Help save my grapefruit tree
February 5, 2013 8:37 PM   Subscribe

This is my grapefruit tree. It is sad, and I'm not sure why. Please help me make my grapefruit tree not so sad and nearly dead. Details inside.

I gave this 5 gallon tree to my parents a year ago or so, and it lived outside in Santa Barbara, CA. It survived a move to New Mexico, but it got cold here, so we brought the tree inside, and now it is sad and nearly dead.

It gets water, and it lives near a window. The room is warm, and the tree even blossomed for a while. Then the blossoms died, and the few leaves started falling off, too.

I know the room isn't a death trap for plants, because this orange tree is right next to the grapefruit tree.

What can I do for my grapefruit tree? One thought: the soil has washed away from the base of the trunk, exposing the top of the roots a bit, but it's been this way for a while. Could more soil help at this point?
posted by filthy light thief to Home & Garden (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
A re-pot with more soil -- perhaps a transplant with fresh soil -- is probably not going to hurt, given the sadness.

Have you checked for disease/mites/other nasties?
posted by holgate at 8:57 PM on February 5, 2013

This might be weird... But when my plants (small potted trees) fail like this, it usually means too much water. Could that be it?

Certainly with less leaves, the grapefruit tree needs less water than the orange tree at this point.

I know there are people who work magic when there is a situation like this. Part of the solution (I think) is cutting back all of the dead limbs to reduce the overall stress on the tree.

My first thought was bugs, but the orange tree is not effected. That said, a tree with a weakened immune system (possibly due to exposed roots or nutrient-deficient soil) will make one citrus tree vulnerable, where the adjacent tree is not.

Upon preview: transplant your tree into healthier soil at dusk, if at all.

Better suggestion is to not transplant the tree, but add nutrient rich compost and worm droppings (comes in a bag, at the plant store) to the top of the tree planting, prune it back, water less frequently, and pray.

If bugs are present. Treat them. Citrus is prone to so many predators, without a few close-ups of the leaves and limbs, we can't tell if bugs or other issues are in play.

My best to your tree friend!
posted by jbenben at 9:04 PM on February 5, 2013

I'm no botany expert, but I live in the southwest and have grown citrus trees in the backyard. The picture looks to me like the form of phytophthora casually called "root rot" - a fungal infection usually caused, as jbenben suggested, by overwatering. It may or may not be treatable, since your poor tree looks like it has a pretty nasty case... You would want to definitely water it less, allow the roots to dry between waterings, and I believe you can get some sort of stuff at a nursery or garden store to put in the soil that can help.

Also,from this web site:

"The majority of pre-bagged potting soils have far too much sphagnum peat for good results with citrus. You cannot use garden soil in indoor containers. The easiest way to solve this is to buy a potting soil product that contains perlite or vermiculite and add 1/3 volume of redwood or cedar shavings, blending your two potting mediums well. DO NOT use pine or spruce shavings. Cedar shavings are readily available in the pet section of every big box store. Partially fill your container with the citrus tree potting blend and you are ready to inspect the new tree’s root system.

Container grown plants with well developed root systems will most likely be a bit root bound. This is normal and easily corrected at repotting with some careful pruning of some larger roots. Also loosen the rest of the outer roots for better root growth in the tree’s new container.

Place your citrus tree in the partially filled pot so the depth the plant was previously growing in the original container. Your final soil level should be at least ¼” lower than the rim of your pot to allow for watering. Finish filling the container and lightly firm up the potting soil surrounding the root ball. Do not fertilize, just as outdoor growing of citrus, you want to wait for new growth to appear before beginning the fertilizer regimen. Water your plant in thoroughly."
posted by celtalitha at 10:10 PM on February 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

Note that when you re-plant it, it may go into shock a little and lose most of its leaves and generally look like its continuing to die. Don't worry! This happens!
posted by ApathyGirl at 11:59 PM on February 5, 2013

I would advise you to not give up. My lemon tree (also indoors) started dropping leaves like crazy after a bloom. Eventually it was left with three sad looking leaves. About a month later, it is now covered in about a dozen flowers. I assume that it will eventually bounce back. I almost gave up and got rid of it, thinking it had died, but I'm glad I didn't.
posted by gilsonal at 12:32 AM on February 6, 2013

I've never grown citrus, but I know that smaller plants accustomed to outdoor sunlight can be seriously shocked by moving them indoors where there's dramatically less light even near windows. The reverse is also true; leaves grown indoors can be damaged if the plant is stuck outside into full sun without some transition period in a shadier area.
posted by jon1270 at 3:36 AM on February 6, 2013

Also, blooming is not necessarily an indicator of health; it can be a sign of stress -- a last-ditch attempt to reproduce before dying.
posted by jon1270 at 3:37 AM on February 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

This is not actually helpful, but I swear it's true. My parents live in Phoenix and put 3 citrus trees in the backyard. The grapefruit tree looked a lot like yours. My mother went outside and YELLED at the tree, something like: If you don't shape up and get growing, I swear I am going to rip you out by the roots! That year, the tree produced one grapefruit. Within a few years it grew over 15 feet tall and hugely wide and has been producing a hundred grapefruits every year.

So maybe try yelling at it. But if you threaten some horrible fate, I think you have to mean it.
posted by CathyG at 9:03 AM on February 6, 2013 [3 favorites]

Have you fed it?
posted by padraigin at 9:38 AM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Have you tested the soil? Usually plants have an optimal nutrient ratio.
posted by oceanjesse at 9:41 AM on February 6, 2013

My mum used to get my Dad to pee around the root line of our citrus trees whenever they looked a bit peeky. It perked them right up, she claimed it had something to do with nitrogen. Not sure if that would work in a pot, but you can get fertilizers specifically for citrus, I'd use one of those at the recommended dosing and see if that helps.
posted by wwax at 11:13 AM on February 6, 2013

Best answer: Contact your nearest Master Gardener office. You can start looking here.

Or check Most Master Gardener programs provide some sort of phone hot line for horticulture questions.
posted by RussHy at 2:43 PM on February 6, 2013

Why is your five gallon tree sitting in less than two gallons worth of soil? The soil is probably so compressed now that the roots are 1) also compressed 2) primarily in the permanent wet zone at the bottom of the pot (the taller the soil column, the better the drainage in pots of the same diameter). So you have conditions that lead to a lack of aeration and little drainage, which lead to pathologies like root rots. I would toss it and start over. Five gallon citrus are generally less than 40 bucks.
posted by oneirodynia at 10:04 PM on February 6, 2013

I have a lemon tree that shed its leaves a lot. After a bit of googling on various forums, the answer to a lot of the questions about leaf loss appears to be lack of humidity indoors, and not related to too much/little watering or soil composition.
posted by MuffinMan at 7:18 AM on February 9, 2013

Response by poster: Due to whatever mix of lack of care, it died. I contacted the Master Gardener office, but I think it was already too late. They were really helpful.
posted by filthy light thief at 8:26 PM on March 22, 2013

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