Fruit or growth?

Michael AKA Leekle2ManE - Zone 9a - Lady LakeOctober 24, 2012

Last spring I purchased and planted my first citrus tree, a Key Lime. I then 'lost' my first citrus tree because I did not fully understand the concept of cold hardy and one final frost came through and killed it (to trunk). It was then replaced by... a Persian lime, a tangerine (mandarin) and a Meyer lemon. Because naturally you should replace a lost plant with three others, right?

When purchased, the Persian and the Meyer both had blooms and both ended up bearing fruit. While they had fruit on them, the key lime, which I had put in a pot 'just in case' sprouted new branches and leaves (above the graft point) and grew fairly quickly to the point where I was pretty certain that it was going to bypass the Persian and Meyer in size. At the time I figured the fact that the other two were growing slower due to putting much of their energy into producing fruit. So in the interest of growing larger plants and waiting a year for fruit, I removed the lemons and limes.

Now that fall is here and winter is on its way, I look at my Key lime next to my Persian and it has definitely over-taken the Persian in size and it looks quite full and lush for a plant that was 'dead' in the spring. But it strikes me that even with 3/4 of the summer growing without fruit that the Persian still lagged behind in growth. The Meyer as well. They all got the same water and the Key lime actually got much less in the way of fertilizer due to being potted.

Was my decision to remove the fruit in lieu of growth in vain? In my readings I keep seeing that you should remove fruit and flowers from plants that you want to put their energy into foliage production, but it didn't seem to make much difference with these citrus plants. Also, while I have read about some people having multiple 'crops' on single Meyer trees and some even ever-bearing, mine only had blooms at purchase and never issued forth any new ones after removing the fruit. Is it possible that I interrupted a cycle by prematurely removing the fruit? Or could it just be an indication that it is a younger tree and isn't ready to fruit all that often. Or... do Meyer lemons have various cultivars that fruit at differing intervals? Actually, I think I will look that one up myself.

As always, thank you for your help!

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hoosierquilt USDA 10A Sunset 23 Vista CA

Photos, photos, photos :-) Of all your trees, please. Sounds to me like you're doing your little trees a favor. It's fine to leave a few fruit on, if the tree is vigorous and you live in a mild climate (like I do). But, for areas that have more extremes in temps, you are doing you tree a favor by removing the fruit or at least most of it, so your brand new tree can establish itself in its new locale. Don't remove the blossoms, as that will just make the tree blossom more. Just remove the fruits. No, it will not interrupt the bloom cycles - lemons and limes tend to bloom frequently. They do have more main blooming/fruiting cycles, but will bloom and fruit nearly all year 'round. Your mandarin of course will normally bloom in the spring and provide fruit in the early winter to early spring (depending upon the variety). And young citrus often have off-cycle blooms and fruiting times, as they mature and settle in. And even mature citrus can have off bloom times due to extreme weather fluctuations. And of course it is perfectly natural and expected to replace one citrus with three, just ask anyone on this forum!

Patty S.

    Bookmark   October 24, 2012 at 9:22PM
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Michael AKA Leekle2ManE - Zone 9a - Lady Lake

I will get you some pictures tomorrow. Between yesterday and today, all three got transplanted but seem to have taken it well. As of sundown, I have not seen any drooping or wilting. It probably helped that it was a mostly overcast today and we got maybe 5 minutes of light rain during the warmest part. But I'll get those pictures and post them, I'll even leave the potted Key Lime next to the Persian for comparison shot.

    Bookmark   October 24, 2012 at 10:20PM
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Michael AKA Leekle2ManE - Zone 9a - Lady Lake

Okay, here we go:

First is the Tangerine (Mandarin). When I purchased it, I was... an idiot. I did not keep the tag or pot so I have forgotten just what var. this is. It is supposed to be one of the vars. that will create infertile fruit if it doesn't receive cross-pollination, but time will tell. I have actually been somewhat curious if the limes and the lemon trees will work as cross-pollinators or if I would have to get another mandarin to get fertile fruits. Not that I need them. It is also my "wife's" tree. She could care less about the lemon and limes, she just wants her tangerines. As such, she is quite put-out by the damage done by CLMs and Swallowtail caterpillars, even though the caterpillar damage is minor compared to my meyer. She was also annoyed that while the Meyer and Persian bloomed, her tree did not.

This is the tree in its new spot. You can see it's old spot on the left side of the picture. The old spot was in a location that could have been taken as in the lot just north of us. It is an empty lot for the moment, but we expect to be here at least 6 years, possibly 10, and if someone moved in to that spot, I didn't want to argue about just who 'owned' the tree. The rocks mixed in with the soil were actually part of a ring around this spot, which used to be the Persian's spot. It served a purpose of keeping the pine mulch from dropping down into the ring. But to accommodate the root-ball of the tangerine the entire ring had to be dug up and the gravel got mixed in with the dirt.

Two more shots of the mandarin from different angles. I took these pictures at the crack of dawn before the sun was really up, so the lighting should be pretty even all around the tree.

This last is a close-up of the foliage. Yep, CLM and caterpillar damage a-plenty. I promised my wife I would get some Spinosad and pre-treat her tree in Feb and Mar to help protect against CLMs next year. As for the Caterpillars... I just try to ensure her that the leaves will return once spring hits.

Next is the Meyer Lemon. The area it is sitting in needs to be cleared a bit more (actually, all the in-ground ones need clearing and the mandarin's area needs enlarging), but I figure since they're about to go dormant anyways, it's not a huge priority at the moment. For whatever reason, the swallowtails really loved this plant and stripped a lot of the leaves off of it. As you can see, we have very sandy soil. Welcome to Florida! Similarly to the mandarin, this one was originally planted just a bit too close to the northern lot's border.

