Q. I live in Michigan, so our experience with citrus is non-existent, and there are no experts in our area, but you come recommended as someone who might be able to give me some advice.
I have a small
potted orange tree with a few leaves that have turned light colored
along the edges. They aren’t yellow or brittle as one might expect in
the case of iron deficiency, but are shiny and flexible like the rest of
I bought the tree on a lark, never expecting it to survive, but it thrives except for these few leaves.
plant is outside, on the east side of the house when the temperatures
will stay about 40ºF. The rest of the time (about 7 months a year) it
is inside, on an east facing but brightly lit porch. It has never been
The tree has been potted for 2 ½ years. I have
not re-potted it. It is about 14” tall. It was originally potted in
soil that was 50% commercially prepared potting soil and 50% composted
Our water is very alkaline, so during the winter I
water with black tea, made with distilled water and fertilize at about
half strength with Miracle Grow. During the summer I water with
rainwater and fertilize with the rest of my plants, again using Miracle
Grow, this time at recommended strength.
Have you any suggestions for me? Any advice would be appreciated.
A. It will be fun for you to grow a citrus in Michigan. I am originally
from Wisconsin so I can understand your interest in having a citrus
growing in Michigan. First of all make sure the container is large
enough for your tree. It will need to be fairly large.
the tree should be removed from the container every 2 to 3 years and
wash some of the soil away from the roots. Cut off some of the roots
near the outer edges and repot the citrus in the container using new
potting soil. In two or three years the organic matter content of the
soil in a container will be gone. The soil would become more compact and
the roots of the tree will begin to suffocate. Water will not flow
through the container as easily as before. The air spaces around the
roots collapse. Root rot begins to set in and this usually causes leaves
to start scorching on the edges, yellowing and falling from the tree.
Repotting the tree every 2 to 3 years and trimming off some of the
excess roots helps to keep the tree young and vigorous. Using new soil
increases the air spaces around the roots and helps keep them healthy.
When you take the tree out of the container, look at the roots. Healthy
roots are creamy white. Roots that are beginning to die turn brown.
you repot the citrus also reduce the size of the canopy or top of the
tree. Look at stems that are too close together or on top of each other
and remove them totally. Avoid giving the tree a "Butch haircut". You
will generally thin out the branches and open the canopy. If some of the
limbs are too long, cut them back so they are shorter and reshape the
Leave the citrus out in the container outside as
many months as you possibly can during the spring, summer and fall. They
can take reduced sunlight for maybe two or three months but no longer
than this. It sounds like to me you are keeping them inside too long. If
you have a warm spell during the winter when it's not freezing, put it
outside and let it get lots of sunlight. The tree will store this energy
inside of its trunk and limbs and live off of it for a time when light
level is low and inside the home. If you can put a florescent light
close to it, a few inches away, leave it on for 12 to 14 hours or longer
each day when it's inside. This will help a lot.
problem on citrus are scale insects, usually brown scale. Look for
these brown bumps on leaves and stems. If you find them, use a
horticultural oil and spray the leaves and stems with it about once a
month and you will start to see the populations of this insect decrease.
Brown scale and root rot because of watering too often or poor drainage
and a lack of sunlight are the worst problems.