My Struggles with Citrus

13 Mar

Garden Glut posted on Sunday about her citrus trees. She has a huge glut of lemons, which is my dream ‘problem’. She also has this amazing tahitian lime that she espaliered against the fence – I’m in awe!

I on the other hand, can’t take a trick with citrus.

As one of my first (clearly enlightened) gardening acts I killed my kaffir lime tree by overwatering it. I then took custody of my friend Sarah’s Eureka lemon tree, which despite the appearance of early success, I have since failed to induce to produce a single fruit.

Satsuma mandarin, eureka lemon and navelina orange trees - all on dwarfing root stock.

I thought I’d hedge my bets by planting a dwarf Eureka lemon of my own in the ground in the front yard, along with a Navelina orange and a Satsuma mandarin. The mandarin was a replacement for my dwarf Imperial mandarin that I also managed to kill by overwatering.

So far, I have had a few unripe mandarins, no oranges, very little growth or even flower activity from the dwarf Eureka. In pots on the back deck I have had my dwarf tahitian lime and Sarah’s lemon, but these have both suffered terribly from bronze orange bugs (stink bugs) that love to chew on all the new growth. These are rampant out the back, because our rear neighbours have a large neglected orange tree that is covered in them.

At the moment my stonefruit trees are living in the chicken coop in an attempt to get the girls to eat all the fruit fly larvae that may be in the soil. So I thought it was time to give the potted lime and lemon some time in the sun (so to speak) and put them where the stonefruit normally live.

P lugged them through the house for me out to the front yard and placed them in the corners. In these locations they will get full sun from dawn till dusk, although they are not at all protected from wind, so I hope that’s not a problem.

Looking at my lime, I’m pretty sure it hasn’t grown at all since I bought it. In fact, I think it just looks more sickly. Every time it puts on new growth the stink bugs would attack it and the flowers always just dropped off. Hopefully in the front yard it will be out of harm’s way.

The lemon, on the other side of the yard is much the same. It has actually set its first (single) fruit at the moment, but the rest of the young fruit that set dropped off very early and there is almost no new growth on the poor tree due to stink bugs. Like the lime tree I have fertilised it fairly regularly with dynamic lifter and mulched with lucerne, but the leaves always look a bit sick. I also occasionally give it a foliar feed with trace elements, but I must have the concentrations wrong, because it always leaves burn marks on the leaves and I think I do more harm than good.

So any tips and comments would be warmly received. It’s probably all pretty obvious stuff – what am I doing wrong, and is the move to the front yard in full sun likely to improve things?

19 Responses to “My Struggles with Citrus”

  1. Robyn March 13, 2012 at 5:12 pm #

    I hate to point out the obvious, but that other blog, the trees are a lot bigger than yours… They will obviously bear far more fruit… Maybe you actually need to wait a few years? 😛

    I think also citrus tends to like warm climates. It hasn’t exactly been warm here lately! My trusty gardening book also says they don’t like too much fertiliser, especially when still young… Maybe you’re overdoing it?

    • Robyn March 13, 2012 at 5:15 pm #

      Says me who knows oh so much about growing lemons! But my little baby has actually grown since I bought it, which was only a few months ago, and I’ve all but neglected it. I think I’ve given it one dose of some slow release fertilser specific to citrus plants and that’s it. It hasn’t had any fruit survive yet, but I didn’t expect it to!

    • L from 500m2 in Sydney March 14, 2012 at 8:54 am #

      Pretty sure our climate is ideal, but I take the point about patience- I’ve never been good with that one! The problem is that looking at all the books, my tree looks just like one that is undernourished and needing feeding. It does respond when I feed it, but doesn’t last. Combined with lack of growth, makes me think I’m just doing something wrong!

  2. Liz March 13, 2012 at 6:02 pm #

    I have potted citrus and one lemon tree in the ground that I planted 2 years ago. I’ve been dutifully taking off the fruit and I am about to harvest my first lemon – very excited. What I am not excited about is that I’ve had to prune most of its growth off because I discovered citrus gall wasp on it. Very Very annoying! Fruit is hard I’ve decided… My potted cirtus do look pretty healthy – aside from the citrus gall. I give them Osmocote for citrus twice a year – Spring and last week and they do seem to like it.

    • L from 500m2 in Sydney March 14, 2012 at 8:57 am #

      Gall wasp – shudder. I’ve seen it mentioned on garden shows so I know what it looks like, but yet to see it in real life. I wonder if it’s more prevalent in Melbourne?

  3. Gardenglut March 13, 2012 at 8:12 pm #

    Digging up the dirt might have some good advice. She has certainly given me some that I am going to follow.

    I am no expert but I think at this stage with your newby plants, you need to give them a bit of time. They do say that the first year they fruit you should take all the fruit off anyway so that the plant gets strong and doesnt put too much effort into fruit when it needs to go into roots. I have never tried to grow citrus in pots so I am not sure how to compare growth.

    With one of my Tahitian limes ( not the one in the picture) it is its third year in the ground and next flowering I will allow it to fruit. It has been too busy growing into a strong espalier to think about proper fruit.

    Hard to wait though, isnt it!

    • becky3086 March 14, 2012 at 2:04 am #

      I don’t know a lot about citrus either. I have one nice lemon tree. I would definitely keep them in the sun but make sure their pots are not getting too hot, if they are slip their pots into a bigger pot to keep the original pots shaded some. Sun for citrus is good/sun on roots-not so good.
      I would definitely do something about those bugs though. If the plants can’t put out new growth, they can’t store any energy for making fruits.

