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Indoor Lemon and Orange Trees Keep Dying

Posted: Mon Nov 10, 2008 6:36 pm
by Lyoshka
HI all! new to this forum and finding lots of useful info!! YOu will see LOTS of questions from me all over the place :lol:

Ok, this question is about the lemon trees-the small/smaller ones for inside the house. I have owned a couple of small (maybe 18 inches) orange trees, as well as one large lemon tree (probably over 5 ft). The first little orange lived for about 2 years, had a few small fruit, flowered a couple of times, no significant growth. THen, one day i moved it from the coffee table by the window about 4 feet into the dining room (less light), and boom-it died. I think both of my oranges i got at Lowe's or some place like that.

The lemon tree DH got for me as a gift at a nursery and it did ok for a couple of years, as well, i sat it outside for summers, and then, again, unprecendentally, it just withered away.

I'm obviously doing something wrong-there is no vigorous growth (the lemon never got fruit ), and at some point, which I'm not able to pinpoint, the trees start to die.

I have a very soft spot for these trees and would love to have one or two in the house that are happy and healthy. Are there some guidelines I'm totally missing? Can somebody direct me?? I'd hate to buy one and kill it again :( (and normally, I'm reasonably ok with plants).

Thanks for ANY help you can provide!

Posted: Mon Nov 10, 2008 11:20 pm
by Zenun
Citrus trees love heat. They do best in a warm, sunny position protected from frost and in well-drained soil (they don't tolerate waterlogging at the roots). With container planted citrus trees, watering should be done as soon as the soil dries out or is only slightly damp (so long as the container it is in has excellent drainage). A good soaking once a week should be enough. Watering during flowering and fruit set is the most important. Mulching helps retain moisture but don't put it too close to the trunk (the bark needs to breath) :D

It's a good idea not to let the fruit set for the first couple of years, so the plant can develop a good root system. Citrus have a high Nitrogen requirement. It's best to give them a good fast acting balanced fertilizer in late winter or early spring (after harvest and before the spring flush). An application of organic matter, compost and cow manure in late summer is also recommended. Water the tree before and after fertilizing.

I would try putting your plant in a sunny position and giving it sufficient water and fertilizer and that should bring it back to being happy and healthy plant again. :D Good luck!

Posted: Mon Nov 10, 2008 11:36 pm
by Lyoshka
Hi! thanks so much for your reply. I would like to clarify several points... when you say i shouldn't let it set fruit the first couple of years, how do I do that? just pinch off the fruit?

Would you clarify what kind of a fertilizer you are talking about (what numbers, specifically)? I'm not an expert, so a little guidance would be great. Problem is, I could find so little about lemon/orange container trees online, and nobody seems to know anything at the nurseries in the area (I'm guessing because we are not in a tropical area).

Also, when you talk about mixing in compost and other organic matters, how much would I put in a pot? several spoons/handfuls?

thanks again!

Posted: Tue Nov 11, 2008 3:11 am
by Zenun
Hi, yes that's exactly right - Pick off any fruit that forms on the tree for the first couple of years. After this time you can let them fruit and reap the rewards! :D Most citrus trees will produce hundreds of flowers but only a few of these turn into fruit. The tree produces so many because it's trying to get insects to pollinate it as much as possible (the more flowers there are the more chance of it happening).

You can buy fertilizers that are specifically for fruit and citrus trees. I use "Osmocote Plus - trees, shrubs and Citrus fertilizer on mine and they are all fruiting like mad this year. But I'm sure there are plenty other fruit and citrus fertilizers on the market, if you can't find that particular one. There will be instructions on the packaging that will advise how much and how often it should be applied. They generally provide a little scoop to help you measure the amount that needs to go on.

It really depends on how big your pot is but I generally mix 3 1/4 of a bucket load of compost and 1/4 of a bucket of manure (cow poo) together and dig that into the existing potting mix and then heap the mulch (tea tree or sugar cane) a few inches thick on top of that (but not near the trunk). My trees are outside so they suffer the elements a bit more than yours would being inside. Australia gets very hot so we really pack the mulch on to keep the moisture in.

