Coffee tree pruning

bunnygurl(Z3)May 5, 2010

So I have a Coffea arabica (Coffee Tree) that was lush and a beautiful green, until I potted it up from a 4in pot to a 6in pot. After I potted it, its lower leaves began to yellow and drop, but the top new growth was fine.

So details/question:

I changed the soil from what it originally came in from the nursery (bought it in Feb last year) to a 60% regular bagged soil (I'm sure there's better but this works for me) and 40% perlite. I've read that some plants are sensitive to perlite. Is this plant one of them? Were the old leaves just sensitive to the new perlite so they dropped?

Secondly, now it has a large bare spot in the middle, actually pretty much from the base of the plant to 3/4 of the way up where the new growth is (lush and beautifully green). So I wanted to cut it way back into the bare part, but I love this plant and don't want it to stay bare 'cause it doesn't back bud. Does it? Will it resprout like, for example, a Schefflera?

Thanks for any and all help. Always much appreciated. Picture can be made available if it would help.

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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

I don't understand. The odds certainly favor the idea that the issue you are facing is soil-related, but you sort of warn everyone that you're not too willing to consider it might actually be the soil because you feel 'it works for me'. I can't think of many things that might have caused the problem that weren't soil related other than under-watering or a nutritional deficiency.

A healthy coffee plant will back-bud reliably if you prune it hard at the right time. Stressed plants are less reliable in their back-budding. The best strategy would be to get the plant outdoors as soon as temperatures allow and let the plant develop some energy reserves before you prune it hard, but that won't be easy if you have to work around whatever cultural issue caused the stress/strain in the first place.

You've eliminated a pest infestation as a possibility?


    Bookmark   May 5, 2010 at 8:52PM
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The reason I said 'it works for me' it because many of my other plants are potted in this mix and they showed no signs of anything. Except one, my Dracaena marginata, which did the same thing with its lower leaves. They yellowed and dropped, but it's since stopped and shows no signs of continuing.

I apologize. I didn't actually mean to sound all knowing and unwilling to consider soil issues. I just don't necessarily see that if it's a soil issue how only one (two if you count the Dracaena) plant can be affected unless it's a particularly sensitive plant.

So the top growth (new and older top-most) looking healthy isn't necessarily an indication of anything, except perhaps the issue hasn't reached that far yet?

I did think of pests, but after checking each leaf top and under and every nook and cranny, I came up empty handed. I even do a sweep of every leaf that drops and don't find anything odd except that it's yellow, and obviously, not attached to the plant.

Thanks for your time and patience with me. =)

    Bookmark   May 5, 2010 at 9:52PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

I won't beat you up about the soil, but I have to say that your choice of soil is about the most important consideration you'll make regarding your plantings. All the other cultural issues can be easily changed or improved, but once your plant is in a particular soil, it's stuck there until you change it.

I'll help you with the 'usual suspects' >>>>>>> Yellow leaves are usually an indication A) you are under-watering, B) the soil is too water retentive/you are over-watering. Lack of air in the root zone compromises root function/metabolism/efficiency and makes it difficult for the plant to absorb water. The plant essentially dies of thirst in a sea of plenty, the symptoms of which are yellowing and shedding leaves as the plant grows desperate to conserve moisture and reacts to the need by trying to get your attention by throwing its leaves at you. C) there is a high level of salts in the soil from fertilizers and tapwater, usually being exacerbated by the need to water in sips to prevent the immediately above from occurring. Symptoms are the same as immediately above because the plant is reacting to the same drought stress. D) there is a nutritional deficiency - usually N. Nutrients that are mobile in the plant (NPK are all mobile in the plant. Most of the others are not, or are only marginally mobile) are stolen from older foliage and translocated to new foliage so the plant can "grow". The plant may not actually be 'growing', because growth is measured in how much the biomass of the plant has increased, not by the fact that new leaves are occurring and the plant is extending. If 1 leaf falls and another appears, that is stasis, not growth. E) if you recently moved the plant from a bright location to a location with less light, the plant may shed foliage.

Your answer is probably in there somewhere. Eliminate the possibilities you are sure it cannot be and narrow the list of possibilities. Hopefully, you'll settle on one as the distinct culprit.

Good luck, BG.


    Bookmark   May 6, 2010 at 8:27AM
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Ok...well let's see.

