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Need help diagnosing variegated pink lemon tree (indoors)

HU-251379786
2 months ago
last modified: 2 months ago

Hello! Recently purchased a variegated pink lemon tree, here in NJ I am in zone 6b. After a week from bringing it from the nursery, I repotted from soil & mulch into a clay pot with a Miracle Gro Over/Underwatering mix, as I've heard from many people that overwatering leads to cupping leaves especially in citrus. When the plant first arrived the bottom leaves were incredibly droopy, but the top were rigid and looked (to my untrained eye) healthy. Since I repotted 2 days ago, the top leaves have experienced new growth, but are now starting to droop as well, and I worry that I killed the tree with repotting or overwatering. I've watered with 1/2 gallon every other day in a drained pot. Any help or advice would be appreciated. Pics below.

Comments (21)

  • tapla
    2 months ago

    Skip the finger test and all inexpensive digital devices. Instead, use a "tell", which I referred to above, but forgot to include the info I meant to. Plain potting soil is usually not a very good choice for most plants because it holds an excessive amount of water if you water correctly (so you're flushing the soil of accumulating salts when you water), and additional perlite really doesn't do much for drainage or aeration. If you have a half gallon of marbles, in the minds eye you can "see" all the large air spaces between the marbles; but, start with a half gallon of soil and add a half gallon of marbles to it. What happens? You have exactly the same volume of air in 1 gallon that you had in a half gallon, and ALL the space between marbles is completely filled with the soil you started with. Where is the advantage. There is one, but it's not significant.

    In order to build or take advantage of highly aerated and fast draining soils, you need to start with a large volume of coarse ingredients, and make sure there is not nearly enough fine material to fill the air spaces created between the large soil particles. Once there is enough fine material to fill all the large soil pores, you're essentially growing in a medium with the drainage/aeration characteristics of the fine material, exactly as the example above illustrates.

    Going back to the marble analogy - start with a gallon of marbles and add a pint of potting soil or peat to the marbles. Now, you can see there is not enough fine material to fill the spaces between the marbles, so aeration and drainage increase dramatically once you pass the threshold where the volume of fines is insufficient to fill the air spaces between the coarse particles.

    Regarding watering intervals and using a "tell":

    Using a 'tell'

    Over-watering saps vitality and is one of the most
    common plant assassins, so learning to avoid it is worth the small
    effort. Plants make and store their own energy source –
    photosynthate - (sugar/glucose). Functioning roots need energy to
    drive their metabolic processes, and in order to get it, they use
    oxygen to burn (oxidize) their food. From this, we can see that
    terrestrial plants need air (oxygen) in the soil to drive root
    function. Many off-the-shelf soils hold too much water and not enough
    air to support good root health, which is a prerequisite to a healthy
    plant. Watering in small sips leads to a build-up of dissolved solids
    (salts) in the soil, which limits a plant's ability to absorb water –
    so watering in sips simply moves us to the other horn of a dilemma.
    It creates another problem that requires resolution. Better, would be
    to simply adopt a soil that drains well enough to allow watering to
    beyond the saturation point, so we're flushing the soil of
    accumulating dissolved solids whenever we water; this, w/o the plant
    being forced to pay a tax in the form of reduced vitality, due to
    prolong periods of soil saturation. Sometimes, though, that's not a
    course we can immediately steer, which makes controlling how often we
    water a very important factor.

    In many cases, we can judge whether or not a
    planting needs watering by hefting the pot. This is especially true
    if the pot is made from light material, like plastic, but doesn't
    work (as) well when the pot is made from heavier material, like clay,
    or when the size/weight of the pot precludes grabbing it with one
    hand to judge its weight and gauge the need for water.

    Fingers stuck an inch or two into the soil work ok
    for shallow pots, but not for deep pots. Deep pots might have 3 or
    more inches of soil that feels totally dry, while the lower several
    inches of the soil is 100% saturated. Obviously, the lack of oxygen
    in the root zone situation can wreak havoc with root health and
    cause the loss of a very notable measure of your plant's potential.
    Inexpensive watering meters don't even measure moisture levels, they
    measure electrical conductivity. Clean the tip and insert it into a
    cup of distilled water and witness the fact it reads 'DRY'.

