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Did I kill my Lemon tree?

17 years ago

I recieved a Meyer Lemon tree for Christmas last year. The tree is about a foot tall and bloomed beautiful flowers about four times in the year. The tree well doing well but not producing any fruit. This summer I replanted it from a plastic container to a big 1-1/2 gallon tea picher. Because there are no holes in the bottom of the picher (just a spout) I put a layer of rocks in the bottom (about an inch thick). Then I cut off the bottom of the plastic container (with the drain holes)and placed it on top of the the rocks. Next I put in some potting soil and then the tree and filled it in with more soil. The tree contiued to do well until early November. In one week all the leaves fell off and the trunk turned to a darker brown. It still has not produced any more leave and seems to be dead. Can it be revived? Please Help!

Comments (16)

  • 17 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Sounds like you created a situation where the container could easily fill with excess moisture, exposing the roots to one of the worst of all issues for container grown plants. Add that to what sounds like it might have been too much of a pot size change. Lots of extra potting medium results in a stagnant situation that may cause root rot.

    You've missed one of the most critical rules of container growing: plants must have a renewable source of oxygen at the roots at all times, or roots begin to die. A very coarse-textured potting medium can help, but nothing will save a plant if there are no drainage holes that allow the excess water to evacuate.

    Oxygenated water, via proper watering techniques, is the other way our roots are able to get their oxygen 'fix'. Your potting technique disallowed that, as well.

    Since the tree went on strike 'way back in November, I would conclude (after all this time) that it's a goner. However, without seeing it first hand, we can only guess. If you wanted to experiment, you could remove it from it's less than ideal situation, trim some off the roots neatly and cleanly with sharp scissors, and re-pot with FRESH potting medium (to which plenty of perlite has been added), into a CLAY pot the same size as the plastic one you cut up (or one size larger).

  • 17 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    If you root prune you will need to cut off the same amount of the canopy. The smaller amount of roots can't supply an over abundance of canopy. This needs to be done even if you only prune a small amount of roots off the tree. To kill bacteria from the rotten roots you can rinse it in 3% hydrogen peroxide. This will also add much needed oxygen to the root zone. Place the tree in a bright location out of indirect sunlight until you see new growth. Then move it closer to the sunlight a little at a time until its able to handle the full sun. I would also replant in a pot one size SMALLER due to the smaller size of the root zone. If need be, drill extra holes in the pot so the water drains freely. Don't water again until the top few inches of soil is dry.
    Andi
    Andi

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  • 17 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    That's a myth about the need for crown reduction to compensate for root removal. In fact, it's important to keep as much of the leafy crown as you can, as it is only from the leaves that your plant will be able to generate the energy to make a great new root system!

    Consider, for any plant, that the leaves are the factory for the entire plant body. Photosynthates manufactured within the cells of the leaves will be shipped down the phloem to the struggling root system. As a matter of fact, if you prune the top, a plant is likely to focus on promoting new growth to compensate for that loss, rather than concentrating on the roots. Thus, top reduction is counter productive to the development of roots.

    This is true when transplanting woody trees and shrubs outside, too.

  • 17 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    I agree with Randi. I don't think it's a myth. It is only common sense that the roots can only supply so much on top. If it can not something has to give. I do this for many years. I cut the top off if the roots are cut or decrease. Once the roots rooted again the top will grow again double time.
    Try to plant any plant and cut half of its roots. You'll find that the leaves will wither and die. Most of it. The only thing that will be left are the new leaves. Because the root can not supply the energy that the leaves demand.
    Rhizo:.
    May I ask do you have any article that substantiate your claim?

  • 17 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Roots do all the dirty works and the leaves take all the credit. As Millet says. You remove the roots and the leaves will die.

  • 17 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    I hope Millet doesn't mind posting his work but here it is
    "Posted: Wed Aug 23, 2006 4:05 am Post subject: What Is The Most Important
    1. Roots come first. When a seed germinates the root always emerges first.
    2. If the root system ain't happy, ain't no part of the plant happy.
    3. Roots control the tree, the stems and branches just think they are in charge.
    4. The more roots to share the load, the faster the dirty work gets done.
    5. Roots provide the fuel for the plant engines we call leaves.
    6. Each root tip cast a vote to decide what the top will be allowed to do.
    7. Top growth gets all the glory, but the roots do the dirty work.
    9. Stress can always be measured in the root system before symptoms appear in the top.
    - Millet "

  • 17 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Let's remember the topic here; it's very specific. Is it correct to top prune your plants in order to compensate for root loss during transplanting or root pruning?

