Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Please Help My Citrus Tree!!

     We live in some amazing times!
As many of you know, I have a love/hate relationship with electronics, when they work they are fantastic. When they don't they are the biggest pain since aphids were discovered. Updates all the time, new models come out before the last ones even got broken in, the list goes on.
     However, they have made communication much easier! As The Citrus Guy, I literally get questions and comments from around the world. People send me pictures of their trees, sometimes because of a problem, sometimes just to show me what they are doing. I love them all. I truly enjoy helping folks with their issues and seeing what and how others grow their citrus.
     Today, I thought I would spend a little time, showing some of the interesting things that I deal with on a regular basis. I will not mention any names, nor places, but I will show you, and tell you, what you are looking at. So if you see something that looks familiar, it might be yours, or, if you have this problem and didn't know it, now you do. Sometimes things I get are very interesting and I really need to put my thinking cap on. The first one fits that category.
It is an ongoing situation, hopefully it will come out okay.
This person thought they may have had gummosis on their Meyer Lemon. Gummosis is the exuding of an amber colored sap oozing from small cracks in the infected bark. They read on the internet to cut it out and cut off the bark.

This is what they had done to the tree before they contacted me.
I wish they had contacted me first. After I got all of the details of what was going on, it looks like it was only a Copper Deficiency. With a copper deficiency twigs can develop blister-like pockets of clear gum at the nodes. As the twigs mature, a reddish brown or amber colored ooze may occur in the outer portion of the wood. Severely affected twigs commonly die back from the tip with new growth appearing as multiple buds. The jury is still out as to whether this tree will survive.
     Which brings me to another point of this article, spread the word! If you know somebody that has, or if you have some citrus trees yourself, and have some kind of problem, drop me a line. Pass my e-mail address around,, send them to my BLOG, my WEBSITE, or my FACEBOOK PAGE, I am happy to help and it might save a tree.
     The next one is a situation I had only dealt with one other time prior. Half the grapefruit tree was dying, apparently for no reason. It was fairly well established, being fed and watered properly, but still continued to decline. After I recommended cutting the dead branches off and look for some kind of borer or insect issues, they sent this picture.

     Now I knew what was wrong. Sooty Canker. It is also called branch wilt or limb wilt. It causes cankers, wilting and dieback in tree branches. Leaves on the affected branches are often small, wilt and die during the summer. Brownish, moist areas appear on the limbs during the first stages of the disease, then the bark in these areas crack or peels away revealing black masses of fungal spores. Massive pruning, fungicides and lots of finger crossing is about all you can do at this stage. Again, the jury is still out on this case.
     This next one had me stumped for a while. It was a Pomelo that the bark was literally being eaten off of the tree. I thought maybe deer at first, but this was in a very small courtyard and there was absolutely no way a deer could get in. Then insects were my next prime suspect, but it was very extensive, and there were teeth marks.

     Yes, rats ended up being the culprit. If there is not much food or water around for them they will revert to eating the bark off of trees. I have seen them do it to hibiscus trees.
     Some of the issues I deal with are quite common, which makes it easy for me. As you may or may not know, the majority of citrus trees are grafted. The scion (top yummy part) and the rootstock (root section, not usually yummy) are the players in this game. The tree is bought, taken home and grows. Sometimes, due to neglect, wicked bad weather, or disease issues, the scion dies. The rootstock on the other hand continues on. So, I will get the question of, "My (insert citrus name here) at one time produced wonderful delicious fruit." A couple of years ago I (insert scion killing entity here), but it came back and now the fruit is nasty, bitter, and full of seeds. What is wrong?

Enter exhibit A- Poncirus trifoliata. The first clue is usually the leaves. Common citrus trees are one piece, maybe with a large petiole (the lower portion of the leaf). The Poncirus is trifoliate, three "leaves". This is a better example.

     So if the leaves from your tree that have come back look different, you may have a rootstock growing. When this happens, you have three choices:
1) Allow the rootstock to grow-it will produce fruit, but it may taste like you are being poisoned. I promise you are not.
2) Learn to graft- find a friend that has a really tasty tree and get a small piece from them.
3) Dig it up, toss it and start over. Actually, if you are close to North Charleston, SC, call me, I can use it.
     As the final issue for today, if this becomes popular I may do a sequel, I present the misidentified disease.
     Citrus Greening is a VERY nasty disease that effects citrus. It is literally killing thousands of trees all around the world and there is no cure for it. So, understandably, when folks see something going on that does not look right, human nature fears the worst. I can not even begin to tell you how many times I get an e-mail, phone call, or even at a lecture, a frantic client that thinks they have that greening disease, my tree is going to die, what can I do?!
     Luckily, I have yet to come across anybody that has had, thought a couple of times I had, but the tests came back negative. Greening disease mimics some nutritional deficiencies, so it is hard to tell sometimes. If the leaves are a mirror image of itself by folding it down the midrib, its nutritional.
But, like I said, human nature fears the worst, and more times than not, this is what I am looking at.