    One of the most reliable methods of checking a
    planting's need for water is using a 'tell'. You can use a bamboo
    skewer in a pinch, but a wooden dowel rod of about 5/16” (75-85mm)
    would work better. They usually come 48” (120cm) long and can
    usually be cut in half and serve as a pair. Sharpen all 4 ends in a
    pencil sharpener and slightly blunt the tip so it's about the
    diameter of the head on a straight pin. Push the wooden tell deep
    into the soil. Don't worry, it won't harm the root system. If the
    plant is quite root-bound, you might need to try several places until
    you find one where you can push it all the way to the pot's bottom.
    Leave it a few seconds, then withdraw it and inspect the tip for
    moisture. For most plantings, withhold water until the tell comes out
    dry or nearly so. If you see signs of wilting, adjust the interval
    between waterings so drought stress isn't a recurring issue.

    Al

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    Best Answer
  • HU-251379786
    Original Author
    2 months ago




  • tapla
    2 months ago

    "I worry that I killed the tree with repotting or over-watering." That would be my concern as well. It looks over-potted and over-watered.

    I'd remove the newest soil, set the old root mass on a stack of newspapers, old towels, paper bags ......., to 'pull' excess water from the root mass, then return it to the pot it came in, for now. The next step would be to get control of your watering habits by monitoring moisture levels with a "tell", while you plan to repot the tree into an appropriate medium (one you can water correctly w/o the tree paying a tax on vitality due to extended periods of soil saturation) and start a nutritional supplementation program using an appropriate fertilizer.

    Al

  • HU-251379786
    Original Author
    2 months ago

    Thanks a bunch Al, i appreciate it. How often would you recommend watering under the new cadence? Ive been doing every 3 days but have no sense for what "damp" vs "moist" soil is.... I'll stack on some newspapers and wont water it for a week or so. Does over-potted mean i need to find a smaller pot for it, or the opposite? Thanks again for your help

  • hibiscus909
    2 months ago

    You will water more in a clay pot as opposed to plastic, but 1/2 gal every other day for a plant indoors sounds like a lot.

    A wooden skewer is one way to check soil moisture. A finger is another way.

    Is it the moisture control MG mix? That is particularly not a good mix for citrus.

    Plain potting soil is fine for citrus, and even better is mixing in more perlite so that it drains faster.

    But they are heavy feeders, so once you dial in the proper watering, you need a fertilizer with micros (such as DynaGro)


  • HU-251379786
    Original Author
    2 months ago

    Hey Hibiscus. Yep, its the MG moisture control potting mix. Honestly its the only thing Target had and i cant go elsewhere due to the non-essential business shutdowns. I'll look to order some perlite and remove some of the potting mix. I dug my finger 2 inches into the soil near the base of the plant and it was cold but no water was on my finger when i pulled it back out. So I thought i was ok.

  • hibiscus909
    2 months ago

    I am not sure how bad it really is, but the general opinion is that the water crystals are the issue. You can end up with root rot because it does not dry out enough between watering. The clay pot may help combat that.

    Home Depot and Lowes should also be open.

    Watching for wilted leaves can be a way to assess a citrus' water needs. They can actually tolerate a slight wilt unless they are in flower. In your case my guess is that those lower leaves are now actually no longer functional, so when you water they will not respond by lifting up, so don't judge by those.



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  • tapla
    2 months ago

    It's essential for growers to understand that an excess of water in the rootzone causes the same loss of turgidity (wilt) that a water deficit causes. With that in mind, wilt is not necessarily a signal the plant needs more water. It can just as easily be a signal the plant is dying of thirst in a sea of plenty. It takes energy to move water throughout the plant. A scarcity of air in the root zone, whether due to soil compaction, poor gas exchange, or excessive amounts of water, deprives plants of oxygen required to 'burn' the food which provides the energy that drives root function.

    Al

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  • HU-251379786
    Original Author
    2 months ago

    Should i consider trimming those bottom leaves off as i dry out the soil, to ensure that moisture more efficiently reaches the top?

  • tapla
    2 months ago

    There is an area where the leaf attaches to the branch called an abscission zone. In order to keep an abscission LAYER from forming, a certain amount of a specific hormone (auxin) must flow through the abscission zone. When the amount of auxin is insufficient, an abscission layer forms, effectively walling off the leaf from the rest of the plant. Until this layer forms, the plant will be "salvaging" mobile nutrients and biocompounds for use elsewhere in the plant, so it's better (for the plant) to avoid removing the leaves until they're completely dehydrated and crispy. Also, removing lower foliage isn't necessary to ensure the top of the plant is adequately hydrated. In apically dominant plants, the top of the tree and ends of branches oriented more toward a vertical position will be more powerful energy sinks than other branches low on the tree. The tree's energy comes from the food it makes (sugar) and is delivered in the nutrient stream, the strongest energy sinks receive the lion's share of the energy allotment. The only way to effectively prevent this from occurring is by reducing the foliage mass of the stronger energy sinks, which will force redirection of energy to the weaker/lower branches. More accomplished bonsai practitioners keep a tight rein on their trees' energy flow, making sure the right branches grow and thicken properly while restraining the top to prevent over-thickening in areas that would normally display twiggy growth. If the lowest branches aren't the thickest and upper branches thinnest, it jars the eye. Even if the viewer can't place exactly what's wrong, viewers will be left feeling something is out of place or doesn't look right when there are heavy branches high on the tree and thinner branches below ........ but I'm starting to stray here ...... .