    All of what you say is true, but you are all omitting that very complex aspect of a plant's physiology: carbon allocation. Truthfully, the root system is extremely important...critically so! No one has said any different. But that's not what we are talking about at the present time.

    The FACT is that plants undergo an immediate and dramatic response to what they perceive as injury. Not only is it hormonal, but other biochemical pathways kick in, as well. Root pruning WILL result in a plant's concentration on making brand new roots to compensate for those lost. It's a rapid process and a very successful one. What stymies the process is the old fashioned belief that the top must be pruned to compensate for the bottom.

    We've learned a great deal about plant growth processes. Why should this science be any different than any other? Hopefully, as our methods of observation have advanced, so has our science and our maintenance procedures. BTW, this is not new information at all. We've known to stop top pruning to match the root loss for twenty or so years. Probably more, but that's when it was explained to me.

    I know that the word hasn't gotten out to everyone, but I think you all ought to take what you know about the importance of root systems and marry it to what is also happening in the overall plant body.

    Top pruning to compensate for root loss an act based on lack of proper understanding. Without a healthy and vital root/soil system, the whole plant will suffer. Top pruning harms a plant's ability to make new roots.

    Rule: Pruning (anywhere on the plant) is a growth PROMOTING activity. It is not in the plant's best interest to force it to divide it's carbon (energy) resources all over the place.

    A plant is capable of doing only so much at any given time. Common sense (which should always be based in solid information) dictates that top pruning and root pruning are two activities that should never go on at the same time.

    SO! Let the plant get to the business of mending itself!

    Here is a link that might be useful: FYI

  • 17 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Thanks.

  • 17 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    I have written to Linda Chalker-Scott, Ph.D, Extension Horticulturist and Associate Professor, Puyallup Research and Extension Center, Washington State University, for clarification on her article. It's my belief that the article is being misinterpreted and am waiting for clarification on the subject. I will post the message and the reply when received.
    Andi

  • 17 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Update:
    I recieved a very fast response from Linda Chalker-Scott on the article and the posts. Below is the response I recieved:

    Dear Andi-
    Please see my answers below...
    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~
    Linda Chalker-Scott
    Associate Professor and Extension Urban Horticulturist
    WSU Puyallup Research and Extension Center
    7612 Pioneer Way E
    Puyallup, WA 98371

    Phone: (253) 445-4542
    URL: http://www.puyallup.wsu.edu/~Linda%20Chalker-Scott/

    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    From: Andi
    Sent: Fri 2/9/2007 9:14 AM
    To: Chalker-Scott, Linda
    Subject: The Myth of Top Pruning Transplanted Material article

    Linda,
    You wrote a very informative article about the above subject. This article has become a subject for debate on a gardening website I presently belong to. In my reading of your article I have come to the following conclusions:

    1. you are speaking of plants intended to be placed in an INGROUND landscape senario.


    **Actually, it would be relevant for any plant that has had substantial root damage/pruning/death. If we want to encourage root growth, we need to be sure most resources are directed that way. That being said, my primary audience is the landscape (i.e. tree and shrub) group.**


    2) the title subject DOES NOT pertain to CONTAINERIZED plant material.
    It is my belief and that of many others that CONTAINERIZED plant material with diseased or rotted roots should have root and canopy pruning combined.

    **Why? If you are removing healthy canopy, the plant will repsond by generating new crown material. The roots are then at a disadvantage. What crown pruning will do is make it "obvious" that the plant is responding to pruning by putting on crown growth, thus the person overseeing the plant is reassured that something is happening. What you don't see is what's doing on below ground. I can guarantee that you will get more root regeneration if the crown is left intact. The plant only has so many stored resources.


    As an analogy - if you were to have heart bypass surgery and needed your body to replace heart tissue, would the surgeons also perform an appendectomy? I'm not trying to be flippant, but it's the same logic being applied.**


    Remember that these plants are not placed nor intended to be placed in an inground, landscape situation, but will ALWAYS be grown containerized. It is my belief that this statement constitutes a NURSERY CONDITION.
    Please confirm or expand on my beliefs based on your article. The plant material we are discussing is CONTAINERIZED CITRUS.
    Thank You
    Andi

    Second email:

    Linda,
    Thank you for your very prompt reply, however I seem to have left uot a VERY important detail.
    Would the same apply IF the canopy were damaged to the extent that the plant suffered massive leaf, stem and branch dessication?