This last one shows some yellowing of the lower leaves. I am guessing this is either nutrient deficiency or the plant getting ready to go dormant. In either case, this just started happening two weeks ago and I figured it was too close to dormancy to give it another infusion of fertilizer.

Last, but not least are my lime trees. On the left and in-ground is the Persian Lime, in the pot is my Zombie Key Lime. The Persian used to sit where the mandarin now resides, but that location was exposed to both western and northern winds. After "losing" my Key Lime to the late frost last winter, I decided to move the Persian to the southern side of my house. It will still get some western winds, but those will be mitigated by a stand of Live Oaks and Cedars in the field to the west of me. Come spring time, I will need to get a new, larger pot for my Key Lime. This plastic one has seen too much sun and probably won't last another summer. But for now, it is still light enough for me to move without killing my back. If temps look like they will be getting too low (they're forecasting a "wet and cold" winter this year), this one will be coming inside. The Persian bounced back better from the CLMs than the Mandarin did, but took a bit more of a hit from the caterpillars. The Key Lime was spared from both. The CLMs I'm guessing weren't interested because at the time they were starting, this would have been a 4" stick in a pot. But the caterpillars are confusing to me. I saw many Citrus and Giant Swallowtails surrounding my Key Lime and even found eggs on it, but for some reason it was spared any real damage.

As you can see, they are very close in size considering that the Key Lime was a nub when the Persian was... only a little smaller than it is now. I can't make up my mind on just which one is bigger, but with all the lush, green leaves, I keep wanting to say it's the Key, though the Persian does have some longer limbs.

I picked up three bags of unamended topsoil on my way home this morning and once my pain meds really kick in, each tree will be receiving a bag to help insulate their roots a bit more over the coming winter. The extra dirt will also, hopefully, help prevent water from draining too quickly from the mandarin's gravel-mixed soil.

Anyways, there you go. 12 perfect pictures of 4 not-so-picture-perfect citrus plants.

    Bookmark   October 25, 2012 at 10:10AM
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hoosierquilt USDA 10A Sunset 23 Vista CA

Okay. They all look to be in great shape. Even after the CLM and the Orangedogs. Spinosad will definitely keep the damage from both off the tree, but of course, at the expense of the Orangedogs completing their life cycle, and turning into a lovely Swallowtail butterfly. You will need to apply Spinosad as a foliar spray about every 3 weeks through your CLM season to keep the CLM down, it's not a "once and done" as Imidicloprid is. Mulching with topsoil is a great idea. The yellowing leaves at the bottom of your Meyer lemon is more likely due to old leaves just getting ready to drop off, perfectly normal. The rest of the tree looks fine. Citrus trees don't go truly "dormant", just so you know. They growth cycle changes a bit, but they don't go dormant like deciduous fruit trees do. Citrus trees have a root flush during the winter and early spring, but, if you fertilize them during with a high nitrogen fertilizer, they will push out new leaf flush, which is why it is recommended not to apply citrus fertilizer between November and February, just in case you have a significant temp drop, which could damage tender new growth. And, you're going to need to protect your new trees during any temp drops below, say, 33 degrees. Most especially your Key Lime tree, which is the least cold hardy of any citrus tree, so hauling it inside if temps threaten to drop below 33 is a good idea. Key lime trees can be pretty vigorous, so no surprise it has surpassed the Bearrs lime tree. And, it had significant "stimulus" to grow, having been frozen to the ground. So, what you're seeing is not that unusual. Your mandarin will no doubt have some seeds, as you have several citrus trees in close proximity that will cross pollinate with it (not the Bearss, as it is essentially devoid of pollen, hence why it is almost always seedless), it can be cross-pollinated by any citrus tree.

Patty S.

    Bookmark   October 25, 2012 at 10:59AM
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Michael AKA Leekle2ManE - Zone 9a - Lady Lake

Erg. The Spinosad will hinder the swallowtails as well as the CLM's? Well, that being the case, I will probably only hit her mandarin with it. She is more aesthetics minded concerning her plant than I am with my lemon and limes.

Thank you for the information about dormancy. I was thinking they would go truly dormant, but my thinking was obviously wrong. I know that they have low N fertilizers, so given the recent transplants, is there one that might be beneficial to help stimulate root-growth but not bud growth?

    Bookmark   October 25, 2012 at 11:20AM
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Michael AKA Leekle2ManE - Zone 9a - Lady Lake

After a bit of reading in a couple of University papers, I could possibly add phosphorous, but the benefit is debatable and it could actually hinder my growth. But I got to thinking, I have two bottles of rooting hormones that I use for my cuttings. Would mixing the emptier one into a couple gallons of water and then watering each plant do anything at all?

    Bookmark   October 25, 2012 at 11:42AM
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I think you should check whether you have planted these trees to deep. Although difficult to be certain from the photos, it looks to me that the graft point is very close to ground level.
Citrus should never be planted too deep. Pathogens will attack the bottom of the trunk. For the same reason, grafted trees should always have the graft line well above soil level and away from damp or rain/irrigation splashes.

    Bookmark   October 25, 2012 at 12:50PM
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Michael AKA Leekle2ManE - Zone 9a - Lady Lake

In the case of the Key, you might be right. The graft is quite close to the soil line. But the in-ground Meyer and Bearrs (Patty's knowledge is awesome) have their graft points at least 3" above the soil line. The mandarin's graft is obviously high above the soil.

    Bookmark   October 25, 2012 at 1:16PM
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Michael AKA Leekle2ManE - Zone 9a - Lady Lake

Well, after a fair bit of reading, it seems the best thing I can do to help promote the growth of roots between now and frost season, if we see any, is to keep the trees adequately watered. Almost every Root Stimulator type product has either been debunked or is debated on whether it is truly effective.

    Bookmark   October 26, 2012 at 8:15AM
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