My orange tree above looks fine, right? That’s what I thought until I crouched down and noticed this little devil:
That branch growing from the base of the trunk — that’s the little devil. It’s not a branch of my orange tree; it’s rootstock.
Citrus trees are usually grafted
Almost every citrus tree you buy from a nursery is actually two trees in one. There is a rootstock on the bottom, and there is a scion on top. The scion is the part that gives you the fruit you desire — Washington navel orange, Tango mandarin, Eureka lemon, Oroblanco grapefruit, and so on.
(Why do citrus trees have a rootstock? See my post “Fruit trees are grafted — Why? And so what?”)
(How do they graft citrus trees? See this video of one method used at Four Winds Growers.)
Spotting graft unions
Usually you can spot the union where the rootstock and scion were grafted together because the bark has a change in shape there. Here’s a graft union that looks like a diagonal line:
Here is a graft union that looks like a bump all the way around the trunk:
As a citrus tree gets older, the graft union either almost disappears or it becomes a severe and obvious bump, depending on the kind of rootstock used.
Here is an example of the severe, obvious bump, which citrus people often call a “bench,” on an old Valencia orange tree in my grandparents’ yard:
Beware of branches below the graft union
Beware: If a branch emerges on the trunk from below the graft union, then it is rootstock — often called a rootstock sucker — and it will be vigorous and it will take over the whole tree if you don’t stop it.
Rootstock suckers on citrus trees are indeed little devils, and they often sneak by even the most knowledgeable and attentive gardeners. They can grow even before a tree is planted in your yard. I’ve seen rootstock suckers growing on citrus trees that are still in pots at nurseries.
This is sad because a person might buy such a tree, plant it in their yard, and get some fruit in a couple years that is sour or seedy or ugly and wonder what kind of crazy mutation has occurred: “I bought a blood orange tree, but this fruit never gets bloody or sweet!?”
Also, rootstock suckers can take over old citrus trees. All through my youth, I visited my grandparents’ in the summer and swam in their pool, and beside the pool was a kumquat tree that I snacked on. Just a couple weeks ago, I checked that old kumquat tree to find this:
Can you see the only fruit in there? It looks like a lemon. It’s not; it’s rootstock fruit. Rootstock had taken over the entire tree, somehow, and neither my grandparents nor I had noticed.
Signs that a branch is rootstock
But notice this:
It’s never a good sign when a citrus tree has multiple trunks. Almost always when I see a citrus tree with multiple trunks, I find that it is all rootstock, or there might be a single trunk in the middle that is barely still alive that is the scion variety. Here on my grandparents’ kumquat it is all rootstock.
Other warning signs that branches are rootstock — besides the branches bearing the “wrong” kind of fruit and there being multiple trunks — include very thorny branches. Rootstock branches are usually very thorny whereas the branches of the scion variety are usually not very thorny or the thorns are small. (Do note that I say usually. If you have a Yuzu tree, you know what I mean.)
Finally, a sure giveaway that a branch is rootstock is if it has leaves in clusters of three.
A common rootstock used for many citrus trees is a type of “trifoliate” or three-leaved citrus, for example the C-35 citrange. But no scion variety that we plant has leaves in clusters of three like this.
In 2013, I moved into a house with numerous old citrus trees in the yard. A few were healthy, most were not. As I watered some to try to revive them I got a lot of new growth, but not all of the new growth was desirable: much of what was still alive was rootstock. Here’s one old tree that I no longer water yet survives on winter rainfall in Southern California:
Multiple trunks, thorny branches, unfamiliar and sour fruit. It’s all rootstock. You can see that the scion variety at the top has long ago died.
Don’t let this happen to your citrus tree. Check for rootstock suckers often, and as soon as you notice one snap it off or cut it off close to the trunk or ground . . . as I did for my neighbors on their lime tree in this short video:
Grafting onto citrus rootstock suckers
Instead of removing them, it is possible to use citrus rootstock suckers in order to graft on another variety to your tree. See details about this in my post, “Grafting onto citrus rootstock suckers.”
You might also like to read my posts:
Which kind of citrus tree do I have?
Dwarf, semi-dwarf, and standard citrus trees: What are they, really?
When and how to prune citrus trees
A list with all of my Yard Posts is HERE.
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I believe I’ve seen a spray called sucker stopper or something like that. Do you have an opinion on it? Know if it’s effective?
I’ve seen that product but never used it. I would guess that it’s effective because such plant growth regulators have been around for a long time and are used for different purposes on different trees around the world — although some are not legal to be used in the U.S.
Are there other types of branches that should be pruned in a young citrus because they will not bear fruit but will drain energy? For example my potted orange tree had quick growth in the last week of branches that are kind of flat and they point upwards or are dramatically changin the direction of the branch. The leaves a however look normal.
Some people like to prune the branches you describe. Such branches do grow fast and often stick out far beyond the rest of a young tree’s canopy. Usually, I leave them alone. Eventually, these branches slow down, make side branches, and bear fruit. It’s up to you and the space you have and the preferences for how symmetrical your tree looks.
I have new growth coming out in the top areas of all three of the citrus trees I have in my backyard. This growth looks like the leaves I cut off the root stock at the bottom of the trees. Should I cut them too?
Have you followed the branches down to their base? Are they coming from below the graft? Are the leaves in groups of three?
I have a lime tree and a Valencia orange tree and both have been taken over by root stock. They are about 6 ft high and 5 years old. The original graft is dead. Root stock is doing really great with sour fruit. Is it better to get rid of these trees or try cut them down to a stump/ short and graft new cuttings on them. Or, get rid of them all together and plant new ones
If you’re up for the challenge of grafting, then you might as well take advantage of the healthy rootstocks you have. A successful graft on such an established rootstock will grow very fast and can provide much more fruit more quickly than a newly planted tree. It so happens that I have been grafting onto some old citrus rootstock at my place this past year.
Let me know if you plan to graft and I’ll share with you the best resources I know. (In fact, I should write a post about this topic!)
Once the root stock has taken over is there anything that can be done? I have two trees where the fruit is like the one in your photo, yellow, bumpy, sour….
If there is no scion left and it’s all rootstock, then your only option is to graft onto the rootstock. If there is some scion left in the middle, then you can cut out all the rootstock and the scion will likely be able to fill out the canopy again.
Last year my Meyer lemon froze and the rootstock came back. How do I graft from my new Meyer lemon tree onto the rootstock of the lemon tree that died in the freeze?
If my lemon tree leaves are dead is there a chance it can be revived if the root sucker is removed? What can I do to help it if there is a possibility that the lemon tree might survive besides a good pruning?
The lemon tree/branches have no leaves? Scratch the bark to see if it is green underneath, which means the branches are still alive. If alive, they ought to grow new leaves soon. If not, then removing any rootstock suckers will not help.
I have three mandarin orange trees that are about 7 years old. Two of them have been taken over by rootstock, one looks fine. They all have fruit. My question is can I cut the rootstock off before the fruit ripens or would it be better to wait until after I harvest? One of the trees is about 6.5 ft high the other is about 4 ft. These are container trees.
Hi! We recently had several nights of hard freeze and our little lemon and orange tree appear to be completely dead. I’ve just noticed growth at the bottom that looks like rootstock. Wondering if I cut the tree to just above the graft if you think the good fruit would grow back again? Or is the scion gone for sure? Just trying to see if the trees can be saved.
Sorry to hear about your trees. I would give it enough time to be sure what is alive and what is dead before pruning. But once that is clear, then anything above the graft union will still produce the good fruit you desired.
