Ask a Question forum: What have I done wrong with this lemon tree?

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Name: Teresa
Denmark
Laundrmat
Apr 27, 2016 2:11 PM CST
I bought a beautiful, healthy lemon tree three weeks ago and now it seems to be dying a quick death. I place it in direct sunlight, soak it in water about once or twice a week, and yet it looks like this.

I'm clearly a novice at this. What am I doing wrong?


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Name: Elaine
South Sarasota, Florida (Zone 9b)
The one constant in life is change
Cat Lover Master Gardener: Florida Tropicals Multi-Region Gardener Vegetable Grower Region: Florida
Herbs Orchids Birds Garden Ideas: Level 2 Garden Sages Celebrating Gardening: 2015
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dyzzypyxxy
Apr 27, 2016 2:31 PM CST
Hi, and welcome. First may we ask you to tell us where you are? This gives us some info on the strength of your sunlight and the humidity of the air as well as how cool it gets at night if the plant is right next to a window. If you fill in the area in your personal profile (the little person in the blue sidebar to the left there) your city and state or country will appear in the upper right corner of all your posts automatically.

Could we also please see a picture of the whole plant, including the pot? The solution maybe as simple as just a new slightly larger pot, with fresh potting soil. From your first picture, that pot looks to be pretty small. Citrus trees naturally have a wide-spreading root system with their roots fairly near the surface, so a wider, shallow pot might suit it better. If you can just slip the plant out of the pot it's in, and see if the roots are crowded, and going round and round inside there, that will tell you it's needing a new pot.

First problem I see is the yellow leaves with dark veins. This usually indicates iron chlorosis. Have you fertilized your lemon tree at all since you got it? If you did, what did you use?

Second thing, and this may be only the quality of the pictures but the leaves look a little bit spotty to me. You might have some spider mites making themselves at home on your plant. The solution for this, and it will be good for your plant anyway, is to put it in the sink (or better yet in the shower) and give it a nice brisk shower with lukewarm water every week or two. This will wash off the mites, any aphids that may be around and also give the plant what it would get outside in nature - rain! Be sure to spray the undersides of the leaves as well as the trunk and the soil surface, too.

I hate to say this, but you really should remove the fruit from that baby tree. It's in distress and having to put a lot of energy into making fruit is a big demand on it. Even here in Florida where we grow lots of citrus outdoors, if you plant a new tree, you're supposed to remove all fruit for the first year to let the plant develop a strong root system and more foliage.
Elaine

"Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm." –Winston Churchill
Name: Teresa
Denmark
Laundrmat
Apr 28, 2016 12:12 AM CST
Thanks so much for the long and detailed reply. Here's a picture of the whole tree, on the windowsill where I keep it.

Thumb of 2016-04-28/Laundrmat/456278

I'm in Denmark, which has had terrible weather all week so the tree is possibly lacking some sun. I haven't fertilized it at all yet. Is there a home-made remedy that works well (coffee grounds?) or should I get something specific?

I've started watering the leaves in the shower recently, so hopefully can get rid of whatever mites are there. But it's a new apartment and new plant, so I'm puzzled how they even got there.

Getting rid of the lemons does sound painful. Maybe I can keep the yellow one and remove the two green ones? Or the other way around?
Name: Elaine
South Sarasota, Florida (Zone 9b)
The one constant in life is change
Cat Lover Master Gardener: Florida Tropicals Multi-Region Gardener Vegetable Grower Region: Florida
Herbs Orchids Birds Garden Ideas: Level 2 Garden Sages Celebrating Gardening: 2015
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dyzzypyxxy
Apr 28, 2016 7:35 AM CST
Hi Teresa. I would definitely go for a bigger pot for that plant. I think it needs to be even a little bigger than the clay pot you have it sitting in. Be aware that for indoors, a glazed pot will hold more moisture than an unglazed clay one, as the clay transpires water so will dry out the plant quicker. Going into warm weather, you'll be watering more often anyway, so a glazed pot might be a good idea. Buy a good quality bag of sterilized potting soil to add to the new pot, too.

You do need to get some high quality timed release fertilizer. The home made things like coffee grounds and compost tea will not be enough. That's a pretty big, high demand plant. (especially when it's making lemons . . . Angel ) Here we have specific formulations for citrus that have micro-nutrients. But for your little tree, just a 'complete' fertilizer for indoor plants is probably what you will need to use.

