Root-pruning a potted citrus?

kathleenon(Z5b Ontario)July 29, 2008

I've a 22 year old citrus tree/plant that desperately needs attention. It summers outdoors in light shade and winters indoors. It hasn't been repotted in about 10 years. The top has been pruned, but not very well. I'd like to try to rejuvenate this plant as my son grew it from seed when he was very young, so it has sentimental value. Can anyone advise?

Thanks... Kathleen

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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

I would start a 3 year plan now. I would depot and remove the bottom 1/3 of the root mass with a saw. I would then remove all the soil and roots from 3 wedge-shaped areas around the roots that total 1/3 of the remaining roots. Return the tree to the same pot with an appropriate soil and site it in shade temporarily until it's ready for the full sun it wants. I would repeat the procedure again next summer, removing the soil from 3 different wedges and finally complete the soil replacement at the 3rd procedure in spring of 2010 by removing the final 1/3 of the soil in the last 3 wedges.

You'll notice an immediate improvement in vitality after the first procedure. If you wish to avail yourself of additional guidance and need/want more details, let me know.

Have you read the Trees in Containers thread yet?


    Bookmark   July 29, 2008 at 11:26AM
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kathleenon(Z5b Ontario)

My sincere thanks for the advice, Al. I'll get busy with pruning the tree within the next couple of days. I had not seen the Trees in Containers thread and I'll review it later (and refer all subsequent enquiries about my citrus to that thread).

Thanks again,


    Bookmark   July 29, 2008 at 11:52AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Ohhh! - it wasn't my intent ..... to leave you feeling like you should take your inquiries to another thread. ;o) I just thought there would be some tidbits there you might find interesting. I am, and I'm sure everyone else is pleased as punch that you've started your own thread.

Good luck.


    Bookmark   July 29, 2008 at 2:58PM
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Al, just curious; is there a specific reason you would prefer summertime to root prune broadleaved evergreens?

    Bookmark   July 29, 2008 at 3:58PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

I still prefer those early spring repots for BLEs, but what I gather from conversations with friends that grow lots of Citrus is that they don't seem to react much differently when you repot at different times of the year, except for the fact they do seem to have a mild preference for early spring. I just chose next summer & then spring for the work to give the plant close to a year (I was thinking 10 months as an interval in both cases) to reestablish & recover its vitality. If she repotted now, another repot this coming spring would probably be pushing redundant. If you notice, I worked toward getting her back on track with repotting in spring as soon as I thought it prudent - spring of 2010.

I also repot all my tropicals and subtropical trees and most pines in the heat of summer. I'm late finishing that chore this year and have 10 or so to go, but I'm hoping to be done this weekend.

I know a fair amount about trees and repotting/root work, but I'm admittedly less well-versed in the intricacies and details surrounding Citrus culture than many/most other genera. If your experience has shown you something other than what I said - I'm all ears (said genuinely).


    Bookmark   July 29, 2008 at 4:44PM
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kathleenon(Z5b Ontario)

No worries, Al. I did not feel that I was being chastised by your thread comment.

I've looked at potting mix recipes for the tree and, not having most of what's suggested on hand, I wonder if I could use 1/3 sharp sand (for drainage) and 2/3 compost? I know that citrus are heavy feeders, so I'm guessing it would benefit from the compost, but would 2/3 be too much?

    Bookmark   July 29, 2008 at 4:56PM
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If your experience has shown you something other than what I said - I'm all ears (said genuinely).

Oh no, Al, no more experience here. I was simply curious; and it's a curiosity with a practical implication.

You see, I'm in need of digging up an in-ground, smallish lemon tree which I will containerize. I was planning on doing it next spring, but you've given me some confidence to do it now. I rather think I would like to get it containerized before winter, anyway; I'm in a marginal climate for citrus, and I can protect it better in a pot.


    Bookmark   July 29, 2008 at 5:08PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

I'm sorry, K, but to be honest, I think any combination of sharp sand and compost would be a disservice to your tree. If that was all I had though, I would opt for about 8-10:1, sand:compost. I never use commercially bagged container soils/mixes, but I would opt for one of those before I would use a sand/compost mix.

Lots of folks are having very good results growing in a very gritty mix of equal parts by volume, of pine bark fines: Turface: crushed granite.


    Bookmark   July 29, 2008 at 5:16PM
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kathleenon(Z5b Ontario)

Your comment regarding sand/compost has been noted, Al. I'm glad I asked! I'm not sure that I'll be able to find Turface here. Can you recommend a substitute in the event that I can't? Additionally, I've just received 10 yards of freshly chipped cedar, which I use for mulch in my garden... may I replace the pine bark fines with chipped spruce bits?

    Bookmark   July 29, 2008 at 9:07PM
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Cathleen, Al is best to answer your last questions, but I'm here to help also. Go to Container Soils... for some detailed advice from Al.

Your cedar will not work well (I suspect), especially since it is freshly chipped, and probably contains a substantial amount of wood (instead of bark).

If you can't readily find Turface, or pine bark fines, you should be able to find ground or chopped pine bark mulch (not the whole nuggets, the chopped up ones are what you want). I buy this stuff in bags at Home Depot (don't know what's available to you in Ontario).

The chopped pine bark mulch is not exactly like the bark fines; it has a more heterogeneous range of particle sizes than the fines, so is a bit trickier to use (I suppose you could process it through a series of screens to select the ideal, but I find this too tedious).

When I must use the pine bark mulch, I mix 6 parts mulch with 1 part peat and 1 part perlite. Read the above link to suggest nutrients for this mix.

I find that this mix drains VERY fast, and you need to pay close attention to your watering habits so the stuff doesn't dry out.

Hope this helps!

    Bookmark   July 30, 2008 at 11:28AM
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