Hello Greg. How are you?
My lemon tree base tunknis around 90cm before it three branches. One towards the back and the other two left and right. They all grow up to a height of 2m to 2.5m but only the one back branch is carrying all the fruit. It is its second season carrying now. Carries a hell off allot more than last season. Why the other two not carrying fruit? The one carrying also allot more healthy leaves in darker green colour. The other two a lighter green in shade. Must i completely cut the other two off so all energy/growth goes into the carry branch ? Kind regards Donovan. Im in Cape town SA so we have summer now. Spring is only in mid September.
Greetings to you in Cape Town. Hope you’re having a nice summer. Do you see any damage to the bark of the branches/trunks that are not bearing fruit?
I have an old orange tree that grows very similarly to your lemon, and I don’t know for certain why it does this but I do know that there is a lesion on the side of the trunk where the branches/trunks emerge that bear less fruit and have yellower and sparser foliage. I’ve wondered if the two are related. The explanation would be that the lesion is disrupting the sap flow on that side of the tree.
I’ve also wondered if it has anything to do with the orientation to the sun. My tree’s weak side is its south side. Is your lemon tree’s weak side its north side? These would be the sides that get more intense sunlight. Always, citrus trees have greener leaves on the side of the canopy that gets less intense sunlight.
Hi there! I have come across a blood orange that I’m learning has mostly been taken over by the rootstock. There is a section of the scion that still produces good fruit. This it a large tall tree. Also there are several new large thorny shoots that still come off of the rootstock. Any idea how I can save the good section? Can I actually cut the main trunk of this tree to help the scion grow? So hard to determine what to do…
Thank you for this post! I’m a total newby to all of this but as a new home owner I want to try and utilize what I have…. It looks as though I have a trifolate root stock, with horrible fruit. I’m not sure if it was ever grafted and was taken over or if it is only the root stock tree. How do I tell? Where do I go from here? Thanks again in advance!
Hi Greg. I have a passionfruit tree in Australia that I am suspicious was grafted. There were no graft lines when I brought the tree. But right at the base now it not growing a new vine but is growing leaves. Should I remove them
I have a 8 year old lemon tree in AZ, that was existing when I bought the house 5 years ago. Upon my taking ownership I started trimming off all roots suckers I had seen. However I think some might have matured into the tree or over taken it before I took over the care. I think this because we get softball to small soccer ball sized lemon’s on some branches. I look at the base for the grafting mark and it’s kind of odd because the tree truck is maybe only 6-12 in. from the ground and it splits into several different branches. Does this mean the entire tree has been taking over? Are there any ways for me to tell by the fruit or the leaves? Haven’t been able to find anything on what an over taken tree would look like at maturity. I guess the fruit mostly for lemonade so I really haven’t seen a downside except for maybe it’s a little tart but then I use four cups of lemon to 1 gallon of lemonade so I like it tart… ?
Regarding the citrus tree that has been overcome by rootstock. We can cut back the rootstock and graft scions that can be purchased from the Clonal Citrus Program. I’m doing this on a Lemon tree the previous owners let be overrun by rootstock. I was able to successfully graft an Oro De Banco in the Fall of 2019 and plan to graft more onto the tree in spring of 2020 when the bark loosens using CCCP Scions. On these old overgrown trees, seems like an opportunity for a super cocktail citrus. Have you had any experience grafting different citrus or seeing it done on an old citrus overrun by the rootstock with several trunks?
I love that perspective of using the rootstock growth as an opportunity. Keep me updated on how your cocktail tree project goes.
I’ve never done nor personally seen such a tree transformed into a cocktail tree, but I can’t imagine what would prevent it as long as you didn’t run into any incompatible combinations where the scion and rootstock didn’t grow well together.
I’ve only done a tiny bit of grafting with citrus in the past but I already planned to do a little more this spring. Now you’ve got me thinking that it’s finally time to order a quantity of budwood from the Citrus Clonal Protection Program and do a bunch of grafting on one of my old rootstock trees. Thanks for the nudging.
I got excited by the fact of grafting to the overrun root stock on the lemon tree and purchased several scions from the CCCP in the fall of 2019, I grafted 10 scions and only the Oro Blanco actually took and is still green since September when I grafted it. I will post back on how multiple grafting works on the tree, the root stock is strong with around 9+ 2″ diameter trunks, I feel that I should be able to graft scions on to some of these and get different citrus to grow. The old root stock grew a ton of the sour stuff and clearly has strong roots supporting what’s above ground
I did just that. I had a kumquat tree that was eaten by the rootstock, and grew into a beautiful, healthy sour orange tree with oranges that burn your tongue. I bought some scions from the clonal program and before realizing you were supposed to leave a few branches on the tree of the rootstock to keep the juices flowing, i chopped all the branches down and grafted 5 different kinds of citrus on it. 1st time grafting experiment that I didn’t expect to work. It took a little longer. But 3 of them are growing pretty healthily. I know i have a bergamot orange growing really well, and the clementine turned brown and died. I took the labels off the other 3 because although they were still green, hadn’t sprouted. Now 1 is still green and no growth, but 2 have sprouted leaves! One is identifiable, the pink lemonade by the pink baby leaves, but the other one is either a blood orange or a meyer lemon. I’m beyond excited it seems to be working!
My first attempt at grafting on the root stock was last fall and my oro blanco grapefruit scion started growing leaves within a few months. I went to graft another batch of items in Spring and accidentally knocked the oro blanco off the tree. All those grafts also died, I blamed the rains that came in April and tried again in May of this year to graft on several suckers, they have also died :(. The lemon portion of the original trees graft is having a field day with the root suckers cut back as well as producing a lot of flowers and fruit. The grafts I attemped were on the stubs of the 2″ diameter root stock. I am allowing the root stock to grow some green limbs and I will do a 3rd round of grafting on those which is probably what I should have done to begin with with. Either way, good luck, when those first few branches start growing out of the scion, it is a fruit tree enthusiast adrenaline rush. Just don’t knock them off by accident! On a hillside in Whittier
Just discovered your amazing site and brilliant posts! But alas, I live in Connecticut, so avocado (& citrus of course) growing is confined to inDoors from at least November-May.
My QUESTION: what’s best to DO. When brown tips invade my 4-foot high avocado tree? Should I clip off the leaves or let them be? New growth is mostly unaffected…
Thank you for your diagnosis and expertise!
I just think it’s so cool that you’re still growing citrus and avocado trees in Connecticut. Don’t clip the leaves with brown tips off because the green parts of those leaves are still working to make energy for the tree. Just wait for the tree to shed them when it is ready.
Hey Greg, I have a single lemon tree in my yard that I’ve never done anything with, it was there when I bought the house 7 years ago. Its only had a few lemons, but I decided I wanted to get it growing. Anyway, I noticed these long branches that were as tall as the tree, and they’re thorny, and come out below the graft. So, they’re suckers. Now, I have wanted to actually try my hand at grafting, and figured this citrus would be a good candidate. So my question is, instead of cutting those off, could I actually graft new scions to those, since they’re green and vigorous growers? Or should I lop off all the suckers (maybe an inch thick) and graft onto the existing lemon tree?
Those suckers would be great stock to graft onto. The bark on them should be slipping this time of year so both grafting and budding will be possible.
