Citrus in Containers with serious Nitrogen Deficiency - Need Advice

Hello Everyone,

This is my first year with citrus. We put 7 citrus trees on flying dragon rootstock in half barrels of citrus soil mix that I made myself from well draining constituents. The problem has been this year’s absurd weather patterns. The barrels are outside in full sun along a fence, and the northeast of the US, particularly central New York has had one of the rainiest, wettest July’s on record. There was a period in the early part of the month where it rained every single day at least once for 10 straight days. That’s unheard of for our summers. It feels more like Seattle than central New York.

My thinking is that the constant moisture in the citrus prevents them from taking up Nitrogen normally and the leaves have started to show it. Two have almost no green pigment left in their leaves and look horrible:

This week I’ve been trying to move them on carts in and out of the sun under an eaves to prevent them from being rained on. This isn’t a good solution because under our barn eaves the sun never shines. My Hail Mary could be to bring them physically indoors into a grow tent we have with artificial lights, but I’m not sure if that shock will just punish them even more. Our grow tent is 90 degrees during the day and 70 at night which isn’t ideal but I could at least control the water situation.

Any thoughts from experienced citrus growers. Are they too far gone given that they’re only in their first year in these containers?

This has been a hard year on my citrus as well due to the weather.

I like to foliar feed citrus with apparent severe deficiencies, along with a good fertilizing or fertigation regimen, depending on how you water. My real concern, though, would be to make sure the roots are in good order, depending on the soil mix this could be a problem in really wet seasons. If the trees had small-ish root systems and were then planted into a really big container it could exacerbate the issue and you could have some serious water retention problems that could lead to root rot

I don’t think the tree is too far gone at all, and I would avoid drastically changing the environment around if you could, it tends to create additional stress when they have to readjust to new lighting conditions, humidity, etc.


Thanks so much for that advice. I was definitely worried about stressing them more with a drastic move.
I’ve sprayed a low nitrogen urea on the leaves earlier in the week. I’m going to keep moving the worst ones out of the rain hoping for a stretch of warm sun to appear which is what July and August usually are around here.


The rain doesn’t keep them from taking up nitrogen it leaches it out of the mix. So several approaches. Apply organic materials that break down over time to provide constant N or apply a controlled release chemical fertilizer. Also you might want to place plastic or something else to shed all or part of the rain from reaching the media. Combining those two will hold more N around the roots rather than leaching it out.


Hi, I used to live in zone 7a-b and grew citrus in pots for 17 years. They spent the summers out doors and winters in the dining room. I used a citrus fertilizer that was liquid and fed them every two weeks. They grew quickly and produced quickly. I had them in very large pots. Your evenings are cool enough so they don’t need shade in summer. Are they in saucers? If so remove them during downpours. I grew two types of Meyer Lemons, Key Limes and blood oranges.


I’m going to follow that advice and place some organic citrus fertilizer under the mulch layer today. I was scared to fertilize in their first year but they need it.

They weren’t on saucers and have 6 large holes drilled in the bottom for drainage. When you fertilized with liquid was it foliar spray or applied to the media or both?

I think bopcrane has given you some good advice on the large container size not allowing the soil to dry properly. You might consider covering the containers when it rains to avoid having to move them.

Your soil mix may be less draining than you think and that will make it challenging when you bring the containers in for the winter. I’ve noticed that containers that seem to drain fine in the summer hold on to too much moisture during the winter.

For this reason I’ve been experimenting with using a very fast draining mix and watering daily. This has worked well with some kumquat seedlings that I have kept in the greenhouse (~5 hours sun & temps over 100 at times) all summer without problem. On the occasions that I was out of town for up to 6 days I kept the pots in a shallow tray of water in full shade. Upon return the plants look great.

Any idea why the leaf edges are browning? Does anyone reading this know if over fertilizing a nitrogen deficient plant could cause this?

If they were my plants I would transplant them into smaller pots with a very fast draining mix, transition them from shade to partial sun over a weeks’ time, and water daily with an occasional weak fertilizer solution.

Please keep in mind that I’m not a citrus expert and have only a year and a half experience growing them.

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It goes right into the soil. I have citrus in pots again now but my zone is 9a-b. I still fertilize every two weeks.

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Check soil PH. High PH inhibits Flying dragon from taking up some nutrients.


I agree with @BerryGuy that the size of the pots might be causing a problem. Citrus really dislike soggy roots.


I’m learning too late that a better option would have been to place them in pots half way the size between the gallon they came in and the final half barrel is like them to live in as adults.

Smart suggestion on pH, I’m going to do that.

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I planted a young Cara Cara orange plant in a 15 container (5 times the container size it came in). I used regular potting mix and Jobe’s 3-5-5 fertilizer. It’s been 3 months and no growth at all. The leaves aren’t as yellow as yours but it isn’t green either, looks very pale. The only thing I noticed was a bloom but I removed it to promote growth. But nothing so far.

There could be several reasons: large container holding moisture (like suggested here), transport shock, environment shock (it gets full 8 hours of sun and in a open windy location), black pot that heats up a lot, pH ( it’s 7+) etc.

I am thinking of transplanting it to a lighter colored pot with citrous potting mix, wood bark and some perlite (for better drainage), use higher nitrogen fertilizer (5-2-6 Citrus tone) and maybe some sulphur / soil acidifier to lower pH.

PS: I am a first time grower and this is what I have gathered so far from other threads in this community and other online sources.

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my potted citrus grow in distinct flushes then sit there not growing for a month or two. last year I had one not grow at all after planting then it didn’t wake up until the next year. it could just need time

controlled release fertilizer like osmocote is really good for anything potted, it ensures the plant gets a steady stream of nutrients even if it’s over watered. I use a local CRF mix with micros and everything is happy from a single large application in the spring


Decrees pot size to 3 gallons, Potting mix-- 5 part shredded pine bark fines, 1 part compost, 1 part perlite. Feed with Jacks 25-5-15 per instructions. Organic fertilizers don’t break down in potting mixes. Your tree is starving. The wet soils beyond the roots don’t dry out but grows citrus deadly pathogens. Check weight of pot when its dry then thoroughly soak in tub, Let it go until the pot is light weight again to get the proper drying needed to kill pathogens. Leave it in shady morning/evening sun for a few days to adjust to the new pot.![IMG_0376|690x929]


Do you recommend fabric pot grow bags at 3 gallons or a hard sided pot?

I’ve had a Meyer lemon for a few years, and every winter when it’s in the house, it comes very close to death, losing 90% of its leaves. Any way to stop that?

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I do not use cloth pots because I get my pots from trash can on trash night

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I completely agree with @poncirusguy .
I suspect that the tree is not taking up adequate amounts of nutrients due to root rot caused by too much water being retained by the growth media. You might consider removing all soil from the roots and repotting in the mix suggested by @poncirusguy.

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