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citrus in containers, verifiying the proper care

Posted by elizabethw_swva 6 (My Page) on
Tue, May 24, 11 at 10:24

In a spurt of "gee I can't wait for spring" some time ago, I ordered three citrus trees online. I am the proud owner of a venous orange, a meyer lemon, and a key lime, all dwarf.

I have spent a lot of time searching the forums for information and I have planted them in gritty mix in rather larger containers than I would have normally chosen, but since it drains so well, and lasts a long time, I decided to go for fewer repots and a chance for their roots to grow undisturbed for a couple of years (I hope). I ordered foliage pro, it arrived yesterday.

I was planning on checking my water's pH level, adjusting with either citric acid or white vinegar, and watering when necessary using the dowel indicator with 1/4 tsp per gallon of foliage pro every 3 out of 4 waterings, with a full flush watering on the 4th watering.

I live in zone 6, so they'll live outside when it's warm enough, but inside in my south facing window when it's not. I can't make it terribly cool inside at that location, but it stays around 65 to 70 there. It's a big window with a shelf in front of it, so they'll get plenty of light. I had also thought about putting them in the garage with lights over the winter, but I think I'd like to enjoy them inside if possible.

I didn't put a wick in the bottom of the pots, I didn't see that as a possibility until after I potted them yesterday. Is this a major problem? I'm pretty happy with the way the gritty mix turned out and it drains well, so maybe I can get away without one?

If you all could check my grand plan and tell me if I'm on the wrong or the right track, I'd appreciate it. I have lots of experience with vegetables and ordinary houseplants, and one orchid that seems to thrive on benign neglect (although when it stops flowering I'm going to repot it, so it may die). I've read the thread on soil and water movement, I've read about fertilizer, I have read so much my husband thinks I'm nuts and I'm dreaming about potted plants.

Thanks for any help and/or corrections you might be able to give me!


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: citrus in containers, verifiying the proper care

I think you have got it figured out very well. You should be just fine with no wick. When you bring them in this winter try and keep the roots above 50 degrees F or so to avoid leaf drop which happens when the hot window sun hits the leaves and the roots arent active enough to cool them down.

Your trees should reward you very nicely.


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RE: citrus in containers, verifiying the proper care

I'm a novice like you but I think with the gritty having it in an over sized pot will make it very difficult for you to water properly.


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RE: citrus in containers, verifiying the proper care

Hi Elizabeth,
Tell your husband your not nuts, and all your reading has paid off. I agree with mksmth, it sounds like you have the hang of things. ;-)

I can assure you my husband has thought the same about me. lol..

I'm going to use bigger pots too. A lot due to I dont want them to topple in a storm, and like you, give them room to grow. I have 14" to 20".

It sounds like your tree's will do well.

bgtimber~
When using a gritty mix, you can go with a larger pot with no problems, if the mix was made correctly.
It is free draining, but yet does retain moisture, but not so much that rot is a concern.

JoJo


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RE: citrus in containers, verifiying the proper care

Personally,I am not a fan of a gritty mix for citrus...The roots need air to thrive...I am also a big fan of moving up in pot size one stage at a time....The reason being there is a lot of soil that does not have roots absorbing water.The soil becomes stagnent(spelt wrong) and encourages root rot.You are better to go up a pot size from 2 to 4 inches at most all around the rootball.Repot every spring(check root status)for light brown roots(you are doing things right).
I have killed over 20 dwarf citrus and this is one of the main reasons...I also tend to make a mix composed of organic and inorganic materials to avoid compaction of the mix...a gritty fine mix will compress over time and squeeze out the vital air spaces in the soil.Thats why i prefer perlite or pummice to grit...this creates a very free draining mix but might not be suited to hot climate where you want the mix to hold water in the heat.In the winter here..I protect from heavy prolonged rain eg three days of prolonged heavy rain will water log the roots...I think i read somewhere that if the roots remain water logged for 24 hours or more then root damage is Inevitable.However,The rain is the best watering source you can have = organic.Its a false economy to buy an over size pot thinking it will save you disturbing the roots.....I lift the pot up to see if there are roots coming out the drain holes and if i see even one...I repot then...check the roots...prune a little,spread the roots a bit and into new pot...I am now using 37cm terracottas but started at 21 s ! Its an excellent way to check plant health...whats happening on the top is a reflection of whats happening underneath...without good roots you wont get anywhere.


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RE: citrus in containers, verifiying the proper care

Howdy, Laidback!

I think we need to define our terms a bit ;-)
Hopefully we can clear up a few misconceptions.

First, the term "grit" - grit is course, inorganic material, such as perlite, pumice,
turface, quartz, granite, et cetera.

Secondly, the "gritty mix" is specifically designed to maintain air-space within the soil.
"Gritty mix" doesn't compress much at all. In fact, the mix holds its structure longer than
would be advised to let the plants go between re-pots. In other words, one would need to root
prune and possibly increase pot-size before the mix would compress or degrade.

As for the layer of pumice mentioned in the other Thread - a layer of gravel, pumice, or
other material at the bottom of the pot actually impedes drainage. The finer particles
immediately above the layer wedge themselves into the gaps which causes water to perch in
the soil in the lower inches of the container.