Thank you for your very informative post! I just bought a home and have been trying for the life of me to figure out what this pale green, intensely thorny citrus was. Turns out, 3/4 of this tree was root stock. Well, I just cut off all the root stock, and the rest of the what I think is a Meyer lemon is heavily lopsided due to the root stock growth that was there. (2 very horizontal branches on one side). Do you have any suggestions for pruning this sad looking specimen and bringing it back to a balanced tree? Thank you,
Glad you identified and cut out that rootstock, Beth. At this point, you need to protect any branches that might get sunburned. Horizontal branches are especially vulnerable. See this post about sunburn on avocados (citrus are protected in the same way): https://gregalder.com/yardposts/avocado-trees-get-sunburned-what-to-do/
Most likely, this spring you’ll get new branches emerging on the empty side since there is so much light and space there now. Incrementally, you’ll be able to rebuild the tree’s canopy into balance as that side regrows. You might want to reduce the size of the two branches a little now if the tree looks like it might fall over.
I see this a lot on my stone fruits. They often come up from the ground and every winter I cut a bunch back.
It’s true, the rootstock suckers are a danger on any grafted tree, including stone fruits. For some reason, it is on citrus trees that rootstock suckers go unnoticed and take over the entire tree most often. Is it because citrus branches are often low hanging so they hide the trunk?
Great informational. I think our lemon tree has been taken over by rootstock. We new rootstock growing and cut those off, but reading about the thorny branches made me realize that our tree must be rootstock. Is there any hope for our tree?
There is hope! Remember that I said that thorny branches are an indicator of rootstock because most scions aren’t very thorny, but lemon branches can be very thorny. It might be that those branches on your tree aren’t rootstock. Judge them by their fruit. Do they make the lemon fruit you expect?
Thank you for this information now I know what happened to our tangelo tree! Sour fruit! But the tree looks healthy.
You’re welcome, Dre. And you’re not alone. This happens to all of us!
What happens if I cut at the graft line? I thought it was a sucker but now not sure after reading your posts? It was growing upwards and almost parallel to the truck of my small three feet Sweet Kumquat Meiwa tree. It was about 18 inches below the main branches?
Hi Mrs. Brei,
If you can’t tell if it’s from below or above the graft line, then I’d remove it just to be safe. The worst result is that you removed a low Meiwa branch, but it sounds like you have other good branches above it so not a great loss.
I have a potted lime tree that I thought was dead after sooty mold. After treating it and cutting off the infected branches, it has a little branch growing from the roots. Is there hope it will grow back? Do I cut this off? The branches are dry and their is no sign of green, other than at the root.
It sounds like you shouldn’t cut anything else and let the tree do some growing.
Great post, and very helpful!
My gold nugget appears to have some big thorns, and not sure if it’s a sucker or scion. It appears that they are all coming from above the graft, but it’s a little concerning since there are 2 points above what I think is the graft point. You can see it at https://drive.google.com/open?id=1mqFXG1iF8eCZgl395OEmCOkGwK-Uw9q9
The fruit definitely looks like a mandarin on the thorny branches, and it seems like the big thorns are only on the lower part. Once mandarin actually fell off overnight, and it’s sour, but I think that is to be expected this early on.
Thanks. I don’t think you have anything to worry about. Check around your Gold Nugget tree, and what you’ll probably find is that the branches with big thorns are angular and have few or no fruit on them. On the other hand, the branches with most of your fruit are more rounded and only have small thorns. That’s the way it is on my Gold Nugget, and that’s the way it is on citrus generally.
Juvenile growth on citrus is angular and thorny, in general, even on varieties whose mature branches have no thorns or very few, small thorns.
My Gold Nuggets don’t taste sweet yet either even though they are now almost all a beautiful orange color. They usually start tasting good from my tree around March.
We planted a “lime” tree two years ago. This is the first year of fruit and they are turning pretty darn orange. The rind smells like an orange as well. There are numerous-5- trunks. If we can determine the original trunk and remove the others should it produce limes?
Tricky situation! Yes, if you can determine the original lime trunk, you should expect that to produce limes — assuming the tree was propagated and labeled accurately in the first place.
Is there fruit on the trunk that you suspect might be the original lime trunk? Is it different from the fruit on the other trunks?
If left on the tree long enough, limes will turn yellow, and eventually deep yellow — almost orange. I actually love the flavor of limes that have matured this long.
Re: multi-trunked citrus, we have a mature (I don’t know how old. I doubt that it is left from the commercial groves in Glendora, since our neighbor has an avocado tree that was planted as part of variety trials in the 30s) lemon tree with several trunks all slightly tangled up at the bottom. The lemons vary in size and shape from a normal grocery store lemon to large grapefruit-sized, but all have good flavor and will get fairly sweet if left on the tree long enough. It is not thorny. There is also a large grapefruit tree on a nearby street with 4 trunks (straight and organized) that produces good fruit. Was it popular at some point in the past to train young trees to create such forms?
That’s an interesting question. I’ve never heard of training citrus trees to have multiple trunks as being recommended in the past, but it’s certainly possible. It also does seem to happen naturally to some trees.
I’ve got an old Valencia orange tree — probably planted in the 1970s — and it has two trunks which separate just a few inches above the soil line. But I’ll never know if someone encouraged that or if it happened naturally.
Thank you, thank you for this post. I am on year 2 of several citrus trees that were previously in pots, but were recently put into the ground. While planting them I was nearly IMPALED on the thorns coming from one of the mandarin trees! I mean, these thorns made my bougainvillea look like a kid’s toy…and that thing draws blood. Happy with the vigorous growth, and not having previous experience growing citrus, I chalked it up to “that’s just the way it is with citrus.” Found your articles while searching for pest remedies, and I’ve been reading non-stop. But this post in particular made me run out to my garden. Sure enough, not only were several of the citrus trees lousy with suckers with huge thorns, but so were several of the stone fruit trees as well (minus the thorns). I cut out what I thought was a lot of great growth, but now I know better. As this is the first year in the ground for several of the trees, I’m hoping for decent REAL growth this year. Thanks for the great article!
Great news, Nathan. It sounds like you caught and cut the rootstock suckers on all those trees early enough. My guess is that they will all reward you with plenty of real/scion growth this spring.
What should I do if my mandarin tree has 90% rootstock and only 10% actual mandarin? I traced the mandarin fruit back to a single 1″ trunk, while the rest of the tree trunk is rootstock with a 7″ trunk. The mandarin branches are growing up into the rootstock tree and branches. Can I cut out all the rootstock trunk and branches and not kill the mandarin portion? The fruit is delicious, what little there is. Thanks Eric
Yes, you should be able to pull this off, and this is the time of year to do it. The main risk you’ll be fighting is sunburn to the newly exposed bark and branches of the mandarin. Paint all exposed branches with white latex paint to help prevent sunburn. Hopefully, new growth will emerge in spring to fill in and shade the trunk naturally from then on.
Oh, and I have to add. While reading your posts it became pretty clear that you aren’t a fan of spraying pesticides of any kind. I read several of your posts, including your multi-year post on CLMs, which tore through my baby citrus trees last year and deformed all of the new growth. While I admire your stance and letting nature take care of the beasties, I have to admit that I can’t do it. The best that I can do is to apply organics and be OK with it. I’m in a 2-3 week of applying Neem oil to keep the aphids down (they’re sucking my tomatoes and hibiscus dry), and several times a year I apply BT, as the caterpillars absolutely destroy my tomatoes, basil, bougainvillea, and eat all of the flowers from my Star Jasmine when it blooms. Despite the ladybugs and TONS of praying mantis that I find every year, my garden is a regular buffet. As soon as the weather starts warming up again here in SoCal (as if it hasn’t been a warm winter anyway, haha), I’ll be ramping up my treatments again. I really hate losing all of my hibiscus buds and star jasmine flowers to the insects!