     See the gnarly looking leaves that have a tunnel like line running through it? This is citrus leafminor. Citrus leafminors are the larvae of small, silvery-white moth that flies around at night. Adult females lay single eggs on the undersides of the new flush of growth. The eggs hatch in just 4 or 5 days. The larvae then burrow their way through the epidermis layers of the leaves creating tunnels that appear as white trails running throughout the leaves. This feeding activity causes the leaves to curl and become misshapen. Older citrus trees typically tolerate the feeding damage without reduced crop yield or plant growth. Young trees sometimes suffer stunted growth but rarely die from their injuries. Luckily it is just a cosmetic damage. Other than netting, the best way to at least slow down this pest is with Neem oil. If you can't find any locally, you can get it online here Neem Oil. You spray it on the undersides of the new flush of growth, she doesn't like mature leaves, and the moth will not lay her eggs on the oily surface. Do not spray any horticultural oil if the temperature is above 75 degrees, it will cook the leaves.
     So there it is, some of the more interesting issues that pertain to growing citrus from around the world. I was really glad to have been able to help all these people, and the many others that I did not mention here.
Keep the pictures, issues, and problems coming folks!
I will be glad to help, if you are having an issue, surely somebody else is too!
     If there is enough interest, I will do a sequel. There are many more interesting, and maybe not so interesting things that I have seen that I can share.
Don't forget to follow me on Facebook or go to my growing Instagram page and check out some of the pictures from my yard.
I look forward to answering any questions pertaining to this, or any of my other articles.
Happy Growing!

Thursday, August 17, 2017

MORE Bad Weeds!!

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Here We Go Again!
     As if Chamberbitter was not bad enough, there is ANOTHER bad weed popping up all over the place. It is probably right under your nose, or over your head, depending on how far along it has gotten. 
                                                  Have you seen this plant/leaf?
                                       If spotted, remove immediately!!
Photo by Darren Sheriff

It is not armed, but can be dangerous to your yard.

This plant is Sapium sebiferum, also know as the Chinese Tallow Tree, or Popcorn Tree. Why do they have to ruin the reputation of a good food by associating it with a bad plant!?!?
You can also find it still listed as Triadica sebifera, but the Sapium sebiferum is the proper name.
     The Popcorn tree is native to China and Japan where it has been cultivated for its useful seeds and as an ornamental for more than a thousand years. It is said that Benjamin Franklin introduced it into the United States in 1776 for use of its waxy tallow in soaps and candles.
It is a deciduous tree (loses its leaves) that may reach 60 feet in height. The bark is a light gray. It has heart-shaped leaves with a pointed tip. 

Photo by Darren Sheriff
Slender, drooping spikes up to 8 inches long appear from April to June. 

Photo Courtesy of Mississippi State University

In Fall the leaves turn brilliant shades of scarlet, orange, yellow and maroon.

     Popcorn Trees can invade a variety of habitats ranging from swampy to saline waters, and from full sun to shade situations. It is often found growing along roadsides, coastal areas, and streams. Larger specimens can produce up to 100,000 seeds that may be eaten and dispersed by birds, facilitating the spread. Native species are crowded out once the Chinese Tallow becomes established. The leaves and fruit are toxic to cattle and cause nausea and vomiting in humans.

     It tolerates almost any soil and can grow 5 feet tall in its first year. They are considered moderately drought tolerant. However, It was planted as a street tree in California where it apparently has not yet become invasive, perhaps because of insufficient rainfall.

      Why have they become so invasive, first off, being that they are a native of Eastern Asia, which is the same latitudes as the Southeastern U.S. they love the growing conditions here, but primarily because of the seeds that are readily eaten and dispersed by birds. The seeds also float and can be carried easily by rivers, streams, and storm water runoff to new destinations and virtually all of them will germinate somewhere. 
The seeds are in a fruit that are 3 lobed, brown capsules, 1/2 inch in diameter, when mature the outer part splits revealing 3 white waxy seeds that resemble popcorn, hence its common name. 

Photo Courtesy of

They mature in late Summer to early Fall.