    Al

  • hibiscus909
    2 months ago
    last modified: 2 months ago

    Leave the lower leaves until they drop


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  • HU-251379786
    Original Author
    last month

    Hey all. I repotted, water 1/4 gallon every 3 days or so, and added a grow light for a few hours a day, due to my window direction. Now, the bottom leaves that were previously broken have since fallen off, but the top leaves are drooping slightly and some are curling up (which i thought was a symptom of overwatering?) I have not done anything with nutrients since getting the tree, as i was trying to stabilize the watering regiment. Any thoughts? Updated picture below


  • Travis in PHX (9b)
    last month

    The best thing to do is to check how wet the root zone is. We've established your mix is not a fast draining mix. Al explained why frequent shallow waterings are detrimental. You've kept the same frequency but lowered the amount. I would suspect that is not helping because it's still not allowing the root zone to dry and instead you risk building up salt levels in your soil (when water evaporates it leaves behind salts, which need to be flushed or they make it harder for your roots to breathe and take in water). So the question is are you over- or under-watering. Forget what you think should be normal. You have to respond to the actual state of your potting mix. That's all that matters.

    Al's suggestion of using a dowel to assess moisture at the root zone level is on point. If you're not sure about that, carefully lifting your tree and looking at the soil around the root ball can be very informative. I once had a tree that I potted in a fast-draining mix after buying it; I was perplexed when it showed signs of overwatering. I pulled it out and discovered the root ball (which I left intact from the nursery container it came in) was a soaking, suffocating mess of broken down mix. Moral of the story, I learned a lot about the status of my soil around the root zone by looking at it.

    Another clue is how the tree responds when you water. If my trees are happier when I don't water and I get more yellow leaves and drooping when I do water, that tells me I am watering too much. With practice, you will be better at knowing when to water.

    HU-251379786 thanked Travis in PHX (9b)
  • Lemon Lime Orange Zone 6a
    last month

    You have to choose the correct potting mix. The problem is the wetting agent. It has a chemical which holds 30% more moisture. Look for a potting mix with a maximum moisture content around 50% and one without a wetting agent.

  • tapla
    last month
    last modified: last month

    Media treated with a wetting agent hold less water at container capacity than untreated media.

    Also, consider carefully before you buy into the idea water absorbing polymer 'crystals'. When media are moist, they serve no purpose. As a medium dries down, the crystals can hold what would otherwise be available water so tightly it's unavailable to the plant.

    Al

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  • Lemon Lime Orange Zone 6a
    last month

    Direct from Miracle-Gro the potting soil you are using "Absorbs up to 33% more water than basic potting soil (vs. potting soil that does not contain sphagnum peat moss, coir and wetting agent)".

  • Lemon Lime Orange Zone 6a
    last month

    That being said in two days a wetting agent is not going to have catastrophic effects. Your lemon tree is in shock from moving from the greenhouse to indoors. The plant can't uptake enough water to compensate for less humidity. Water more and move it back from the window. Buy a $20 infrared thermometer on Amazon and check the actual temperature of the leaves.

  • Lemon Lime Orange Zone 6a
    last month

    If you just fertilized when reporting that could also be the issue.

  • Lemon Lime Orange Zone 6a
    last month

    Tap water is not great. If water is cold that can shock the plant. Ideally water should be the same temperature as soil or warmer. I use reverse osmosis indoors and I use tap water outside but let it sit for a few days for chlorine to evaporate. Outdoors I have a garden house with heated water 90F for misting plant and knocking bugs off.

    HU-251379786 thanked Lemon Lime Orange Zone 6a
  • HU-251379786
    Original Author
    16 hours ago

    Hello everyone! Just a quick update, my tree flowered! I dont know what this will mean in terms of lemons but it has about 15 blooms so far. About 5 of them have opened and then apparently turned yellow and died? But the newest look healthy. I havent changed anything except putting egg shells in the soil. Excited to see what happens next or if there is any particular advice for this next phase to ensure the tree continues to live! I took a Qtip in between the male and female plants to pollinate them.... before half of them died. Ha


  • HU-251379786
    Original Author
    16 hours ago


    Pic 2 of full tree

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