A) I am bad for under-watering. When it was in its smaller pot it'd dry out too fast, I'd miss watering it on time and it'd droop pretty bad, but it never dropped any leaves until I changed into a larger pot with different soil.
B) I don't think it's over-watering 'cause the soil drains quite quickly and when wet, and squished in your hand it doesn't stick in a ball. It falls apart. and I think that's good, how it should be, correct?
C) Can't be fertilizer 'cause I haven't fertilized it yet. Tapwater, could be, but I don't water in sips. I water thoroughly until the water runs out the drainage holes.
D) Nutritional deficiency, maybe. It's lost roughly equal, maybe a couple more, leaves compared to the number of 'new growths' up top. If this may be it, how do I fix it. A nutritional deficiency makes me think 'feed it', but I don't like feeding plants that are healthy. Can soil suck nutrients out of a plant?
E) If anything, it's getting slightly more light as it's grown under a grow light, assisted by an East window, and it got raised closer to the light when put in a bigger pot. The light does not eminate very much heat at all, and it's not burning the leaves.

So I'm thinking perhaps either C with the tapwater or E...

    Bookmark   May 6, 2010 at 6:38PM
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I had another thought whilst giving a Thanksgiving Cactus a larger pot.

When I was taught to transplant by my mother, she always told me to tease the roots out so that they don't think they're confined anymore and begin to explore their larger home.

Now I'm thinking, possibly, in the process of teasing out the roots, could I have damaged/broken some/a bunch causing the plant to not have enough viable roots to sustain the amount of foliage up top? Could it be dropping leaves to match what's up top with what's down below?

Should I perhaps stop playing around with the roots when I repot all together?

    Bookmark   May 6, 2010 at 8:24PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Fertilize it. The roots aren't suffering from the potting up. If I was the one repotting it, I would have waited until June, bare-rooted the plant & removed half of it's roots, concentrating on the largest roots, then returned it to a similar size pot.

If you are watering to the point where the water is draining freely from the bottom of the soil, you should be fertilizing at half strength (any 3:1:2 ratio fertilizer is best. Examples include 24-8-16, 12-4-8, 9-3-6) every two weeks - even every week is ok when the plant is growing robustly. Don't let the plant sit in a saucer while it's draining. Raise it above the saucer or set it over the sink. It does no good to flush the soil and then let the salt concentration in the soil equalize with the salt concentration in the saucer because the pot is sitting in a puddle of saltwater.

Your plant is almost certainly robbing N from older foliage to support emergence of new leaves, then shedding the old foliage. Container growing is very close to hydroponics in that YOU need to assume responsibility for ALL your plants' nutritional needs - you can't depend on the soil to supply nutrients. It won't work.


    Bookmark   May 6, 2010 at 9:24PM
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I was also taught not to fertilize for a while after repotting to give the plant time to adjust to its new home. So this is not always the case?

I use Schultz liquid plant food. The ratio is slightly off. 10-15-10...that's actually quite off isn't it? Should I find a new food or will this suffice?
That's another mistake I'm making. I always leave the plants in their saucers when watering. I empty the water right away, but still...I see what you're saying.

So, I'll feed it. When would it be safe/advisable to cut it back? I'm gonna guess when it puts out new growth without dropping an abundance of leaves, correct? And I will put it outside in a shaded spot to help it recover as soon as I's still snowing here...*sigh*.

    Bookmark   May 6, 2010 at 11:13PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Generally it is a good idea to withhold fertilizer for a couple of weeks after repotting because it promotes root colonization of the entire soil mass, but this doesn't hold true when the plant has only been potted up and is shedding foliage due to a probable N deficiency. It's appropriate to fertilize your plant.

About the 10-15-10 ratio. NO plants use more P (middle number) than N (first number). Both tissue analysis of plants and the actual utilization of elements is very close to a ratio of 10:1.5:7, which after being adjusted by the factors of .43 and .83 for P and K respectively because P is reported as phosphorous pentoxide and and K reported as potassium oxide, is almost exactly 3:1:2, the same ratio common to the fertilizers 24-8-16, 12-4-8, and 9-3-6.

Here are some bits of information about nutrition from a work by Dr C Whitcomb, PhD:

"When other factors that can limit growth are not limiting, it is the combination and interaction of 12 nutrient elements that are responsible for energy production and growth in plants." This clearly illustrates that how elements are combined, their ratio to each other, is essential to optimal growth.