I totally understand how hard it is to watch your plants get munched or diseased. I probably go too far in the direction of not using pesticides in certain situations, but I’ve realized something recently about why I do.
Part of the draw of gardening for me is in the learning. When you use a pesticide you often miss out on an opportunity to learn about the particular pest feeding on your plant, why and when it does so, along with which other insects or microorganisms feed on it and how you might encourage them, and whether the pest is easily controlled during a certain stage of its life through other methods besides pesticides. The longer I go without using pesticides, the more I learn about pests, and the less I actually fear them.
I admire your stance. I’ll keep it in the back of my head, as a #lifegoal…haha. I have to admit that I don’t LIKE mixing up the chemicals and then going out to spray every or every other weekend. Time spent spraying is time spent away from gardening and the family. Something we did discover this last summer when I sprayed my star jasmine with water, many of the caterpillars came out from hiding, evidently trying to get away from the water. My wife and I then scoured the plants, looking for caterpillars to pick off. She’d shout, “here’s another one”, and of course, I was the one who did all the picking. Did that 2 weekends in a row and the SJ rewarded us with a huge flush of sweet smelling flowers. I give you chemical-free pest management to bring the family together. 🙂 Now if only it would be as fun looking for those dang CLMs… Thanks for all the great info. I’m sure I’ll keep coming back to your site again and again as the weather warms up here on SoCal (we’re in Long Beach). The pomegranates have already started pushing new growth, getting me excited for the coming year!
You’ll remember I talked about my rejuvenated mandarin tree, it has flowers on it right now. Am I at risk of losing them with the upcoming “frost” week? They say 30 – 34 degrees at night but my microclimate is about 5 degrees higher as I’m located higher up than the other houses and I have steep banks that lead to the streets below so the cold air can drain down below. I’m going to cover up my struggling avocado but should I worry about losing the citrus blooms?
Here’s the tree if anyone is interested in how I got it jumpstarted again after 2 years of no fruit
According to the forecast today, it doesn’t look like it will get cold enough to affect citrus blossoms. In my yard, the only time citrus blossoms have been affected was when it dropped down to about 26 degrees. But I’d protect a young, struggling avocado tree. They’re vulnerable if it’s around 30.
Last night was the coldest and it got to about 35, my patio showed 40 degrees and it’s always 5 above what the rest of my yard is. But I did protect my Avocado, I watered it and covered the trunk with mulch and did something else… this should give u a chuckle:
Glad you didn’t get as cold as here. The real frost jackets are awesome!
I’m thinking of ordering budwood from the CCCP to do some bud and grafting. When do you think is a good time to do this in the San Diego area near Mission Valley? The winter has been extremely mild even for San Diego.
Now is a great time. In fact, I plan to order some budwood from CCPP in the next week or two also. Hope your budding and grafting adventures are successful!
Hi James –
I’m worried my lime tree has suckers on it that I never noticed and assumed they were just part of the tree? What should I do? I’ve never had any fruit after 3+ years
Apologies, this question was meant for Greg.
The image looks like four rootstock suckers surrounding the original lime trunk in the middle (with grayer bark). Remove all the suckers and paint the remaining lime trunk with white latex paint to protect from sunburn. It should recover and flower by next spring at the latest.
Great article! I was sent here by a friend when I asked what was the deal with the citrus tree I’ve inherited in my new home. The garden bed and tree haven’t really been taken care of so I want to nurture this green space here. Turns out the yet to be identified citrus has been overgrown my root stock. It appears previous ones have been chopped down but others have been allowed to grow. Is there hope that I can one day get a good fruit from this tree? How do I remedy the situation so that I can harvest edibles from this new green space? Many thanks from Melbourne, Australia
Hi there in Melbourne, Diego. There’s hope if the scion variety is still alive in there. Just cut away the rootstock branches and most likely the scion will begin to flourish once again. It might take a couple years before it holds fruit though. Sometimes such a tree flowers and then doesn’t hold fruit its first year of recovery. Just make sure to paint any branches that are exposed to the sun (not covered by leaves); paint with white latex diluted 50/50 with water.
Thank you so much for this article. I have a 4-year-old-to-me (no idea how old at the nursery) lemon tree that started at about 1 ft tall, but then in the last year shot up about 6 ft. The leaves looked a little funny, but I assumed that was just what citrus did when it decided to get taller. But after reading this article, I realized the super tall stem was rootstock and the scion was still only about 1 ft tall! I just cut it off. I got lucky, I guess — the scion still has a full head of leaves and put some blossoms out this year that seem to be growing into lemons.
Good to hear that you caught it in time, David!
My mandarin trees died back when we had a harsh winter, and only the rootstock grew back, apparently. This year they are about 9 feet tall and bore many white flowers, and now they are fruiting. Is there anything I can do with the fruit?
Sure you can use the fruit somehow. I have a rough lemon rootstock tree whose fruit I use sometimes for its juice. They used to use sweet orange as rootstock sometimes. It all depends on what the rootstock fruit is like. It might be sour so you can use it like lemon. Or it might be sweet, or aromatic, or it might be extremely seedy so you could grow more rootstock to graft onto.
Love your very informative post. I am so very confused regarding the trifoliate suckers which I have removed from my container grown Myer Lemons and rooted. What do I do with them? Can I graft a tiny branch (stem, really as the rooted trifoliate is very young) from my Myer lemon or kumquat on them? If not, what good are they? Should I keep them or toss them? Any information would be greatly appreciated, as I would love to be able to use them as rootstock and graft kumquats onto them if possible. Thanks.
Let me make sure I understand. You rooted some cuttings of trifoliate rootstock that came up as suckers on your Meyer lemon tree? And now you’re wondering if you can graft onto them?
Hi, Greg, yes. I’m not sure what to do with them. Or do I graft unrooted ones onto a kumquat? If that is the case, then what do I do with the rooted ones? (I told you I was confused)! Thanks.
If you want to make a new kumquat or Meyer lemon tree, then you can continue growing the rooted cuttings of the trifoliate rootstock until it is at least as thick as a pencil about one foot up from the base. At that point you can graft your kumquat or Meyer lemon onto the rootstocks.
You can see good videos of different methods of grafting citrus here: https://www.youtube.com/user/fruitmentor
We have a Hamlin Orange tree we bought from a local nursery along with Meyer Lemon and a lime tree. The lemon tree is the only one producing fruit.
The Orange tree appears to be doing the best but when you inspect it, there appears to be suckers growing off of definite orange branches. I’ve had big suckers so I know what they look like and know how fast they grow, but they were definitely suckers as they originated below the graft. Now there appears to be suckers coming off above the graft – is this possible? Is this what you mean by “the suckers have taken over the tree?”
Sucker branches growing off of Orange branches – Bigger leaves, big green stems with long throrns, incredibly fast growth.
We are about to pull out the 3 year old Lime tree and start over (diameter about the size of a quarter at graft point) – but now I’m wondering based on above comments, can I just take a branch from my in-laws lime tree and start the graft over? I think the lime tree is 80% suckers and all the growth is growing to one side (other side died or was suckers), so I don’t have much hope for that tree.
