Can this grapefruit tree be saved?
Thanks to Linda Brooks for this great question! She’s having some issues with a grapefruit tree that she planted from seed in 2003.
During a recent uncommonly cold winter, half of the tree froze and died. It was blooming and vibrantly healthy before the freeze, but since then, only about half of it has recovered. How can she improve the tree’s recovery and protect it from further damage?
We consulted Extension specialist Jim Kamas on this one, who confirmed what we were thinking: given what it’s been through, this tree actually doesn’t look half bad! Jim’s suggested strategy for improving this tree’s chance for survival is to prune away all of the dead tissue that’s easily accessible, while being very careful not to injure any of the new wood. That will be tricky, since the entire former trunk is dead and is now attached to the new, living trunk.
So, Linda, anywhere that you aren’t able to prune away dead tissue without damaging the living, leave alone. One of Linda’s main concerns was the potential for rot. Yes, the heart of the tree is exposed to possible invasion of insects and microorganisms, but there’s nothing to be done about that now, except to stay out of the way.
Let the tree work on its natural process of compartmentalizing and covering up the exposed area with new tissue, which it’s already on its way to doing. Due to the extent of the damage, it’ll take quite some time for the new tissue to completely enclose and seal off the old trunk system, so keeping the tree healthy and actively growing will be the key to faster recovery.
Regular fertilization will give the tree the extra nutrients it needs to grow as much as possible as quickly as possible, so be sure to fertilize late spring and early fall every year. You can use the fertilizer of your choice, but be sure that it’s high in nitrogen and lower in other nutrients. Organic products work fine, but since their concentration of nutrients are lower, you’ll need to apply them more often. Read the label of the product and consult a local nursery professional for guidance.
The leaves of the tree appear to indicate an iron deficiency, so a chelated iron product should also be applied. And be sure to cover the tree in the event of any future frosty temperatures, even just into the low 40’s.