Stunted Seedlings: Trifoliate Orange

OrangeMouseNovember 5, 2013

Hi Fellow Garden-web-ers:

Last fall I started some trifoliate oranges (poncirus trifoliata) from seeds harvested from oranges from a beautiful 12 foot tree growing outdoors at a friend of mine's.

I planted them without a grow light in potting soil in a coolish house (usually around 68, perhaps warmer in the summers) near a north-east facing window that has a bit of light interference from a rather tall and thick forest only about 20-30 feet away. Little direct sunlight really gets to them, though they are close to some streaks of it during the early hours of the day. I spritz them with a little water from the tap with a sprayer every day or two. I seldom give them food but have given them just a tiny bit of miracle grow through the year.

I'm happy to say I've sprouted a good dozen of them, although they have grown very, very slowly. The tallest of them are only 6 inches, and none are more substantial than a thin 2ish mm stem with 8 or so little signature triplets of leaves and 5 or so tiny, perhaps 3mm long thorns. They seem a little stunted. Though the thorn development is new, they've remained at this height seemingly forever, and they have retained a rather simple straight-stawked "seedling" shape with very little if any branch development.

How can I speed things up?

I've been a little lazy and transferred my seedlings to one big pot together and they're growing a pretty close to each other, many less than 1 inch apart. Would potting some of them separately and increasing the distance between them speed things up?

I've grown them (irregularly) with supplemental light from a typical "warm" LED lamp (11W strip, can light a 6x5 foot desk surprisingly well for reading)--though I have no idea if the lamp is within their ideal spectrum. I've sort of directed this lamp at some other seedlings recently since my oranges are at least somewhat established. Would more regular use of that lamp help them out?

Anything else I can do to make these seedlings look more like bonsai trees?

Would love to know about your experience with these beautiful plants!

This post was edited by OrangeMouse on Tue, Nov 5, 13 at 2:09

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Steve, Micro (6B ground, 5B roof)

try something like this and click on the picture to see all my citrus growing ideas in Photobucket. all Pics are publicly available.

seed grown meiwa kumquat tree.

Sweetlee tangerine from seed, Grow much faster than kumquats but not as fast as poncirus trifoliata. LIGHT IS EVERYTHING

    Bookmark   November 5, 2013 at 8:02AM
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Dave in NoVA • 7a • Northern VA

Separate them into individual pots.

Keep in well lit location (indoors) all winter.

You may get some growth on them.

After last frost day in spring, move them outdoors into at least 4 hours sun (but gradually to avoid sun burn).

Water appropriately and begin a fertilization program weekly, weakly.

They grow slowly at first, but should pick up speed.

What is your final goal? Bonsai?

    Bookmark   November 5, 2013 at 12:45PM
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Orange, unless you choose to grow the way Steve is trying to help you out with, then I would go with Dave's advice...It's spot on..

Steve, I have to politely disagree.
LIGHT is not EVERYTHING but is very critical factor and more so in your case at this time.

Without your aeration methods, your plants would decline quite rapidly in the mixes you are using.

It is the mixes we use, fertilizer we apply, light, watering habits, temps, bug sprays and the care that we put our plants through, the environment we provide that is 'everything'..

If I were to name one critical factor to start off with that is at the beginning of everything, then I would start with a good mix, then follow with good cultural practices..

I can tell you that every nursery owner that wants to see their plants thrive despite the ability to provide all the light they can get, invest thousands of dollars on the perfect mix for their plants, then sell it quite expensively..

I have seen some of the nicest plants quickly degenerate
in poor mixes used in pots, despite all the sunlight provided.

Yes, did you know that one can kill their planted trees in the ground with poor drainage, even if provided lots of sunlight?
We have seen this demonstrated here?

Therefore that is where people like John, Patty, Rhizo and many others come in to help out..If 'light' was everything, then growing citrus would be a piece of cake, a walk in the clouds, right?

This post was edited by meyermike_1micha on Wed, Nov 6, 13 at 8:48

    Bookmark   November 6, 2013 at 8:35AM
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Steve, Micro (6B ground, 5B roof)

let me rephrase that, In the winter when the sun is low, shines for not long, gets the ribbons cut out of it because it has to cut threw a gazillion trees, after it has passed though 300 miles of thick atmosphere, LIGHT IS THE IMPORTANT INGREDIENT. That is what is missing. You don't have to go over board as I have. My goal is to get maximum growth fill the trees are a well branched 6 foot. plant. The buckets will no longer work and my green house will be completed.

Fellow citrus'er If you have a dog, cat, hamster, gerbils, or etc, you are spending more time on them than I am spending on my plants.

If you don't have a challenging hobby you will end up in a nursing PREMATURELY.

Do the bucket thing for one winter and you will do fine. PT's grow fast.

    Bookmark   November 6, 2013 at 9:01AM
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Yes, light is a very important ingredient.....

My point is that 'light' is NOT everything and it's illogical to say so...It is just another critical factor in the superb growth of our beloved trees :-)

We don't want to mislead anyone into thinking that light is everything for fear that no one pays attention to just that and ignores other critical factors..

Have a nice day

This post was edited by meyermike_1micha on Wed, Nov 6, 13 at 10:15

    Bookmark   November 6, 2013 at 9:54AM
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mksmth zone 6b Tulsa Oklahoma(6b)

Citrus do not require as much light as we think they do. Infact they require far less. a very well respected grower on another forum mentions that they developed as understory trees and can suffice on just 1/3 full sun.

Meyer Mike. Shoot me an email bud. I tried to send you one but the option through Gardenweb is not there. I lost yours.

Mike .

    Bookmark   November 6, 2013 at 12:06PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

Fertilize, fertilize, fertilize!
That's the missing ingredient...the "limiting factor," according to Liebig's Law of the Minimum.


    Bookmark   November 6, 2013 at 11:06PM
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Steve, Micro (6B ground, 5B roof)

I realize that light is not everything but is usually the missing ingredient at this time of the year. My statement was not meant to be taken that seriously. I will word things better in the future.


I have to agree with you on fertilize. My friend and I are growing from seed from the same fruits. He does not fertilize and my plants are 4 time the size of his.


    Bookmark   November 6, 2013 at 11:20PM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

Indeed, Steve.
I'm blown away by the difference in container grown plants that I see at my friends' houses. I've given plants to several friends, and the friends that fertilize have glorious specimens compared to those who don't.

Fertilizing needn't be heavy, it just needs to be consistent, so that the nutrients are in the mix when the plant needs them.


    Bookmark   November 10, 2013 at 4:23PM
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Maybe I should just stay out of this "light, fertilizer, aeration, soil mix" discussion but my hat is off to those of you who are growing beautiful potted citrus you can see and are a beauty to your homes and yards without having to cover them with big yellow and white stack of buckets hiding your trees from view. Steve, I know you are experimenting and trying something new and I REALLY applaud that. We won't ever learn any new techniques if we don't experiment but the basis of my comment is that most people grow citrus for their beauty, even while they are getting them established.....can you put more focus on visual aesthetics?

    Bookmark   November 14, 2013 at 10:13AM
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Steve, Micro (6B ground, 5B roof)


Yes I plan to focus more on visual aesthetics. My sweetlee tangerine trees will out grow there bucket lights in 2-4 weeks. all 4 will be arranged in a much nicer light inclosure along with other plants. I have an artist friend that will paint up my half drums where the sweetlee trees will be shortly. I am hoping to have 5-6 foot trees by may 14 to plant in the artistically panted half drums. Mean while I can post pics of only the trees.


    Bookmark   November 14, 2013 at 4:09PM
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