Meyer Lemon Root Ball Question

yelppuppyApril 22, 2010

I potted two dwarf meyer lemon trees a few weeks ago. One of them, when I was loosening the soil and untangling the roots, I probably did something wrong, so this one's leaves are all turning yellow. Worst of all, the tree is so slanted after a wind storm I had to place a brick on top of the root to help stabilizing it.

Here's where I was confused. Quite a few posts on this forum suggested that we clean as much soil from the roots as possible when repotting. But when I was doing that, the white whisker looking roots (my tree only has that kind of roots, by the way) kept falling off with the soil. I had to stop because I was worried if I kept loosening the soil it'd become a bareroot plant.

When I decided to stop messing with the root ball, the middle portion on one side of the root ball had very little soil and roots left. So when I planted it the tree was slanted. I tried my best to stuff soil into the hollow section, but after a few days the tree was less and less straight. Then the wind storm pretty much pulled half of the plant out of the container.

Should I not have messed with the root ball and the original soil from the nursery? Or should I have pulled more rigorously? The soil mix I use is similar to Al's 5-1-1 mix, consisted mostly fine barks, so it's really hard to hold the tree if the root ball is too small. In the event that this one passes away, I don't want to make the same mistake next time. Also, is there a way to rescue my yellowing and withering plant that can't even stand straight on its own?

Any tips and suggestions are appreciated! Pictures are even better as I have no clue what a "clean" lemon tree root ball is supposed to look like.

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I fail to understand why you were taking apart the rootball from the nursery planting. The mix used by the grower is usually OK as is for the first couple of years and only requires regular monthly feeding. If you wanted to pot up to a larger more stable pot less likely to be blown over you could do that without a major disturbance of the root system. As it is now you will have to stake the tree in a vertical position to keep the roots from moving in the soil and preventing the growth of new feeder roots, and hope for the best. Al

    Bookmark   April 23, 2010 at 8:12AM
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greenman28 NorCal 7b/8a

I re-potted a blood orange yesterday and when I removed the tree from the container,
all of the sandy peat potting mix fell off the roots like sand poured from a bucket.

Point is, I had *not* intended to do a formal bare-root/re-potting this season. However,
the crappy nursery mix necessitated the re-potting.

I use a bark-based mix with perlite and pumice added for improved aeration, drainage,
and durability. With this mix, I don't have to stake or support my newly re-potted trees.
The grit, being abrasive, is also excellent for inducing root-branching and development.

After re-potting, keep your tree in a protected/sheltered location - out of direct sun and
out of the wind - for one to two weeks. The cooler temps encourage root-development in the
new mix, and your tree is less likely to drop leaves if the sun isn't beating on it.

I added a small amount of Osmocote to my soil-mix and I will formally fertilize in two weeks,
right around the time that I start moving the tree back into stronger sunlight.


    Bookmark   April 23, 2010 at 9:59AM
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Strong work Josh!!!. Good advice!

How is the tree looking these days?


    Bookmark   April 23, 2010 at 10:18AM
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jojosplants(9/ Tucson, Az.)

Get over to Jodi's! Pics there! :)

Good to see you..;)

    Bookmark   April 23, 2010 at 10:25AM
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I read in a few threads on this forum that when transplanting lemon trees it's essential to make sure to get rid of as much of existing soil as possible so that there aren't two different layers of soil which would restrict the root growing. Maybe they were only referring to repotting after a few years, not fresh out of the nursery?

But also like Josh said, even before I was about to seriously meddle with the root, the soil kinda just fell off and a part of the root ball fell with it. After that I didn't dare to touch it much.

I noticed that this plant doesn't really have a distinct trunk above the rootball. The tree starts branching off immediately on top of the rootball, giving me almost no space to pile soil on top of the rootball.

I did my best to sprinkle soil on the root ball but they rolled off after a few days. As a result the top of the rootball is pretty much exposed. My soil is also mostly barks with perlite, but the rootball is too shallow to support the tree, especially when there's no soil on top of the rootball. I don't know if staking helps much because the tree is pretty straight after I put the brick on the rootball.