There were probably a few mite eggs on the plant when you got it. If it was grown in a greenhouse until now, and has been in there all winter crowded with other plants, it's very easy to get a few tiny mites hanging around. The greenhouse people most likely have an insect mitigation routine that keeps them under control, but you really can't ever get rid of every bug in a large commercial greenhouse. So when your plant went to the store or nursery where you bought it, then came home with you, those little nasties had no more treatments, and have multiplied. If you see any more speckled or mottled leaves - you can check easily by running your fingers along the undersides of a leaf. If it feels sort of sandy or slightly rough, and your fingers come away stained a little bit yellow, that's the signal the mites are back.You can also sometimes see tiny webs in the leaf axils. A very mild solution of dish soap will kill them off if it gets bad, 1/2tsp. per quart of water sprayed all over and under, then rinsed off in the shower. But just giving the plant a regular shower will often keep the mites away.
Elaine

"Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm." –Winston Churchill
Name: Lori Bright
San Luis Obispo, California (Zone 7a)
Vegetable Grower Roses Cottage Gardener Lover of wildlife (Black bear badge) Keeps Goats
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LlamaLlori
Apr 28, 2016 8:01 AM CST
Citrus (as with other plants) have very tiny feeder roots. If these feeder roots are dead (or not constantly regenerating) then the plant cannot take up the necessary nutrients. (Such as iron) If a plant is waterlogged (not your plant) or dries out too much, you loose those feeder roots. You probably need to water it daily while it is actively growing in your small pot. When you water you flush out all nutrients. A citrus uses the general macro-nutrients that all plants need, but it also needs micro-nutrients. If you pot-it-up, only go a couple to three inches bigger. You will need to be rigorous with your watering/fertilizing either way. I would fertilize with every watering. Those nutrients will leach readily. I would use 2 TBL Fish Emulsion and 2 TBL of Seaweed per gallon of water. Use this every time you water. You could use other fertilizer options. (Chemical/salt based Citrus & Avocado liquid fertilizer or a granular Citrus & Avo type fertilizer, both have drawbacks) Liquid salt-based fertilizers have .... well....salt. Not a big problem when you disperse said salt into a large soil area, not so good with a small potted citrus. (Can damage feeder roots) Granular feed, if organic should be scratched in or mulched on top. Again not practical with your window sill baby. If you pot-it-up be forewarned that citrus roots are sensitive and if you break up those pot bound roots, it Will fuss. (You must break up spiraling roots)You'll have to be patient during it's rebound. I would only do that when you are going into the season that it would be getting the most light. (growing the fastest) Good luck to you Big Grin
Name: Teresa
Denmark
Laundrmat
Apr 28, 2016 9:58 AM CST
Hi Elaine and Lori,

Thanks for your insights! I've never been very good with plants (can never keep the leaves a healthy shade of green), but I've also never used fertilizer before and always assumed it was over/under watering. Will look into these fertilizer options and get a bigger pot. Crossing Fingers!
Name: Elaine
South Sarasota, Florida (Zone 9b)
The one constant in life is change
Cat Lover Master Gardener: Florida Tropicals Multi-Region Gardener Vegetable Grower Region: Florida
Herbs Orchids Birds Garden Ideas: Level 2 Garden Sages Celebrating Gardening: 2015
Image
dyzzypyxxy
Apr 28, 2016 10:15 AM CST
It's to your credit that you've asked us for help and advice here. You have a lovely little lemon tree, and let's hope with our help you can keep it lovely.

Potted plants need a constant supply of nutrients as well as water since they have a limited range that their roots can go. Not using fertilizer would be the same as keeping a dog or a cat in your apartment and only giving it water. It would starve. (It's ok, we won't tell Big Grin )

Lori has given you some great advice there, but I must admit I've never been able to stand the smell of fish fertilizer, even outdoors, let alone in an apartment.
Elaine

"Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm." –Winston Churchill
Name: Mary
Glendale, Arizona (Zone 9b)
Region: Arizona Cat Lover Enjoys or suffers hot summers Plumerias Seed Starter Vegetable Grower
Composter Hummingbirder
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Azgarden
Apr 28, 2016 8:22 PM CST
Just to add another thought about micronutrients for citrus. Sometimes iron alone will work. However, if your plant is suffering from a shortage of either/or zinc or manganese, the leaves could look like yours. If you can find some additive with a combination of these micronutrients it could help. We grow citrus in the ground and have several types of trees. We've experienced yellowing leaves when we thought we were doing everything right. Sometimes greening them up just requires the right group of nutrients. Best wishes! Smiling

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