I also change the soil of my trees every 2 years because the soil looses nutrients over time. The soil in pots loose nutrients quicker than trees planted in the ground because constant watering washes them away. In saying that my mother-in-law has had her lemon tree in the same pot and not changed the soil for over 10 years and it fruits like crazy!

If you don't want to go to the extent of changing the soil every couple of years just keep the fertilizers and all the other organic material (and water) up to it and it should do just fine.

By the way citrus trees (particularly lemon trees) if protected from frosts do just as good if not better in colder climates :D

Posted: Tue Nov 11, 2008 3:27 am
by Lyoshka
Zenun, thanks for continued advice!

So, if i bring the tree outside for summer time and inside for winter, it won't freak out, right? Such a change in climate... Based on what you said about lemon trees doing well in colder climates, could I assume that I could even set it out in the spring, as the weather is warming up (well, let's say around 50s-60s-maybe April?) and leave it out until October or so (50s-60s)?

I think i will give another tree a try. I really wish we could plant them outdoors here. I am going to plant a couple of apple trees and some other fruit trees next year, but I guess I'll keep my lemons and oranges in pots.

Oh, another question... do they like pots significantly larger than the root system or do they like to be crowded, if you know?

Posted: Tue Nov 11, 2008 5:14 am
by Zenun
It should be fine, so long as you put it in a warm, sheltered position. Either under the eaves of the house or near a masonry wall (where it will have the benefit of stored heat). Placing it in a north or north east position is ideal.

Our winters get down to the 50's - 60's here and it has no affect on my trees. I had to use a converter to work out what 50-60 fahrenheit was :wink: 10 to 15˚Celsius :D I think your trees would do fine outside so long as the temperature doesn't go below 40˚F and doesn't get any frost.

That's the beauty and advantage of having them in pots. You can move them around whenever and where ever you like, so they're always in the right spot throughout the year :D

With regard to the size of the pot really depends on the size of the plant. If yours are very small (young plants) you can re pot them into a pot that is one size larger than the one you bought it in. This can be done every couple of years. Once they're big enough you can have them in a pot size of about 500mm x 500mm (19.7in x 19.7in) my pots are this size. They can be planted into bigger ones but I guess it also depends if you can manage to move something that size or not. I use a trolley to move mine around. If you can't go that big I would suggest you buy a pot that you can manage to move around and every couple of years take the plant out cut back the roots with a knife and put it back in the same pot. When you do something like that make sure you give it a seaweed tonic like Seasol as it will become very stressed when you do this to it. But like I mentioned before my mother-in-law has hers in a pot that is a little smaller than the ones mine are in and she doesn't touch it - it produces so much fruit!!!

I bought dwarf fruit trees and ones that weren't I made sure that they were ideal for pots because I don't have the room to plant them into the ground. It usually specifies whether it will be ideal for pots on the back of the tag.

You'll have no problem with your apple tree being outside they do really well in cold climates - lucky thing :wink: I live in a sub tropical climate and I don't think they would do too well here. Nor do I have the room :( Sounds like your going to have a fantastic orchard! :D

Posted: Wed Nov 12, 2008 1:29 am
by Lyoshka
Hey Zenun, thanks again for your help!

Wow, winters in 50-60, ours get down to -20 at times :lol: Right now we are around 28 in the mornings (-2 Celcius),and it's only November.

Well, it sounds like I'm going to give a lemon tree a try again :) I looked online and found a couple of nurseries online where i could order one, so I will look and hopefully, i can still order with the winter months upon us. It would be good to take care of it all winter, as I'm having our second baby in late APril, so i know spring will be insanely busy.

Posted: Wed Nov 12, 2008 12:12 pm
by Zenun
That's no problem at all. Wow -20! that's really cold. You must never go out! I live close to the Blue Mountains and it snows occasionally up there but I would say it would only be around -2 - 0, I've never experienced -20˚C before - that's insane! :shock:

Congratulations on your second pregnancy. I have 2 girls - 1 1/2yrs and my eldest daughter turns 3 in December. I know where you're coming from when you say it'll be insanely busy... you're not wrong! Hope all goes well with the birth and I hope you can get the tree sorted out before the little one arrives.

All the best
Jo :D