    I have included a C&P of the original question. This is where the subject of root pruning came into play.
    Andi
    Original posting below:
    I recieved a Meyer Lemon tree for Christmas last year. The tree is about a foot tall and bloomed beautiful flowers about four times in the year. The tree well doing well but not producing any fruit. This summer I replanted it from a plastic container to a big 1-1/2 gallon tea picher. Because there are no holes in the bottom of the picher (just a spout) I put a layer of rocks in the bottom (about an inch thick). Then I cut off the bottom of the plastic container (with the drain holes)and placed it on top of the the rocks. Next I put in some potting soil and then the tree and filled it in with more soil. The tree contiued to do well until early November. In one week all the leaves fell off and the trunk turned to a darker brown. It still has not produced any more leave and seems to be dead. Can it be revived? Please Help!
    I had avised the poster to prune damaged/rotted roots combined with canopy/branch pruning

    Linda's reply:

    Aha. As you say, that's a different matter.
    Crown pruning is *always* acceptable to address the 3 D's- dead, diseased, or damaged branches.
    (This person also needs to take out the "rocks for drainage." They have created a perched water table. I have a myth on my web page (I think in 2000) that addresses this.)
    So yes, you can take out the appendix if it has ruptured!
    Linda
    ~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~
    Linda Chalker-Scott
    Associate Professor and Extension Urban Horticulturist
    WSU Puyallup Research and Extension Center
    7612 Pioneer Way E
    Puyallup, WA 98371

    Phone: (253) 445-4542
    URL: http://www.puyallup.wsu.edu/~Linda%20Chalker-Scott/

  • 17 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Uh oh! I had better go back and read that article carefully! ;-) I confess I attached it to my little 'lecture' merely because it appeared to be good, simple, support literature!

    Ok! I'm back. I'm not real sure how any of this could be misinterpreted! Maybe I've misunderstood your comment! A distinct possibility.

    Anyhoo, last night, I thought of another way to put this. Plants will do their utmost to achieve equilibrium. This is their happiest and healthiest state. In good balance, a plant can do some growing above ground and below ground AND pack on some storage carbon. That's ideal.

    However, when something happens to throw off the balance, a plant is ready to leap into action by directing those resources (always manufactured in the leaves) to the area of greatest need. This is called the 'sink', by the way.

    When we prune, the results are almost always a new flush of growth. Right? That's because the plant needs those carbon factories back. Energy is expended to that task, at the sacrifice of root regeneration, defense mechanisms, storage, etc.

    If the root system is neatly pruned, or damaged, or the soil/root system compromised, energy resources will be shuttled to THAT sink. The plant knows that it must have a balance again to support the plant body it has built up. The roots provide essential raw materials (water and minerals) to the factory, after all. Without a vigorous root system, plants will croak.

    Though water loss through the leaves might seem to be too great a stress on root damaged plants, the far greater offense occurs if something happens to prevent a rapid root recovery.

    The physiology of plants is amazing. It's also very complex. As usual, the more we know, the greater the need is for more knowledge. But one thing for sure: the more we understand HOW are plants really work, then our role as caretakers become sooooo much easier.

    Who knew?

  • 17 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Great response from Dr. Chaulker-Scott! See? I DID misinterpret you! :-)

    When you stated that the top should be pruned the same amount as the roots, I automatically thought you meant that the top should be pruned the same amount as the roots!

    Actually, pruning to correct diseased, damaged, dieing braches is ALWAYS the correct thing to do. No matter what the situation. Why? A plant will use MORE energy resources for that kind of repair (or defense). It's just another 'sink'. Proper pruning (at branch collars) alleviates the stress.

    Brilliant, isn't it?

  • 17 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    Thank you rhizo,
    We as "zone pushers" are always having to learn, re-learn, adjust, and sometimes downright change what has become the "norm" to achieve results. Containerized plants are a whole different world that is constantly evolving. This little debate has opened up a whole new avenue for research, and consideration. I checked out the website that Linda provided and bookmarked it as well. Its very informative and answers a lot of questions.

    BTW: As long as the debate is constructive and not counter-intuitive we can help all members with their problems. These discussions are very helpful to pro's and hobbyists alike.
    Andi

  • 17 years ago
    last modified: 9 years ago

    This has turned out to be a terrific thread, I think! The only drawback, as I see it, is my tendency to 'preach'!

    Bet some of you thought I'd never shut up.

  • 8 years ago

    Great thread!! I've learned tons! Thank you!