So if I were to replace this tree, I should just repot (I need to repot it to a bigger pot or else it's really ugly) the new tree without losing any nursery soil into my new mix?

    Bookmark   April 28, 2010 at 9:13PM
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Just saw this thread,
and it was mentioned again that be sure to clean the roots of soil before planting the tree in the gritty mix. But Al was telling me not to disturb the root when repotting? I'm confused as to what's the correct thing to do? I know my mix was not exactly gritty mix but closer to 5-1-1 mix. Is that what made the difference? When repotting to the 5-1-1 mix, we shouldn't lose the original soil on the rootball?

    Bookmark   May 6, 2010 at 5:03PM
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If I had a newly purchased citrus that the soil "fell off" the roots when removed from the container I would return it to the nursery for a refund. The citrus I have purchased were all completely container grown and well rooted in their containers. Al

    Bookmark   May 7, 2010 at 9:01AM
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I have a 3rd season dwarf navel orange tree and a 2nd season meyer lemon tree purchased from a major online retailer. I don't recall either being delivered with potting mix but I'm not sure. The orange tree is very light-weight so I probably purchased the mix specifically for "cactus, palms and citrus". The lemon tree is significantly heavier. 2 weeks ago I replanted the lemon tree adding a great deal of perlite to lighten the mix. It was still heavy so last week I repotted with a great deal of vermiculite and peat moss. Still heavy and retaining moisture. My question(finally!):dare I try repotting again with the specially formulated mix which I see includes a great deal of sand? I realize now that good drainage is very key.

    Bookmark   May 7, 2010 at 5:08PM
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Al, yes I'll return it to the nursery but I want to learn something from this experience. To this date I still don't know if it was me or the tree haha.

I recorded the root condition. You can see how shallow the root ball is and why I couldn't bury it any deeper. Most importantly, please check out the roots and let me know if they're all dead. They look brown and dried up to my eyes so I don't think any amount of watering, fertilizing or repotting could save it, but I have zero experience so I'd appreciate your inputs!

Is there anything I can do? Should I trim off the brown roots off? But if that's the case the tree won't be able to support itself at all, as you'll see in my video the anchor root is not centered at all...

    Bookmark   May 7, 2010 at 5:13PM
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It is strange looking. Usually I can see the graft, but this one must be below the soil as it branches almost at the soil level. Why the roots are shaped as they are, I can't figure. From the picture I can't tell how much of the root is dead. Meyer lemon is a tough plant and I am sure it could be saved, if that is your only option. From the caliper of the trunk this must have in a three to five gallon container and not cheap. To save it I would plant it so the trunk was vertical, and stake it that way. The left hand side of the rootball may end up out of the ground and may have to trimmed if it dries out. You will have to water it every day or two until the roots grow into the new soil. I would keep it in a shady place until the tree recovers. Use a weak fertilizer with every other watering and water until the water can be seen coming out of the container, even though the roots are very shallow. This will be necessary to prevent a salt build up in the mix and to be sure the mix is equally moist. If available where you live use a citrus labeled fertilizer containing the minors citrus require. Al

    Bookmark   May 8, 2010 at 10:54AM
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How big a rootball of a7 yr old lemon tree is? How far off the fence should it be planted?(

    Bookmark   August 24, 2013 at 5:28AM
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tarek1 I notice you are a new member, welcome to the GardenWeb. It would be better if you started a new thread instead of bringing back one from 3 years ago. Did you buy a true dwarf tree that will not get any taller than 8 feet and how high is the fence? If your tree will get to a diameter of 8 feet, you would not want the trunk any closer than 4 feet from the fence. If your fence is solid I would want the fence to the north to get full sun on the tree. Citrus normally grow right down to the ground and should be pruned so the branches do not actually touch the ground. Al

    Bookmark   August 24, 2013 at 9:49AM
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Thank u Calistoga very much for your useful reply .. Looking forward for more contact in the future ......

    Bookmark   September 5, 2013 at 10:44AM
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