"The more precisely the 12 essential nutrient elements are synchronized relative to plant needs, the more rapid growth occurs." Again, clearly stating that ratios are critically important to most rapid growth.

"Excess of ANY nutrient ...... is as undesirable as a deficiency." I this case (10-15-10), P is represented at approximately 9x what the plant can use in relation to N.

"When Temperature, growth medium, moisture, drainage, oxygen to the roots and all other factors are optimum or at least reasonable, all, or nearly all plants grow best with the same proportions of nutrients. Plants grow at different rates, but the rate of uptake and utilization of the 12 essential nutrients is the same." This clearly agrees with what I said about all plants using very close to the same ratio of nutrients.

Just be patient & let the plant build up some energy reserves & it will respond readily to a hard reduction this summer. Hopefully, as the light gets stronger and you increase the N, the plant will show some lateral breaks to replace the lost foliage. FWIW - a nitrogen deficiency inhibits lateral growth (back-budding).


    Bookmark   May 7, 2010 at 6:24PM
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Why do they even make a fertilizer with that ratio if it's as bad as a deficiency? Schultz is a well-known brand. You'd think they'd know better.

So a fertilizer with the proper ratio (I'll hunt that down) and some time. Hopefully this fixes the problem.

Poor little plant, suffering because of my lack of knowledge. But no more! Now that I have drunk from the fountain of knowledge that is you, Al, I can do better. My leafy children and I thank you deeply. Dunno where we'd be without you.

Thank you thank you!

    Bookmark   May 7, 2010 at 7:00PM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

The reason that all these specialty fertilizers are produced is because all fertilizer manufacturers need do is put a picture of a tomato or a flower with a bazillion blooms on it and people will buy into the hype. To be fair, plants do tend to take what they need and leave the rest, but the 'rest' that remains in the soil affects growth.

Here is an example. Several fertilizer manufacturers make a bloom-booster fertilizer that is 10-52-10. Plants use 6x more N than P, so how can you appropriately supply N without over-supplying P. You can't. When your plant needs it's second application of N, you have to supply 52 parts of P for every part of N - that's 30+ times more P than the plant can use in relation to N ..... PLUS the excess P that was carried over from the first application.

Excess P also inhibits N uptake, as well as all the micro-nutrients - especially Fe (iron) and Mn (manganese). Inhibition of the uptake of these elements causes chlorosis (yellowing), so you think you need more fertilizer, but when you add it, you're compounding the problem and making matters worse. Excess P also raises media pH.

The 10-15-10 isn't as bad as the 10-52-10, but it still affects plants in the same way I described, only to a much lesser degree.

Thank you for the kind words.


    Bookmark   May 8, 2010 at 5:41PM
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A couple of things I noticed: (1) you say sometimes you forget to water & the plant gets dry, then you water til the water drains out the bottom. When soil is pretty dry it should be watered in stages by covering the top of the soil with water, waiting a while, then more & finally drenching it a time or two. When soil is dry water can run around dry spots in the soil & out the bottom so you think you've watered it but it is still dry in spots, maybe near the roots. (2) You say you don't like to feed a healthy plant. A healthy plant needs regular feeding. Never feed a sick plant. This has been the practice & recommendation of experts for longer than I can remember.
I have a coffee plant which I bought as a seedling a couple of years ago. It is planted in Miracle Gro soil with a little extra perlite (some is already in the soil) & a little soil conditioner in the form of pine bark, but not much. A little coarse sand can also be used in the soil which helps with drainage These thinngs really help drainage preventing the soil from clumping around the roots causing root rot. There are other brands of potting soil just as good but I would use one with slow release plant food which emits some nutrients as you water. I do supplement it about every 2 weeks with 1/2 strength plant food. I keep the tree on my back deck where it gets sun & shade during spring & summer & move it inside during winter. It has grown to about waist high. Looks beautiful. Good luck with yours!

    Bookmark   July 1, 2012 at 12:27PM
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As a further help, Bunnygurl, here is the link to a good site re. coffee plant cultivation:

    Bookmark   July 2, 2012 at 7:26AM
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tapla (mid-MI z5b-6a)

Anyone note this thread is more than 2 yrs old?


    Bookmark   July 2, 2012 at 12:55PM
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No, tapla, go on!!!

    Bookmark   July 2, 2012 at 3:13PM
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