My soil is very heavy (clay). The tree is also located at the top of a very gentle grade (8 feet long with a descent of about 1 foot from the tree to the end of the grade.) I also have a colony of ants that have decided to make their home beneath my tree. Also, the tree’s leaves turn yellow, and in my first year that I had the tree I lost all the leaves. Any advice would be welcome.
!ital!– Ronald D’Ercola
A: Your letter raises several questions that novice — and even more experienced — gardeners often ask.
Under the circumstances you describe, “don’t worry’ is probably the best advice anyone could give you. The fact that your fruit tree has been in the ground two years and has yet to yield fruit is no reason to panic. Fruit trees often take that long or longer to acclimate themselves to soil conditions before they begin to produce.
The fact that your tree lost all its leaves after you planted it is no cause for alarm. When an evergreen tree such as a lemon loses its leaves, it is in response to lack of available water. If the tree was planted in a root-bound condition or if the roots were damaged when planting, you simply would not have the water-drawing capacity needed to keep leaves on the tree. Since you are now getting lots of flowers and green growth, your tree has, in all likelihood, finally been acclimated to your site, its roots are growing as they should, and a nice crop of lemons could be coming soon.
Citrus prefers fast-draining sandy loam, yet your soil problem may be offset, somewhat, by the fact that you planted at the top of a grade that would drain water away from your tree’s roots.
If you still do not see any fruit by the time summer arrives, you may want to consider carefully removing your tree with as much of its root ball as possible, amending the top 12 inches of soil and replanting. Summer would be the best time to do this, since that is when citrus is most actively growing and can quickly recover from the shock of being dug up and replanted.
The fact that your citrus leaves turn yellow is not unusual. Certain micronutrients — iron, zinc, magnesium, manganese — are not easily taken up by citrus roots when the soil, such as that in the Valley, is on the alkaline side. Use liquid seaweed or some other water-soluble fertilizer as a foliar spray in order to give your lemon the micronutrients it needs. Ants make their homes under trees and in flower pots that are not regularly watered. Regular watering will chase the ants away from your lemon tree.