my order, I got some extra trees, so now I have five, all in pots: a bearss lime, a trovita orange, a Washington navel, an oroblanco grapefruit, and a meyer lemon.

I re-potted them all in about a five gallon pot with a mix of organic potting soil (not the kind with wetting agents, just dirt, basically), citrus mix, and some mulch, and it drained really well. They all sat outside in full sun for the summer and were very happy. All except the lime grew significantly, and the lime has five fruits, so I am assuming the lack of growth is because of the fruit - it looks perfectly happy.

We moved them all inside a few weeks ago, into our office which is pretty much all windows, some south, and mostly east. The humidity in our house is kept pretty high since I'm a musician and it affects my instruments. The temp. stays around 70ish.

Several of them are dropping a lot of leaves now, and the leaves are turning mottled yellow before falling off. My meyer lemon and washington navel have lost the most. I am not worried about any of them yet - they still look good overall, but I wanted to ask. I do not think I am overwatering. Is this normal when people move these trees indoors? Is there anything I can do about it?

Also, my trovita has some white mold growing on top of the dirt now which I would think is because it's too wet. Do I need to worry about this, and if so, what do I do to take care of that? It was very rainy for a couple weeks before we brought them in, but I'm surprised to see this now - I didn't water for a week after they came in, and I didn't notice it when they were outside.

Thanks for any help you can give me! I really love these trees - they just make me happy to look at them, and I want to do the best I can with them.

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Cool, another Ohio citrus grower! We're going to take over the industry:P My trees from 4-winds were 1 year old trees and have just started fruiting as well, and my lime tree especially is still budding new flowers.

Anyway, my trees are on their 3rd winter. The first year I brought them straight inside to my sun room and the leaves dropped. They eventually recovered, but it probably stifled growth. Last year I only brought them in at night, putting them back outside in a shady spot during the day, until mid October when fall was nearing its peak and the chance of nice sunny Ohio days was pretty much gone. No leaf drop. I'm doing the same thing again this year. It was something mentioned here on the forums, and the trees seem to like it.

The white fungus is probably saprophytic, which isn't necessarily harmful to the tree as it feeds on decaying matter, such as bad seeds, dead weeds, and dropped leaves. I'd keep an eye out though for other signs of trouble. But anyway, to check the soil moisture content, you can get one of those fancy moisture meters, or you can use the BBQ-stick method. Basically, you get a wooden shish-kebab/BBQ sick and shove it in the soil. If you pull it out and clumps of wet soil are coating it, then the soil is probably too wet. If it's mostly clean with a few clumps of moist soil, you're doing just fine. If it's completely dried, not enough water. It's almost like a toothpick in a cake test, if that helps, except you don't want the cake (soil) dry, you want it moist.

Now, your tree will drop leaves eventually, and start growing fewer and bigger leaves. The tree is just pulling back nutrients from unneeded leaves and cutting them off. I don't know why, something to do with being indoors and the sun, but it doesn't seem to matter as all my trees flower during the winter, even during first year when they lost about a 1/4 of their leaves. A botanist told me that the trees grow differently indoors than out, so they need to drop some useless leaves and grow new ones. It's not, according to her, harmful to the tree. Apparently it also help clean the air in the house? Also, make sure to rotate the plants, or you'll end up with trees that are lopsided and leaves all pointing one direction. I made that mistake my first year, though everything worked out during the second summer.

    Bookmark   October 2, 2011 at 11:23AM
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It is very normal to loose leaves as they come indoors unless the trees are acclimated to come inside and the mix dries out as quickly as it did when outside.

As for yellowing, that is a concern to me. Your leaves should not yellow and mottle like that unless you have pests, lack of sunlight, or almost always, a mix staying wet far too long indoors.
Please watch your branches carefully that they do not die back.
You may not think you are overwatering it, but any citrus sitting in a mix that does not need watering for a week or more spells trouble. I would be concerned about that and provide a much far superior porous mix.

Just dirt and other organic materials in a container, especially with Citrus and other plants that hate wet feet can't be a good thing for many reasons.

Good luck


    Bookmark   October 2, 2011 at 12:33PM
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Jen. It's normal for some leaves to yellow and drop after spending summer outdoors, then bringing inside, in less light, and stuffy rooms.

Humidity is a plus, but fresh, circulating air and the sunniest window/s prevents/lessens leaf drop.

If possible, keep a window opened, even a crack, 'if not too cold,' and run a fan. Don't aim air directly on Citrus. Rotating fans are preferable.

Remove yellow leaves, and shower each tree w/o wetting soil. A sink w/hose or bathroom shower works great.

Spray leaves daily w/tepid water, especially when heat is turned on. A once-a-week-shower perks plants up, too.

Withhold fertilizer, unless baby leaves are forming. Once growth halts, cut back or stop fertilizing until spring, or once new growth sprouts.

It would have been a good idea if you had hosed foliage before bringing indoors. Hosing cleans leaves and removes certain insects. Also, placing citrus in a shadier spot a little each day wouldn't be so hard on Citrus once they were indoors. It's never too late.

Proper watering, especially now that your Citrus are inside is very very important. Citrus need less water during winter months. Soil must dry between waterings.

If there's mold on your Trovita, the soil is/was staying too wet. Was is in less sun than your other citrus?

To be on the safe side, inspect for insects. Webbing, white, cottony or brown/white lumpy creatures.

70F degrees is a little warm. Do temps drop at night? Toni

    Bookmark   October 2, 2011 at 2:45PM
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Thank you all! I knew from lurking here that this would be a great place for help. I really appreciate all your time!

I've looked carefully at all of them, and they are looking good, actually. There are about 4 tiny lines of web on the oroblanco and nothing on the others, so I have some little critter there - can I spray with a soap? Otherwise they all look very clean. It rained buckets a few times right before we brought them in, and that probably helped. I will spray them off next year. This year, I was out of town when my husband decided it was too cold and brought them in to help me.

The leaf drop has pretty much stopped. I would say the meyer lost somewhere around 20%, the washington maybe 15-20%, and they were the worst. I picked all of the dropped leaves up Friday, and there are only three today for the five trees, so that makes me feel better. The meyer also has a lot of new little baby lemons and it's looking like several of them are going to stick around.

I'm concerned about the soil moisture. When I watered them at the beginning of the summer, it literally took two or three seconds at most for the water to come out the bottom, so I was very happy with the drainage especially since that was a new mix. I assumed that was good, and they were very happy over the summer. I watered them on Monday this week, again deeply to get it all wet (and the water still drained very quickly into the trays), and I drained off the trays so they wouldn't sit in it. I need to get some skewars, but when I stick my finger in a couple of inches (my houseplant method) they are still definitely damp, not wet, but bordering on wet/damp, which seems too much for six days. I would not water them if they were my houseplants for another several days.

What do I do with this? Do I try to amend going into winter and with what? Or do I just water less frequently until I get them outside again in the spring?

Sorry to be a novice, here, I'm sure you've all answered many watering questions. I'm a little frustrated because I tried very hard to be careful of that from the beginning just from reading on here before buying. Maybe my mulch is breaking down more quickly than I thought?

Also, the temps do drop a bit at night - mid to low 60's and then back up during the day. Since it's the sunniest room with the most windows, it does have more temp. fluctuation than any other part of the house which is probably a good thing for them.

    Bookmark   October 2, 2011 at 3:55PM
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Well, my sunroom, which is practically a greenhouse with a roof, has the same problem. In late January/early March up when temps can get well below freezing at night, my sun-room can easily drop into the 40s. I don't worry about it since Citrus can handle that for nighttime temps no problem. There really is nothing like flowering citrus sitting separated from 3' of snow by a pane of glass!

I'll let others chime in on the soil who actually know what they are talking about. In general though, I water at least once a day, sometimes twice. When I've monkeyed around with my soil, it is moist in the sense that you'll only get wet if you squeeze it. I've never had a soil problem sticking with the advice on this forum. If things go well, I'll have my first crop in about 3-4 months.

    Bookmark   October 2, 2011 at 5:35PM
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Windy is right! Nothing like the smell of flowers in a cool room while it is snowing out! They seem to last longer too!

I too will pass on the mix issue since none of mine hold moisture for that many days. I use to kill all mine that were in a mix that stayed damp longer than a few days. If they were mine though, I would definitely repot them into a
mix that dries out quicker than that before the onset of winter.

Toni and a few others have had many more years of experience growing citrus in containers and I think they will have more to add at this time. Toni was there for me when I first started too.


    Bookmark   October 2, 2011 at 6:08PM
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Where in Ohio are you, Windy? If you're looking at 3' of snow, I'm guessing you're up near the lake. :) We're in Columbus, and we've seen that, but it's rare.

Thanks so much to both of you, I will wait and see what they say.

    Bookmark   October 2, 2011 at 9:43PM
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potting soil mixes tend to stay moist longer when brought inside. just check the soil before watering. for me, i water lightly when they're inside. your mix sounds similar to mine.

do you have any air circulation in that room? a ceiling fan or an oscillating fan?

    Bookmark   October 3, 2011 at 5:10AM
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Yup, I'm straight up from Columbus. Once that Lake freezes, it's game on for Old Man Winter. Like I said, my Four Winds trees are doing just fine, and even my sickly bargain catalog trees are doing well, if a bit small. Good luck!