Funny enough – the lime tree right after we got it was growing straight up and got to above 6′ tall after 8 months. I was so excited. Then we noticed leaves were different, and learned of suckers. After identifying the suckers I cut 90% of the growth off :(.
Thanks for your help if you’re still monitoring this. Key point we have – How is it possible I have suckers growing off from points above the graft? Too close a species that sucker growth is able to happen inside of the grafted branch?
What you might be describing on your Hamlin orange is what some people call “water sprouts.” They are branches that are of the scion variety (Hamlin orange) and definitely growing above the graft union, but they grow like rootstock suckers in that they are vigorous, upright, and thorny. In addition, the shape of the branch is angular instead of being round like most of the other branches. Essentially, it is juvenile growth that is getting a lot of energy and reaching for the sky and not flowering much if at all (as juvenile growth isn’t ready to reproduce yet).
If that is what you’re describing, then you can just leave it and it will eventually mature into a productive part of the tree. However, many people choose to prune out or prune back those sprouts so that the mature, calm, and productive branches get the tree’s energy and the available sunlight.
Personally, I leave them be unless they’re growing in an annoying direction or location.
As for grafting that lime, you sure can. In fact, you can get budwood from almost every kind of lime you’ve ever heard of (and more you haven’t) from the Citrus Clonal Protection Program: https://ccpp.ucr.edu/
I recently ordered some budwood from CCPP and found the experience fun, clear, and exciting since I now have some new citrus varieties growing.
Hello Greg – Your blog was very helpful in identifying that our 10 year old Eureka lemon tree does in fact have a large rootstock branch(strange huge fruit that resemble pomelo, giant thorns, trunk is coming from the ground as if separate tree). The other branches have normal eureka lemons. Since its 10 year old tree, is it too late to cut that rootstock branches down to ground so the existing two eureka lemon tree branches have more room to grow? Will that shock the eureka lemon tree and kill it? Its positioned in a corner of my lot next to two neighbors so don’t have a lot of room. Also if I can still do that, when is the ideal time to prune it during the year? zone 10a.
In your location you can cut that rootstock out anytime. Ideally, you would have done it back in February or March. But now is fine. Just make sure to protect any remaining branches whose bark is exposed to the sun with white latex paint or some other form of sunburn prevention.
We recently moved to La Costa (between Carlsbad and San Marcos) – not so far from you. We found a very nicely producing Meyer Lemon tree in our yard. Our neighbors say it’s about 5 or 6 years old – the Home Depot tag is still on the tree. After reading your great article on rootstock suckers, I’ve been trying find the graft union, but I don’t see anything visually obvious. Perhaps I could send you a photo? Appreciate your help – new at this, but quickly learning, thanks to your awesome blog! – Brian
Thanks! Meyer lemons are an exception among citrus trees in that they are often grown on their own roots so there’s no graft union. Many Meyer lemon trees actually look like bushes with numerous trunks and that’s okay; they’re all Meyer lemon. The way you can tell with your tree is by its fruit. Are all branches making the same Meyer lemon fruit?
Thank you so much Greg! A small update – it’s actually an “Improved” Meyer Lemon. Not sure if that changes anything in regards to the likelihood that it’s grown in it’s own roots. I don’t recall any fruit differences last year, but we had just moved in. I’ll be more observant this year, armed with a little knowledge!
Sounds like you’re safe, Brian. All Meyer lemon trees are “improved” these days. It’s a label they gave trees after they rid them of a virus called Tristeza.
Awesome – thank you Greg! – Brian
Ah this is great to know – was worried my Meyer Lemon Tree was growing weird and found this article and was worried. There is one branch that grew from below all the other branches and shot up and is growing like crazy. At first thought this might be a rootstock sucker but guessing now that it is not so will leave it alone.
Hi Greg, I have ‘root stock’ growing from the tips of the highest branches of my citrus. I have had them grow from below the graft in the past and it is identical in cross section, colour and thorns.
Should I cut them off? As they are the only part of the plant doing well, or should I let the plant grow then trim.
Also, do you know how the genetic code can skip the middle part of the plant?
I moved from CA to Nashville 5 years ago. I had a Meyer lemon tree that had died and was a stump but left in an old container. It accidentally got transported by our movers to TN where after several week it sprouted. I’ve brought it indoors in the winter and the thing is huge but no fruit. This past winter I left it out. It appeared to die and then came back in the spring.
From reading these posts, I am guessing that what is growing is the rootstock. I assume it will never produce fruit or produce fruit that are not edible. I feel bad throwing it out, but it’s thorny, unattractive, and behaves like a weed. Is my guess correct?
By your description, I’d also guess that you’ve got rootstock. Doesn’t sound like the behavior of Meyer lemon.
Recently purchased a new home with some citrus trees. One of which I’m positive has been consumed by root stock based on your description here. It is entirely trifoliate except for one very dry dead looking branch that twists its way out from the very center and has a few larger flat leaves. Is it worth the effort to cut out all of the root suckers, literally 98% of the tree, and see if we can get some life out of what looks like the original scion? Or would my time/energy/water be better spent digging the whole thing out and replacing it?
Your description sounds exactly like a rootstock overtake situation. Do you know what variety that scion is? Did the previous owners tell you, maybe?
If it’s a variety you’d plant anyway, then I’d prune out the rootstock and try to revive the scion.
If it’s an unknown variety, then I’d either cut down the tree, cut off the water, let the tree die, and replant with whatever you want . . . or graft onto the rootstock. You can use that established, vigorous rootstock to grow a new citrus tree of whatever variety you want. If you choose the graft option, let me know and I’ll guide you along.
I actually have a question that is similar topic, but a little different. I have a super healthy trifolate orange tree (rootstock) that ate my kumquat tree. I bought some scions from the clonal program and without realizing you are supposed to leave a few branches growing of the original tree i chopped all the branches to nubbs, and grafted 5 different citrus scions, 3-4 to each of the branches. It took a little longer, but 3 varieties are actually growing! Now that the scions are growing, so are some suckers. I heard the branches from the original tree help the new grafts grow, but at what point do I chop the suckers off?
You just want to make sure that there are some leaves to feed the roots. It doesn’t matter which leaves (those of new grafts or rootstock suckers). You just need leaves to photosynthesize and send carbohydrates down to the roots. Without enough leaves for too long, the roots and the entire tree system eventually collapses and dies.
How many leaves do you need? I don’t know exactly.
What I do just to be cautious is not entirely remove leftover suckers at first. I just continually nip them back so they don’t grow too big and shade my grafts. As long as you keep them in check, then your grafts should continue to grow well. Once your grafts seem big enough to feed the tree’s root system, and you have no further need for new suckers to graft onto, then you can remove all suckers.
Hello! I stumbled upon this blog and I am finding it very helpful! Thank you for sharing your knowledge. I have a lime tree that was already planted when we moved in, but it wasn’t very old. We moved it about 3 years ago and it’s only ever produced maybe one lime at a time. This season, it’s produced a few more, but they haven’t matured yet. I also see one cluster of flowers. How can I tell if the tree has been taken over by the rootstock? The trunk does have a bit of a split, but the bark all looks the same. It also has some big thorns.
Thanks. What makes you think it’s a lime tree? Previous owners told you so, or there’s a tag attached to the tree, or fruit looks like a lime? Just want to make sure you don’t have some other kind of citrus or all rootstock.
That was a good question. I’ve always assumed it was lime because that’s what my kids said. I contacted previous owners and it turns out it’s a dwarf Meyer tree. My kids must have picked the fruit prematurely. In another post you talked about not pruning citrus trees, but should I cut the thorny beaches off?
