Waterlogged Meyer Lemon?

dgatesFebruary 22, 2012

About a year ago I purchased a meyer lemon tree. After I brought it inside in the fall it started losing some leaves. At first i attributed this to getting less light, colder temps, etc. However, I started noticing that it was starting to take longer and longer for the soil to dry between waterings. I use a hydrometer, and normally water it when it gets to dry about 2 inches below the surface. Previously this was about once a week. Recently it was still Wet after 2 weeks. I had already tried things i had found online such as putting it in a warmer location with good airflow, checking the drain holes to make sure they're not obstructed, putting holes down in the soil with a piece of wire to improve airflow, etc.

I decided it was time to repot with some better draining soil. When I dislodged the tree from it's pot I noticed that it does't seem to have a lot of roots (not nearly as much as my calamondon orange tree). What roots it does have are slightly brown as well. I loosened all of the dirt from the roots and repotted it in a cactus\citrus potting mix, and added extra perlite. The pot has plenty of drainage holes. I put it in the warmest spot in our house with decent light. After 2 weeks the hydrometer is still reading Wet. I also repotted my orange at the same time and it needed watered yesterday.

What is going on? Why can't I get this plant to drain?

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Dgates, I have a question.

Why are you using a hygrometer to determine soil? Do you mean a thermometer?

How does the soil feel to you? Perhaps your guage isn't working properly??

Lift the pot..is it heavy or light? Stick your finger and/or a stake deep within the soil. Does either come out wet? If soil is saturated, your finger/stake will be muddy. If soil is dry, your finger/stake will be clean and dry. Toni

    Bookmark   February 22, 2012 at 3:47PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

It's remaining wet because the plant isn't using much water (reduced root volume) and because the soil is probably very water retentive.

First, let me point out that (almost) everyone thinks that perlite improves drainage and aeration. It doesn't. What it does is reduce water retention because the perlite doesn't hold water internally. If you add a cup of perlite to 3 cups of peat, so the perlite is a full 25% of the soil, you'll have almost exactly the same drainage characteristics (flow-thru rate), the same amount of aeration, and the same ht of the perched water table. It's only when the perlite becomes >75-85% of the soil that you start to see anything significant, other than a reduction in o/a water retention, which is only a PIECE of the puzzle.

Trust your finger before the water gauge - or heft the pot to gauge when it's getting dry. For now, you might want to consider using a wick to help you rid the soil of excess water. Use your finger or a wood skewer stuck deep into the soil to check for when it's time to water.

If you want coaching on soils and maybe some guidance on how to make things a whole lot easier on yourself, let me know. I'll furnish you with some links to information rooted in sound science - or answer your questions if you have any.


What I grow some 250 trees & woody plants in:

    Bookmark   February 22, 2012 at 3:47PM
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Thanks Al,
I don't think that the mosture meter is too far off when it's still saying that it's wet - the pot is still hefty, and though the surface feels dry to the touch in places, everything below the surface feels damp to the touch.

Sounds like i could use some pointers on good container soil. I assumed that a product sold as potting soil for container grown cactus and citrus would be good a choice. And that adding some extra perlite (it already has some) would help improve that.
What would be my best course at this point? Put the plant through the stress of transplanting again so soon into some other mix? You had mentioned using a wick to rid the excess water?

Thanks for your help.

    Bookmark   February 22, 2012 at 4:15PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

I'm not sure I would repot right now. Stuffing a wick through the drain hole will help a LOT of the water to drain. If you only have a couple of plants, and they're small enough, the following will very effectively remove almost all the excess water from your soil:

Hold the plant over the sink at about shoulder height. Move the plant downward quickly; then, just before it hits the sink, reverse the direction of the pot and move it smartly upward. The water in the pot wants to keep moving down, so when you lift the pot, the water moves downward and out of the drain hole. After a few tries, you'll find the rhythm that works best.

Work on restraining that watering hand, but DO water until quite a bit of water exits the drain, then use Newton's first law, as described, to remedy the excessive water retention. If your plants are too big, let me know & we'll approach from another tack.

This link covers most of the basics important to growing well. If you want to gain a better understanding of soils and soil/water relationships, this link will offer a LOT of help, with an understanding of the information it contains probably representing the largest step forward a container gardener can take at any one time.


    Bookmark   February 22, 2012 at 4:40PM
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Wow, I've only had a chance to read the soil post, but I already wish i would have found this years ago. I'll definitely try to make it through the other one this afternoon as well.

In the mean time i do have one follow up question - now that i have this tree that seems to have suffered some root loss due to its growing conditions, other than treating the water retention issue, what is the best thing to help ensure it's survival? It currently has no fruit, but a lot of blooms, which seem to be doing fine. The leaves are not, however. I assume that means it's putting the energy it does have into flowering and developing fruit? Would it be better for the plant in the long run to remove the blooms before it starts fruiting?

Or is the best course at this point to just leave it a lone, give it plenty of light, water carefully, and hope it does well?

Thanks again for your knowledge.

    Bookmark   February 23, 2012 at 1:52PM
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Have you made sure your hydrometer is calibrated? I don't know what kind you are using but the kind I have gives a relative rather than definitive reading. So I have to calibrate it by putting it into soil I know is just moist enough and then setting the meter to read 5 (on a 1 to 10 scale) Or some people set them to read 10 in very wet soil. either way, it is a bit subjective.

    Bookmark   November 6, 2012 at 6:50PM
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