    Bookmark   October 3, 2011 at 7:49AM
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Thanks, Houston - so do you water with less water or less frequently or both? And that room was an addition, so it has its own inverter heat pump which blows when it's running, but we haven't needed to use it much, so no. I'm sure it will be running more in the winter since it's our office and we work out there among the trees (quite pleasant!), and then I'll have to be watching the humidity. :)

Thanks, Windy, yep, it's amazing what lake effect snow can bring in the winter - went to college on Lake Michigan and watch out.

And Mike, I saw your pictures on another post - beautiful trees.

    Bookmark   October 3, 2011 at 11:17AM
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Ohio, Houston is right! It would help if you had a circulating fan on in that room and a whole lot of light if you should choose to use that mix. I would make sure the plants are in lots of sunlight and planted in clay pots. All this can hasten your mix to dry out.

Man, how do you all put up with that weather? I am almost tempted to sell my home and move into my other in Puerto Rico.

I would water less frequently but definitely not in sips. I would do a thorough and deep watering only after the mix has dried out.
Again, if you were using a much more porous mix, so many worries could be alleviated.

Thank you Ohio for your nice comments!:-)


    Bookmark   October 3, 2011 at 10:57PM
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my winters are shorter and much milder, my plants are inside for 2 months max. with the heater running, it can be quite arid in the house. so i spritz my plants with a spray bottle, about every other day. i have an oscillating fan on the opposite side of the room, on low.

as for watering, i use less water. just enough to wet the top few inches. generally about once a week. i do not try to promote growth when they are inside, just provide enough to keep them healthy. in areas where it doesnt get cold, there are wet seasons and dry seasons. i think of winter and the peak of summer as the dry seaons. spring is our main wet season and the end of summer and beginning of fall is our secondary wet season. in another post, about frost, i mentioned that my citrus have put out new growth a few weeks ago, and are starting to harden off. once the really cold temps get to us they'll be ready for our "dry season".

    Bookmark   October 3, 2011 at 11:36PM
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Well, maybe I will be investing in a little fan. :) There is as much light in this room as one can get in Ohio short of having a glass ceiling, but they are probably in my house from now until next May, so I'm thinking I have to make things better than I seem to have now.

Can someone point me to the best mix for them? I have gotten so much conflicting advice, what would you add meyermike to make it more porous?

And as for the weather, I just remember how many lovely things there are about Ohio (family's here, it's home, no bugs!!, no hurricanes...)and since I travel a ton for my work, I just try to be south in the winter. :) I think my husband stays here because he knows we would be overrun with tropical plants if I had better weather and could put them in the ground.

    Bookmark   October 4, 2011 at 5:02PM
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Happy Friday!

What did you decide to do?


    Bookmark   October 7, 2011 at 8:31AM
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Happy Friday to you too. :)

Well, I was in Nashville all week (got in last night), and when I checked them this morning, I am dismayed about the water level. I had ordered a moisture sensor before I posted this (and I see now they're not very reliable) and it came while I was gone and seems to be working at least generally. After a week and a half, they are all still reading at least damp except for one tree which read dry.

I dug out an old fan and am running it in the room. I think I had better change out the mix, but this is one of my busiest seasons (I tour full-time) and am leaving again tonight. They look fine, but I don't like the long-term for them being so wet.

I will sound really stupid now, but what part of the mix makes it dry? Do I add sand? Perlite? Feeling less than educated here...

    Bookmark   October 7, 2011 at 11:10AM
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Now, now need to think your stupid. Far from that. At least you are smart enough to ask for help and understand that your trees need a change:-0)

It would tend to think that the perlite dries first since it holds barely any moisture, then the bark since its particles are much bigger than peat, then last of all peat, since it is very fine and holds lots of moisture.
The culprit behind root rot with citrus is usually peat if too much in abundance in your mix.

I try and make sure the peat fraction is at best minimal while the bark is the majority of my mixes along with perlite. If you plan on using your mix, a bagged one at that, I would make sure the bagged mix only occupies 1/4 of the space in your container mix, with perlite being the rest.
Better yet, if you have access to pine bark fines, then 5 parts of that, one part of perlite, and one part of that bagged mix, if any at all. Usually pine fines, decomposed that is, have enough smaller particles to hold moisture in which peat can be left out.

Now, knowing your circumstances about having to be away for periods of time, I would seriously consider using a mix that you could wick from the bottom to hold you at bay if you plan on using a much better mix that dries out more rapidly.

If you need further suggestions, feel free to ask;-)

Have a great day Ohio!


    Bookmark   October 7, 2011 at 12:00PM
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