Good to know. I would only cut the thorny branches off if the leaves on them look different from the other branches, such that you think it’s rootstock. Otherwise, there’s no necessity.
I’ve got an apple tree about 2 feet tall that I planted 2 months ago. It looked like one was growing a root sucker, I removed it, thanks for your advice on here.
The other tree had a similar branch, but it’s growing right at the graft. Since it’s higher up would this likely not be a root suckered?
Most of the rootstock suckers that I’ve seen on apples grow from very low: near the dirt or even from under the dirt near the trunk. But it’s possible that certain apple rootstocks are prone to grow suckers higher up too. I don’t know.
If the branch you’re unsure of is located in a desirable position, then you could let it grow and prove itself once it fruits in a couple years. Otherwise, cut it out just to be safe.
Thanks Greg – your posts are very helpful.
I recently planted a 5 gallon hass avocado in San Juan Capistrano, ~3 ft tall. In addition to the main trunk growing vertically out of the root stock, there is also an 8″ branch coming out to the side from the root stock intersection, ~5 inches above the ground.
Should I remove this branch that is so low to the ground? Is this the right time of year to prune that branch?
Your question is one that I often ask myself, and I know that many others face this decision too. I hope to write a post very soon about pruning and training young avocado trees.
Assuming the branch is just above the graft union and it’s not rootstock, I like to prune those branches back but not entirely remove them, usually. I prune them back if they’re too fat at the base, which indicates that they’re getting a lot of energy; I don’t want such a branch to become the main vector of energy for the tree. Usually, I just keep pinching the new growth on the tip of the branch in order to stunt it.
If the branch isn’t fat at the base, then there’s no need to touch it. It’s not going to grow very fast and it’s no threat to the current main leader of the tree.
Even if it is fat and energetic, I don’t remove it entirely because it provides some shade for the trunk and the soil below. It also has leaves which are producing food for the roots and are thereby fueling the tree overall. On such a young tree, pruning a lot sets back growth and eventual fruiting. So I’m conservative with the pruning and I only keep it in check but don’t totally remove it.
I look forward to writing this post so I can show pictures, which will likely be worth at least a thousand words.
Thanks Greg, all makes sense — And pictures are worth a thousand words:
Great photos. So helpful. I’d leave that branch untouched.
An update Greg — For some reason all the leaves have fallen off that low branch – Will they grow back to provide some nice shade for the trunk?
Bummer. That looks unnatural, like a bunny might have nibbled them off. New leaves will eventually grow back, yes. In the meantime, I would protect the trunk by painting it with white latex or a wrap.
I recently relalized that the root sookers were starting to take over my tree. I had cut them back for years but not at the base because I did not know what they were. Lat week I cut them all the way off at the base. About 3-4 inch trunks. Now the surface of the cuts are forming black spots. Is there something I can put on them to prevent mold or what ever this is from killing th tree. I am thinking about cutting alittle more off at a better angle to allow water to run off better but not sure if that is the problem
Sometimes black spots form on the cut surface and it’s not a problem; can’t say if that’s the case for sure with yours though. In general, you want to leave the cuts open to the air so there’s no moisture trapped. If water is pooling, do cut again at more of an angle if that’s possible.
I have a lime tree. I don’t know if some of my branches are the graft or the tree I want. I don’t have root stock but need to know if I should trim any of the bottom branches because they are graft branches.
The first year the tree grew like crazy and gave a bunch of fruit. This year only a handful. It seems to bloom twice a year.
I really would like a better shape for it but don’t want to harm fruit production.
Any time you prune you are reducing the fruit production a little bit, but I wouldn’t let that stop you. Trim the lime tree to whatever shape you want. As you mentioned, limes bloom multiple times per year, and they are also usually very productive so you should still get plenty of fruit. I prune my lime tree lightly at least three times each year and it still gives us oodles of limes. But do be patient with your tree because it takes a few years to come into consistent production.
My good friend (also named Greg) planted a small lemon tree recently and I finally got to see it. It’s about 3 feet tall and has a couple small branches.
The whole tree looks like rootstock to me. Looks if the graft never took.
The trunk has the odd white-ish striations (not solid green), and The whole thing has absolutely enormous thorns – like over an inch and really strong. But… the leaves look large and normal. Can I assume it is rootstock, based on thorn size?
I don’t want him to have to wait until it bears fruit to know if it’s junk. I also don’t want to have him yank it out if it’s actually ok. Is there a sure test? Thank you!
Lemons can have big thorns so we can’t judge just based on that. Can you spot a graft union on the trunk?
Yes there is a grafting scar but I can’t tell if the graft just never took. Can I send you a pic?
A photo should help. Please post a link to a photo using a sharing platform.
I rented a house that had an amazing lemon tree and I created an air layer from it to take with me when I eventually got my own place. It grew in a pot for several years, but I never got more than 2-3 small lemons each year (the original tree has enormous fruit). I always assumed the immature root system couldn’t handle the fruit production. It’s more of a little bush than a tree.
Fast forward to buying my own house and planting it in the backyard. After a year or so, it seemed very happy. It has new branches, green leaves, but it hasn’t been flowering at all. This time I assumed it was in shock from the transplant and was focused on growing rather than fruiting.
For past few months a single branch shot up and is now 6′ tall, twice as high as the rest of the plant. After reading your post, I checked and sure enough, it’s growing from the base of the tree at the dirt line. Now, I know for certain it’s NOT rootstock because it was air layered and not grafted. Does that mean that I should let it continue to grow or is it somehow going to hurt the original tree? My assumption here is that this new growth will take a few years before fruiting, like a seedling would.
Thanks for your advice!
Interesting situation. Even on grafted trees that are very old, you can get vigorous branches growing from down low that are angular (not round) and sometimes very thorny. (I have a 40-year-old Valencia orange that still does this.) Maybe your branch is like that. Eventually, it will flower. I would let it grow unimpeded unless you’re trying to keep the tree small, in which case you might want to head it back at some point to induce lateral branching and slow it down. But like you said, it is acting juvenile and it might not flower this coming spring; it might take another year or so. (But I have seen such branches bloom the following spring, so you never know.)
Hi Greg. I believe my mom’s citrus tree has rootstock. It may have taken half the tree. She said a nursery gave her spray for the “disease” and the fruits afterwards were “better”. I wanted to send you pictures to make sure my suspicions are correct.
You could post a photo or two to an image hosting site like https://imgbb.com
Is the tree supposed to be a lemon? It certainly does look like half of the tree is rootstock (“rough lemon”) as judged by the fruit and leaves even though I can’t see a graft union on the trunk.
Also Greg, the leaves on the top part of the tree are very curly and the leaves on the bottom when it grows “good lemons” are smooth
I have two dwarf orange trees and both have grown some really large palm sized leaves. Should I prune these off?
I wouldn’t, unless you trace the branch they’re on down to the trunk and suspect they are rootstock. Sometimes orange trees grow a few leaves that are somewhat bigger than others, especially on the north side or interior of the canopy.
I have a lemon tree that lost most of its leaves before we got rid of the spider mites. It has not produced new leaves except on what I think may be a sucker. There are lots and lots of new thorns but no new leaves. Do I need to cut the branch with the new growth? It is right above the graft line. Am I wrong in thinking this is a sucker?
It can be hard to tell, but if it is right above the graft line then it can’t be rootstock. Lemons can have thorny branches of their own, especially certain kinds of lemons, and especially fast-growing, non-fruiting branches.