      • L from 500m2 in Sydney March 14, 2012 at 9:10 am #

        Not sure if you have anything like these Becky, but they are truly evil. Nothing chemical really bothers them, and all you can really do is knock them off manually into soapy water. Sounds like a plan until you realise they spray toxic stuff into your eyes when you try it!

  4. Frogdancer March 14, 2012 at 6:36 am #

    I feel your pain.

  5. L from 500m2 in Sydney March 14, 2012 at 9:08 am #

    I hate that ‘fruit thinning’ thing! So far none of my trees have ever set more that they could handle – 3 apples in the first fruiting of my Anna apple, and now the second crop is thinning itself beautifully too. My fig set 3 figs this first summer too. I have seen what can happen though – my friend’s apple set way more than it could handle and they all turned out walnut-sized.

    My concern with these trees isn’t so much the lack of fruit, but the lack of vigour in the plants themselves. I’d be satisfied with some growth, or even just some lovely deep green foliage. I have nothing of the sort in any of them. Granted I have planted them extremely densely with the intention of taking out the less successful ones later, but I thought at their current size this shouldn’t make too much of a difference.

    I’m amazed that you have more than one tahitian lime – are you trying to create a lime glut too ? ;P

  6. Barbara March 14, 2012 at 12:07 pm #

    I’ve found that citrus trees seem to sulk for
    about a year when they’re first planted. In
    our front yard we have 2 lime trees and a
    blood orange – all going ballistic – and a
    lemon tree which has barely grown since I
    planted it. My great worry is our grapefruit
    tree which must be 40 years old (it was huge
    when we moved in 22 years ago) – it looks
    decidedly unwell and if it dies there’s
    going to be a big gap in the back yard. Do
    trees die of old age?

    • L from 500m2 in Sydney March 19, 2012 at 11:37 pm #

      I’m not sure Barbara, but I have heard of that a few times, or maybe that is just what the grief-stricken owners tell themselves! The first year sulking theory also sounds plausible. I guess I’ll have to exercise a bit of patience – exactly what I’m hopeless at!

  7. Robyn March 14, 2012 at 5:27 pm #

    Have you actually had a look inside the pots? I’ve had a lot of trouble with those curl grubs in any potted plant I have. They’ve killed off a lot of ornamentals etc and you were digging some out of your garden the other day. They LOVE wet conditions, which we’ve had plenty of and although those grubs apparently prefer grass and annuals etc, they may damage a potted lemon if they ended up in that pot and there was nothing else in there to eat!

  8. Barbara Good March 14, 2012 at 10:14 pm #

    My first dwarf lemon died a very slow and depressing death despite all my best efforts. I am now the proud owner of a very healthy looking lemon/lime tree which like Liz I just fed with ozmocote for citrus. It has two limes on it already, which I probably should have thinned, but they were quite large by the time I took possession of the tree that I decided I might as well leave them go until they’re ripe. I’m so hoping this one fares better than my last – thank goodness I don’t have to contend with those nasty bug things you have, though I def had that citrus gall wasp in my last tree and it never really recovered.

    Sorry for the lack of advice, I have a track record like yours. Good luck with finding solutions to your issues.

    • L from 500m2 in Sydney March 19, 2012 at 11:35 pm #

      Thanks Barbara. I find it a bit depressing when I buy a beautiful specimen from the nursery, only to find it gets sick almost the second it sets foot (roots?) onto my place. i just have the knack of loving citrus trees to death.

      I think my 2 potted trees have really benefited from just a week in the front yard plus some more fertiliser and some white oil spray against the citrus leafminer. I think one of the other baby lemons has set, so I might actually get 2 lemons off it over winter!

  9. Gaby March 16, 2012 at 10:33 pm #

    Hi ! my only suggestion would be don’t overwater citrus hate to be overwatered ( 2-3 times a week a deep watering away from the trunk is great). We have a dwarf orange tree a meyer lemon and a dwarf grapefruit tree in the backyard when I first moved in the orange tree gave us 2 oranges … and that was it the grapefruit gave us none the lemon wasn’t here until last year and has since grown about 2-3 feet it set baby lemons but none survived.The grapefruit and the orange tree I pruned into a nice round shape like the orange juice containers have painted on them and pruned out all of the dead twigs and fertilized it in autumn and they gave me gave me about 20 pounds of oranges and about 6 grapefruits. This year the orange tree gave us about 40-60 pounds of orangesif not more and although considerably smaller fruit than last year I did not fertilize it last year or give it as much water as we were in a little water shortage and I am forgetful.The grapefruit tree is small about 7 feet tall and this year it has about 15 -20 baseball sized grapefruit which is great considering it’s size and it’s track record. Since I moved in 3 years ago those plants have at least doubled in size and to tell you the truth I’m quite tired of eating oranges !

  10. L from 500m2 in Sydney March 19, 2012 at 11:31 pm #

    Thanks Gaby for the information. Sounds like you have a real knack for caring for citrus trees!


  1. Life gave me lemons « 500m2 in Sydney - August 11, 2012

    […] posted before about my bad luck with citrus. My lemon tree actually has some fruit on it now, but it’s not […]

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