     If all of this is not bad enough, The leaves produce allelopathic chemicals that will change soil content and therefore making the area uninhabitable to native species.
It has gotten so bad that, the State of Florida lists the Popcorn Tree or Chinese Tallow as a noxious weed and prohibits its introduction, movement or release.
     To kill these things, cut the tree down and immediately paint the stump with a triclopyr herbicide such as Brush-B-Gon, Garlon, Pathfinder, Chopper or something like Roundup Poison Ivy Plus Tough Brush Killer. Make sure you follow the label directions or get a certified professional to apply these. Results also can be obtained by spraying the bark in a 6 inch wide band all around the base of the trunk with one of the triclopyr herbicides. I don't usually suggest such harsh treatment because of the danger it can pose to the homeowner and the landscape, BUT, tests of simply cutting down the trees resulted in extensive root and stump sprouting. Before applying any herbicide, read the label!! I can not emphasize this enough. 
This is nasty tree. Yes, it has pretty Fall foliage and can be used for some good shade. Tree species recommended that are similar in size to Chinese Tallow include Maples (Acer spp.) and Crape Myrtles (Lagerstroemia spp.). Might I also suggest to use an Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis), or a Red Mulberry (Morus rubra) instead. Even though it is considered a messy tree, at least the Red Mulberry will give you something good to eat!
If you have any questions regarding this or any of my other articles, please don't hesitate to drop me a line to
Happy Growing!

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Bad Weed

NO, not THAT one!!
What is a weed?
     A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.  ~Ralph Waldo Emerson
Well, I really wish that somebody would find the virtue of the plant I want to discuss today!
I have actually been asked a half dozen times in the past couple of weeks, what IS this thing!?
It seems to really be bad this year.
The plant?
Phyllanthus urinaria a.k.a Chamberbitter

     This weed is a real pain to get rid of, everyone gripes about it, there is even another common name for it....Gripeweed. They resemble Mimosa trees, which is also an invasive weed in some places.
Chamberbitter is a warm-season, annual, broadleaf weed that emerges from warm soils beginning in early summer. I am assuming that, because of the fairly warm winter last year, we are experiencing a bumper crop this year.
     It has an upright growth habit and a very well defined taproot. Being more of a tropical plant that loves hot weather and can tolerate drought conditions, it is very at home in the southern landscape. It is a member of the Euphorbiaceae family and has the sticky, milky sap like many of the different Spurge weeds that we deal with here in the south.
What makes this thing hard to deal with?
     First it is a very tough plant that grows fast, is drought tolerant, produces seed in just a few weeks and it produces an abundant amount of them. The seeds, which are found in the green, warty-like fruit attached to the underside of the branch explode, they throw seed in many directions away from the plant thus allowing it to spread over a larger area.

     Look at those little bombs, just waiting to spread themselves.
The control of Chamberbitter is through a combination of mechanical, cultural, and chemical methods.
     Mechanical is usually the easiest. Pull them by hand and do not allow them to go to seed. As soon as you see them emerging, pull them up. They will pull out easily if the soil is wet but tend to break off if the soil is too dry. Do not put these in your compost bin, it will probably not get hot enough to destroy the seeds. Burn them or throw them in the trash.
     Some of the cultural methods of eradication involve putting down two to three inches of mulch in the spring to cover seeds from the previous season. Chamberbitter seeds require light to germinate, so this is fairly effective. In your lawn, if you keep it healthy, mow regularly at the proper height, and feed it correctly, there should not be much problem there.
      Chemical control involves the use of herbicides. Both pre-emergent and post-emergent may needed if you are over run with this weed.
     In the case of a pre-emergent, timing is the most important thing. It is too late now, early August, but next spring when the soil temperatures start to rise, remember these seeds need very warm soil to germinate, you can order Bayer Advanced 704050 from Amazon if you can not find it locally.
Glyphosate (Roundup Weed and Grass Killer) will kill it but you have to be careful to keep the chemical off nearby foliage. You can paint it on with a paintbrush, wear gloves and brush it on the leaves. In a lawn, broadleaf weedkiller (Ortho Weed B Gon Weed Killer) applied twice, seven days apart, is also effective. Just be absolutely sure that you read and follow the directions on any chemical, it is the law!
     Hopefully, you do not have much, or any, for that matter, of this nasty weed in your landscape. Prevention is the best action, just keep an eye out for it, and try not to introduce it if at all possible.
     If you are not sure if a plant you are looking at is a weed or a wanted plant, just remember this quote by that famous Author, Unknown.....When weeding, the best way to make sure you are removing a weed and not a valuable plant is to pull on it. If it comes out of the ground easily, it is a valuable plant.
     As always, if you have any questions concerning this, or any of my other articles, please feel free to ask. Also, don't forget to follow me on FACEBOOK
Happy Growing!