Thank you so much for the info! I have a dwarf lime with a growing thorny part that I suspected was from the root stalk but I could not find info anywhere other than here as to whether or not it should be removed. I have noticed other trees like japanese maple and magnolia trees that have what looks like rootstock branches with different colors flowers or leaves than the main tree—should these too be removed?
Sorry, but I don’t know much about Japanese maples and magnolias. I read that both are sometimes grafted, so it’s certainly possible that you’ve got rootstock branches on yours. It’s up to you whether you want to remove them, depending on how much you like the way they look.
Thank you for this very useful article. I checked my Trovita after reading your article and suspect that it has two well developed root suckers!
I would like to graft two new varieties, one on each of my 8 years old orange trees. Are the trees too old for grafting on them? If so, do I need to graft below the original graft line, and can I graft onto the rootsuckers?
Lastly, can I graft a lime onto a mandarin tree?
Look forward to your reply.
Your trees are not too old to be grafted onto. You can graft onto the rootstock suckers, yes. You can also graft onto the Trovita sweet orange branches.
I’ve never grafted a lime onto a mandarin so I can’t say for sure what the results will be. My guess is that the graft will grow fine and produce acceptable fruit, at least for a time. Different citrus used as rootstock have different effects on the scion (everything from tree size to acidity of the fruit), and I’ve never heard of that combination but I’d give it a try.
Hello! I just bought a young lemon tree it’s not quite forms a trunk yet it still has a green stem, what would you suggest keeping a eye in in younger citrus
Thank you so much for this article? It proved invaluable to me with several of my small citrus trees. They had been in pots for years and were not doing well because our last house had very little direct sun. We moved to a new house that has a big beautiful yard with lots of sunshine. Each plant had bore a couple pieces of fruit so we didn’t transplant them until we picked the fruit. But by then the trees look terrible and had lost almost all their leaves. We transplanted them in the ground and they are slowly coming back to life. With the exception of our Clementine. It still looks pretty bad. But this article made me go out and check all my trees for rootstock suckers. Hooray! I actually found that our 2 oranges had several rootstock suckers and my Meyer lemon. They were exactly as you described. Very long thorns and 3 leaf clusters. I had no idea about root suckers. I probably would have let them grow not wanting to trim anything off until they looked healthier. So, I just want to thank you for saving 3 of our trees!! I am now going to contact the resource you mentioned to buy a new scion for my poore Clementine. Perhaps I can bring that back to life.
What a gratifying message. Thank you! I’m so glad this post helped you save your trees from the rootstock suckers. Now, best of luck with the clementine!
Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge with us! We have planted 3 citrus trees and an avocado tree. After watching your videos and reading your posts, we were able to figure out that half of our avocado tree was below the graft line. We knew something was wrong, because the leaves were definitely different on each side but we didn’t want to cut the wrong one off.
Two of our citrus trees are ok, and are growing above the graft line. But I am having a hard time deciding on the lemon tree. Home Depot tag:Dwarf lemon Meyer Improved Sticker on the pot: Durling Nursery Inc, Fallbrook, CA SKU #243-395. I can’t tell where the graft line is. Can I send you pictures of the tree so that you could tell me where the graft line is? Most of the branches have thorns on them. Some are large thorns and some have small thorns. In one of the posts above, you mentioned that some lemon trees do have thorns…
Lemon trees are often grown as cuttings rather than grafted onto rootstock so that could explain why you can’t find a graft line.
I have a container lime tree, about 4 feet tall, that was given to me in January by a friend who was moving to Hawaii. She said it was a key lime, and grew small limes like key limes, but they were darker green than key limes. I kept it indoors and within 2 days the leaves began to drop, and by a week later it was leafless. I live in Texas, and I put it on my balcony for more sun; it endured a light freeze one night in February, and then I brought it in again. I checked for green and flexibility in the upper branches and they appeared to be alive. Now the freeze danger is past and the tree is outside and has been growing leaves from the base since mid-to-late March. I looked for suckers growing from below the graft and cut off a couple, but most of the leaves appear to come from above the graft, and none are tripartite. (The tree actually has two trunks.) My question is: will those upper branches eventually leaf out, or should I prune them off? Is there anything I can do to help them? It’s in a terra cotta pot about 16″ deep with a drain hole, and I water it deeply once a week.
If the branches are still alive up near their tips, then there’s a chance they’ll leaf out (scratch to check for green under the bark). Sometimes the tips will die back a bit though. There may be a risk of sunburn to those bare branches; such a risk is certainly there for a tree in my part of Southern California. I would paint the branches with white latex paint mixed about 50/50 with water in order to protect them. See this post (principles are all the same for citrus and avocados): https://gregalder.com/yardposts/avocado-trees-get-sunburned-what-to-do/
Hi Greg! Your article is very interesting. I have a lime tree that was completely wiped out by the last winter storm. I was happy to see sprouts growing from the base, but now (thanks to your article) I realized that they are suckers. So sad. Do I have to take them out? All of them? or do I live one hoping it grows and produce fruits? The main trunk is gone, and no signs of growing from it. It’s very sad because it was a beautiful tree that gave me fruits the whole year, and a lot of them. What do I do?
Sorry to hear this, Luis. If the shoots are all from below the graft, then you can be sure they aren’t your lime. The shoots will produce fruit eventually, but who knows which kind it will be? You can wait and see, or you can graft onto them (or just one) in order to grow a new lime tree.
Hi Greg! Love reading your posts! Is this the same for avocado trees? I’m seeing some growth on my Reed and Fuerte that both have zutano rootstock. I live a little north of Fallbrook and have the lucky opportunity to have some avocado and citrus trees, among other veggies. Thanks!
Yes, Tad. Same for avocados.
Hello, we experienced a winter storm like no other in Texas this past February and lost our orange tree, took forever to drop its leaves, then no new growth and at the base it was like sponge. One of the main branches fell off in the ice/snow storm, another one fell off months later due to wind, and then my husband ended up pushing the rest down this his bare hands. Anyway, today I noticed a tiny bit of new growth at the base original tree trunk! Is it new growth or a rootsucker? Do I leave it there to see what happens. I would love to hear that there is a chance part of my tree is still alive and there is hope for wonderful seedless oranges!
It sounds like what is sprouting is probably rootstock.
Apologies if you’ve already addressed this in another comment: I’m a new homeowner+gardener and I have just discovered why I have ponderosa lemons and thorns up high and Meyers down below . So, now I know I need to get rid of the root stock, restore the Meyer, correct ? What’s the best time of year to prune in Los Angeles , and how aggressively can I prune to start (ie, should this be a gradual process ?) Thank you !
Eureka! You solved the mystery of the freaky fruit from our “lemon” tree. We moved into our house almost 10 years ago, and we were pleased to have a “lemon” tree in the backyard. It’s about 20 feet tall and 15 feet from side to side, but it has NEVER produced normal lemons. The image of the rootstock fruit you included in your article is exactly what we have. We have been trying for years to figure out what is wrong with it. I know, we could have been more diligent, but about once a month I would enter a few search words into google and see what comes up. “Deformed lemon,” “freaky citrus,” and “weird lemons” yielded nothing useful, but apparently, I finally entered the correct search words today and found your article. I am so happy! But I’m also annoyed. That “tree” provides privacy, and If we get rid of it, we’ll have to put in a legitimate lemon tree which will take a decade to grow. Arg.