Josh


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RE: citrus in Terracotta

Hi Josh...Gritty is a very lose term but oftens refers to small particles which is what i presumed...I have a book here that recommends a gravel layer at the bottom of the pot of 1/2 inch to 2 inches....I can give you the name of it if you like...Its a book specialising in container grown citrus...I too have heard millet say before not to put a drainage layer at the base of the pot as all it does is raise the "perched water Table "...well all i have done is add an inch or so and my pots drain very well(37cm pots)...If your mix is well balanced and of non fine particles it is not an issue(thats what i use)...how can fine particles fill in the gaps when there are no fine particles in the first place?
Actually,The book i have is excellent and based on over a hundred years of growing in the mediteranian(spelt wrong)where they have been growing in terracotta for a long time.What is more important is how quickly water moves through your mix and out the bottom and thus how much and how long it holds water..This is an accurate indicator if you have your mix correctly set.If i was to use the mix i use here ,in your neck of the woods,i am sure it would fail eg our summers only go to 25 or 26c and in the winter it rains a lot and never goes below 5c...hence i prefer a very free draining mix with larger particles and terracotta pots that can breathe....I would hazard a guess,plastic pots and a mix that will hold moisture more would be better suited to your hot summers correct? It does mean i have to water more often in summer but my mix is great for the winter... i have killed many trees due to water logging before i found what works best for our climate.When i go to Australia next year...I will adjust my style to suit their climate..Cheers Jon


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RE: citrus in containers, verifiying the proper care

just to chime in on my experience with Al's gritty mix

I just put my trees in a modified version. Al's has always said that the formula is a great starting point and should be modified to suit your climate.

Mine is 2 parts screened bark, 1/2" pieces, 2 parts turface, screened through insect screen, 1 part granite, screened through insect screen. My biggest trees are in 15" square deck planter that holds approximately 24 quarts of soil. When I water these tree the waste water exits within seconds of application. We are already having mid 90 degrees days and our summers can hit 100+ by mid june thats why I added more bark and turface.

as far as adding a draining layer. its really comes down to simply physics and gravity. Any pieces of soil that are smaller than the gaps in the draining layer will fill that void eventually. Maybe not within the first few months but they will fill the voids.


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RE: citrus in containers, verifiying the proper care

Hey, Jon (Laidback),
I grow in terra cotta pots in a Mediterranean climate - wet winter, hot dry summers.
We go from -8C in the winter, to around 44C in the summer.

I use large particles in the 1/8 to 1/4 inch range for my mixes.
I started with bark, perlite, and pumice. Now I'm using bark, turface, and perlite.
Sometimes I'll add pumice, small gravel, or sharp quartz. I have an experimental mix
prepared that is 5 parts bark and 2 parts turface...but I haven't potted with it yet.

Like Mike wrote, the smaller pieces of mix will eventually migrate/wash to the bottom
of the container and will settle above the drainage layer, causing a band of saturated
soil - the perched water table (or column).


Josh


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Citrus in containers, verifiying the proper care

Hey, Jon (Laidback),
I grow in terra cotta pots in a Mediterranean climate - wet winter, hot dry summers.
We go from -8C in the winter, to around 44C in the summer.

I use large particles in the 1/8 to 1/4 inch range for my mixes.
I started with bark, perlite, and pumice. Now I'm using bark, turface, and perlite.
Sometimes I'll add pumice, small gravel, or sharp quartz. I have an experimental mix
prepared that is 5 parts bark and 2 parts turface...but I haven't potted with it yet.

Like Mike wrote, the smaller pieces of mix will eventually migrate/wash to the bottom
of the container and will settle above the drainage layer, causing a band of saturated
soil - the perched water table (or column).


Josh


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oops

Pardon the double posts!
I don't know how that happened!

Josh


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RE: citrus in containers, verifiying the proper care

Its all good fun isnt it? Its really windy here in Nz at the moment and winter has just started....Last night i went to check my citrus as i have them on feet...the wind had blown a big pot over and some of the mix had come out...I was going to inspect in spring with a view to up sizing the pot...what i saw shocked me a bit...the pot was full collonised(spelt wrong) by roots.From my experience,if you limit the upsize of pot to 1-4 inches bigger than the rootball...the the roots move into that area pretty quick...I check my plants at the end of winter every year for signs to repot as well as check for roots out the bottom.I am very impressed with the rootball and state of the roots...I will try to take a pic.I believe what i said above about gradually up sizing your pot is of more significance than the PWT....After all the water that lives here will be flushed away each time you water and will also encourage the roots to search down for water.The top half of the mix is where its at and that needs to stay moist.Two of my trees will go from a 31 cm pot to a 37cm pot....
Josh...you got real extremes of climate to deal with there mate...sounds like you are onto it.I am a big fan of terracotta...I believe lack of oxygen,due to water logging causes the biggest obstacle for container citrus....I have heard many experts here suggest not to grow citrus in pots as its hard to be successful.I have killed plenty of trees to get where i am !It been a depressing obsession at times LOL
On the perlite point...i once put up a link her where they were growing citrus in isreal in pure perlite with see through walls of the pots...at a shopping centre i think...they used both fine and coarse grades(incredible)..dont know if anyone can search my threads for it but it will blow your mind!...i found it excellent for preventing compaction of the mix and would be great in plastic pots i reckon....will try to add some pics to my photobucket account sometime...enjoy everyone.


