Thursday, April 22, 2010

Fixing the root of the problem

I have been delaying this for a while, but when one of my potted citrus trees started dropping leaves/flowers/potential fruits like a dying thing and appeared to be constantly dried out despite a watering only the day before.  I knew it was the time I've been dreading:

Root pruning.  *sigh*

I was rather intimidated to mess with all that stuff under the soil (and to see the mess that it was in) but for the health of my tree (and the fact that I don't want to keep buying bigger and bigger pots as I have to haul these babies in every winter in a not so big  house) it had to be done.

My 2 largest citrus trees (a navel orange and star ruby grapefruit) have been in pots for the past 3 years, I have known (and once again, dreading) the past 2 years as to when I would have to give the ladies a trim "down there"(it's been hard not to make jokes about it!) roots some pruning.  I had a feeling it would be this year and waited and waited, especially when they went into heavenly fragranced flower (which I lovingly hand pollinated in hopes for fruit after a fruitless 3 years ;).

Prior to the root pruning, all was going swimmingly with the trees, it then went south (literally) very quickly recently and all the flowers/fruit from the ruby star grapefruit fell off as well as 85% of the leaves (mostly old ones at least).  So, instead of deciding to root prune both trees (as the navel orange looks like there's hope of some fruit still) I'm experimenting with the grapefruit first to see if my surgery becomes plant murder.

Having never had to root prune anything so large before I obviously did some research (2 years ago in preparation and so I re-reviewed it again) and decided to take someone's suggestion of doing this "wedge"/"pyramid" prune where you cut 3 sides of the outer roots in to form a pyramid/wedge root ball eventually.

Well, easy goes it...  Taking out the grapefruit tree from the pot, check.

 (pot bound, but not at bad as I thought)

 Shaking the soil from the roots, check again.

And now... cut.  Um, cut?

So, I sort of stood there for a few minutes in worried panic, but by this point, you can't just leave the tree or just shove it back into the pot, so I do what I always do when something needs to be done:  YOU JUST DO IT (<--no, no Nike sponsorship here, alas... hmm, Nike and gardening?  What a concept!)

So I started hacking, holding my breath as I went and finally, ta da!

A much lighter (I could easily hold this up with one hand now) and hopefully still alive grapefruit tree.

(look at all them roots cut!)

 I gave it some happy extra potting soil, added most of the old stuff back it (had really good drainage already) and put the old mulch on top again, then watered thoroughly until everything sank and settled down.

This post-operative plant patient will now be given a couple to few days of rest in the sunroom, out of exposure to harsh light and maybe a light martini (hey, it's not as bad for them as you think, minus the vermouth though).

I think in a week or two I'll give it a light dose of some liquid fertilizer to buck it up again and hope that root wounds have mostly healed up.

The true test will be this winter.  We'll see if it flowers again!  The root pruning might affect that, but hey, citrus tree and I have a long life ahead of us.

Link of interest: