Saturday, July 16, 2011

Lemon Aid

I've been wanting a Meyer Lemon tree for a while now. I saw some earlier this year at the big home improvement stores and passed them by thinking I could
  1. get better looking specimens and;
  2. get a better deal ( Iremembered the year before seeing large trees lined up at 1/2 price at Lowes)
They then sold out and much to my dismay I couldn't find any others. I sure was kicking myself.

Then I decided to get proactive and started calling the many small nurseries around here and much to my delight the closest nursery had one Meyer Lemon tree and it was 50% off because they were closing for the summer that weekend. I scooted over there and acquired my Lemon Tree - a great specimen. It's about 5 feet tall with one branch that towers about 7 feet high (I'll probably prune that branch). I was so happy to get such a nice tree and it was only $30.00!

That's where the happy story ends and despair sets in.

I got it home and then had to decide where to put it. I put it on the South side of our house figuring it would get lots of sunlight -which it did but the winds were knocking it all about and I feared all the fruit would get blown off so I moved it to the North side in a sheltered corner.

I've been blogging about my war with pests this summer. I had always thought that citrus was a bit of a natural repellent . How wrong I was. After a few days I found some leaves curled up and some kind of bug hiding within, so I drenched the tree in insecticide soap. I was vigilant in spraying it every couple of days with the soap.

Despite vigilant spraying, I found mealy bugs and aphids and grasshoppers on the tree. And to make matters worse it began dropping leaves and the remaining leaves were turning yellow. I fear I over watered it. I felt horrible -the tree was gorgeous when I got it and after it came home it was subjected to about every torture imaginable.

I decided to move my tree to the other side of the house where it would get more sunlight. I also started using a moisture meter to gauge soil moisture. I watered much less frequently which I found disturbing considering every day the temperatures are over 100. Still the tree declined. Then the grasshoppers attacked in full force. One day it was just a poor tree that had been over watered, the next it was stripped of most of its leaves and even some bark. I couldn't believe the damage.
Grasshopper damage to bark

Major intervention was in order. I decided I didn't care about organic care at this point, the grasshoppers had to go. I went to Home Depot and browsed their shelves. I was disappointed that there wasn't anything other then Sevin which even listed grasshoppers as a victim. I have Tempo in the storage shed -that will kill everything but I'm not using that in my garden. I came home empty handed and disappointed that I was still without grasshopper killer. I then stewed on it some more and opted to not succumb to non-organics. Since the Lemon tree is in a pot, I chose to bring it inside where I know I can at least keep the grasshoppers off of it.

I purchased some Alaska Fish fertilizer in hopes that some good natural fertilizer my help my struggling tree. I mixed it up as per directions and oh my. This stuff stinks. The label says it is "deodorized with wintergreen oil". Who are they trying to fool? It reaks. You know it smells disgusting when no sooner had I watered my plant with it then my dogs were fervently trying to get in the pot and dig and eat up the dirt. Great now I have to contend with them digging up the plant. I shooed the dogs off and told them they were gross.

Poor Bedraggled Tree Prior Prior to Repotting

I was still concerned about the pot size so I chose to repot the tree this week. It was in a 3 gallon container so I thought an up size to a 5 gallon would suffice, along with a well draining media. After a lot of reading I figured a gritty mix would be good for the lemon tree. Here is the "recipe" for the gritty mix I made:

Gritty Mix

3 parts pine or fir bark fines
3 parts Turface MVP (or equal)
3 parts crushed granite (turkey or chicken grit - not crushed shellfish)
1 part vermiculite
1 part coarse silica sand
1 tbsp gypsum/gardening lime gallon of soil (1/2 cup per cu ft)
if you use gypsum instead of lime, add 1/8 tsp Epsom salts/gallon of water each time you fertilize

I wasn't able to purchase any pine bark fines so pine mulch and some pine nuggets I had on hand had to suffice -I just pulled the large pieces out of the mix. I was able to buy chicken grit at the local feed store by the pound so wasn't stuck with a 25# bag to use up. And turface isn't carried in most of my local stores so I opted for "Oil-Dri" which is very similar.

Materials for Gritty Mix

I mixed up my planting media and then dumped out my lemon tree. The roots do not look healthy -they were in a tight ball and there certainly aren't many healthy looking white roots spreading out from the ball. I broke up the ball somewhat and put the tree in the 5 gallon pot -it barely had any extra room around the edges. This size pot wasn't going to work. I went to our shed and of course I didn't have anything bigger. Now what. I looked around and decided that my container blueberries which have been struggling didn't need a pot as big as they have and they were very unceremoniously dumped out and the lemon put in their pot in place. It is a perfect size. The roots have room to spread but the container is still quite movable.
Close Up of Gritty Mix

So the lemon tree is now replanted. I still have it in my "mud-room" which has a sunny east facing window. Each day I check the plant for new growth. I haven't seen any yet but it was just Thursday that I re-potted. I should sacrifice the lemons that are still clinging to the tree and allow the tree to nourish it's trunk and leaves rather than the fruit but it seems such a shame to lose them now. I will watch a little more and if I don't see new growth shortly, they will be picked off.

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