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RE: terracotta

"I have heard many experts here suggest not to grow citrus in pots as its hard to be successful"
I meant New zealand,by this comment.
Josh ,i am suprised your terracotta dont crack with temp extremes like that!


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RE: citrus in containers, verifiying the proper care

Sometimes they do crack ;-)
Usually just a bit of exterior flaking on the old pots, though.

Josh


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RE: citrus in containers, verifiying the proper care

CAN SOMEONE TELL ME HOW OFTEN SHOULD I WATER MY CONTAINERIZED CITRUS TREES THAT THE WEATHER HAVE BEEN MOSTLY SUNNY IN THE LOW 90'S?
I GOT A COUPLE OF MANDARINS, SATSUMA AND TANGERINE, THANKS!


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RE: citrus in containers, verifiying the proper care

It would be hard to say without seeing your plants and knowing more about them.
For example, how often you water depends upon several things:
Type of mix
Size of container
Size of tree
Container location

Josh


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RE: citrus in containers, verifiying the proper care

josh, i use mostly potting soil with maybe 1/4 of soil conditioner mixed in. Container size are around 10 to 15 gallon. These trees are around 4 to 5 feet tall, and all get about 5, 6 hours of sun minimum daily.


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RE: citrus in containers, verifiying the proper care

Charles, how are you? I hope you are having great day like us.

I agree with Josh on knowing as much as we can about your trees. Even then, it can still be very difficult to determin what is good for you since there are so many variables from day to day.

Typically growing in the mix you described will hold moisture way too long and compact in a rapid amount of time furthering the situation even more which citrus despise.
If I was not using a porous and open mix, I would use some sort of device for measuring moisture far down into the root zone. These sound like big pots and the finger method just won't be as effective.

This can be a general rule, a one size fits all with citrus.
'None like to have their feet consistantly wet'.
You could use a wooden dowel or other device to measure moisture. Once you pull the dowel or meter and see that the mix is a bit on the side of dryer than moist, I would water.

I can tell you that this hot weather and sunny days will be more forgiving to you if you should happen to water more often than needed.

Hope this helps you;-)

Mike


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RE: citrus in containers, verifiying the proper care

Charles, I agree with Mike.

Use a dowel or other wooden skewer to determine when the mix has dried in the lower inches of the pot.
This will give you the best read.

If you notice that your containers take two weeks to dry out, you might consider a new soil mix.

Josh


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RE: citrus in containers, verifiying the proper care

thanks all... just trying to determine if overwatering is the reason some leaves are either droopy/sagging looking or curled up.


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RE: citrus in containers, verifiying the proper care

I read in one of the forums that if the leaves curl up that its from over-watering and if they curl down its from under-watering. Is this true?


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RE: citrus in containers, verifiying the proper care

Hello everyone,
Still at it.. my trees stayed out all winter and started with a bang first of spring and have now stopped a bit. All have set fruit. My meyer has a lot of big fruit and was using up water fast even with our bay climate . It was still in its original nursery container which drained fast so I decided to pot up. I used a 5;1;1 mix as the gritty mix is just too heavy when you get up in pot sizes. The root ball of the meyer was very tight. I did not want to totally bare root it as I felt it would disturb the fruit and tree too much so I opened it a bit and washed as much old soil off with water and left the rest and hope the roots will move/grow into the new mix. I have had it in only morning sun for a week now and will move it to the sun now. It has shown no signs of shock and looks healthy. I hope I did the right thing. As for potting up I am still confused as to the many citrus I have seen in big pots here and especially in Italy that stay in the same pot for 20+ years. As my trees get big enough to be potted up to the nice terracotta pots they are now nested in I would like to eventually stop. I will keep you posted.
Mike...have you had any problems with your FP crystalizing in the jugs?
Dave


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RE: citrus in containers, verifiying the proper care

I've just acquired a meyer lemon -it's about 5 feet tall with one shoot going to about 7 feet, in a 3 gallon container. It has lots of lemons on it.

I'd like to re-pot this tree as the 3 gallon container it is in is so unstable. From what I've read, I should move to a 5 gallon size now? What depth of container is recommended for trees? So many pots seem so "short and squat". I'm planning on planting in a mix somewhere between the gritty mix and the 5-1-1, I think something like mksmith posted above.

Our temperatures are up in the 100's already. Should I wait until early fall to repot this tree or can I do it now? I don't want to shock the tree and can wait if I should.

I also want to prune the one long shoot that is about 2 feet taller than the rest of the plant. The shoot has no fruit on it. Or should I wait until the fruit is off for pruning?

And one last question. The tree was in a greenhouse. Considering our temperatures where would be the best place to locate it for now? I have put it on the side of the house where it will receive afternoon sun only and it is sheltered from our heavy winds.

Thanks for the help

Carolyn


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