Do you have suggestions for accelerating growth on a lemon tree? Or do you know of vendors who sell larger containers of trees to start with? I’m willing to spend a bit more to skip the scrawny stage of growing. I wish I would have learned this 9 years ago! I could already have a full grown LEMON tree ready to garnish my iced tea. *Sigh*
I wrote this article for someone exactly like you. If only search engines like Google would get better at giving relevant and quality results.
One possible option is to use your tree as rootstock on which to graft a lemon. Grafting onto such an established rootstock would power incredibly fast growth. Your tree would be back to full size within a few years.
The question is only whether you can do the grafting or hire someone to do it.
Alternatively, buy the biggest new lemon tree you can. And do know that lemon trees grow faster than many other types of citrus.
Let me know your decision and I can try to guide.
Great thread growing here and just thought I would confirm what I think to do. Bought a dwarf 2.5′ tall moro orange last fall that must be grafter onto something. It had 15 immature fruits when we bought it and had a rough time with the transplant shock. Two of the fruits survived and we ate them 🙂 Now, 8 months later some other branches are fast growing, but above the graft area. Seems like we should cut them off. Your thoughts?
If they’re above the graft union, then I wouldn’t automatically cut them off. Only cut them if they’re too low for your preference — for example if they get in the way of your sprinkler or you want the tree to have all its branches up off the ground. All fast-growing branches eventually slow down and start fruiting.
I bought a meyer lemon bush a few months ago, so it’s still pretty small. There are two main stems growing from under the soil, in opposite directions. Both have stems growing off of them, but one of them has a stem growing straight up with large thorns. Since both of the main stems are coming from under the soil, I can’t tell if one of the stems is growing from the rootstock.
I know you mentioned trees should have just one trunk – is this the same for bushes? Do you think I should prune any of the stems? Thanks!
Here are some pictures:
https://ibb.co/BKkw3qR – the arrow is pointing to the thorny stem
https://ibb.co/gRHBpd2 – shows the two stems growing under soil
https://ibb.co/K0WsGBR – up close picture of thorns
https://ibb.co/28DkmrG – the arrow is pointing to where the thorny stem is growing from
That’s an interesting situation. Thanks for sharing the good photos. That looks like all Meyer lemon to me, every single branch.
Often, when a branch is growing nearly horizontally, a new branch will start growing somewhere down below. The reason for this is that there’s a lot of sunlight reaching that part of the branch, plus the hormones at the tip of the branch that usually suppress lower growth is reduced.
The upright, thorny branch is called juvenile growth. You’ll notice that its shape is angular compared to the rounder other branches. It will probably keep shooting straight up for a while and give the tree something of a pyramid shape ultimately. But feel free to pinch the tip of it anytime you want it to slow down.
I have a 30 year old grapefruit tree. I am located in Katy TX, which we had a 100 year freeze this last winter. There are 3 main stalks coming from the ground. I believe 2 are dead. The bark is totally splitting off. Th other one has what I believe to be suckers coming out of it up to about 4.5′ off the ground, at that point the bark starts to split.
Any recomendations? I started to trim off some of the suckers as they were popping up pretty fast!
I’m not totally clear on how the tree is growing, but I would allow all of the grapefruit wood to keep growing. I wouldn’t prune any of it. The tree needs new branches and leaves in order to photosynthesize and make energy to feed down to the roots and keep its system alive.
If there are rootstock suckers growing too, then you should remove them as long as there is also growth coming from the grapefruit branches above.
I have two questions! We just moved into our first home and there is a lemon tree with two trunks, one is from the root stock and one above the graft. Both trunks of the tree are large and well established. Should we remove the second trunk that came from the root stock? Both trees produce a good number of lemons, though the root stock ones are definitely a bit strange (but great for being put down the garbage disposal to refresh!!) Right now we are using the root stock trunk to try to pull the main trunk away from our garage a bit, as per an arborist we consulted, but would love to get your opinion as we were not super impressed by the arborist.
My second question… we planted a tangerine tree that we got through the City of LA City Plants program… and we planted it way too late (well into summer) and it did not grow at all for awhile, but recently it has grown a bit taller and there is a bunch of new growth low on the trunk. I removed the growth that was below the graft, but if there is new growth forming low on the trunk but above the graft should that be removed?
I have an orange tree that died due to the freeze in Texas this year. It has sprouted branches from the middle of the graft site. Not above or below. The leaves are not sets of 3 nor thorny. The leaves look just like they looked before. I planted the tree 10 years ago. It is the growing on the graft site that gives me doubt. Should I let them grow?
I think in your case I would let them grow. This will help the whole tree’s system resume health, and the new growth will possibly bloom next spring so you might be able to see late next year whether it will produce the oranges you had before — then prune or not, as necessary.
Thank you Greg!
My landscaper told me yesterday the new growth is just below the grafting site. If that is the case, should I leave it and and use the rootstock for grafting new branches. If so, what do you recommend?
Yes, you can graft onto those branches from the rootstock. Most likely, since the tree was grafted to orange before, any kind of orange you want to graft onto it will be compatible. You could try other types of citrus but they may not be as compatible with that rootstock.
You can keep the rootstock branch on the lemon if you want. It won’t hurt the (“true”) lemon branch unless you let it get too big and it shades the lemon branch too much. It’s totally up to you and whether or not that rootstock branch is useful to you.
Whether or not to remove the low growth on the tangerine just depends on how you want the tree to look in the long run. If you want it to take the shape of a large bush with branches all the way to the ground, then don’t remove them. If you want it to look more like a tree with branches up off the ground, then remove them. Both shapes are perfectly acceptable. I grow my citrus in both styles. It’s up to you.
Hi. I have a grapefruit tree that was gifted to me. I was told it’s 30 years old, came from the seed of a store bought grapefruit, and has never flowered or bared fruit. It’s in a pot because we live where it freezes all winter long. It’s roughly 6 ft tall. It has thrones all over the trunk and the leafy brances. Many of the branches have no leaves at all. I’d like to save this tree and even see it fruit if possible, but I know nothing about citrus and as far as I can tell this tree may not even be meant for potted/indoor growing. Any help you can offer would be great!
I just purchased an Oroblanco semi dwarf tree from my local retail nursery. The young tree has one trunk and two branches coming off of it. I suspect one is a root stock branch since it has large (1/2 inch) thorns while the other branch has tiny thorns. Interesting to note – the suspect root stock branch does NOT have tri-foliate leaves. It’s leaves look just like the other branch. I don’t know enough about citrus to determine if this is the way it’s supposed to grow or not. I’d like to remove it if it is a root stock branch – it seems to be growing more vigorous than the other. Any ideas? thanks!
P.S – after googling the subject of citrus suckers – maybe this is a “water spout” branch?
Hello, I have a 6 year old orange tree that has one branch which produces amazing oranges, and the rest (about 5) branches produce sour nasty fruit so they are definitely rootstock. Can I cut off the rootstock branches and hope the one good branch will take over? Or should I somehow graft on the mature rootstock? Thank you.
Without seeing the tree, I’d guess that you can probably safely cut off all the rootstock branches and get the orange to take over the tree once again. Be careful about sunburning the orange branch after you cut out the rootstock. See this post for how to protect from the sun: https://gregalder.com/yardposts/avocado-trees-get-sunburned-what-to-do/
This post is great! I currently have a sucker orchard in my yard. I lost my 2 Satsuma orange trees in a freeze last year but the suckers are all doing great! (of course lol) It seems like a good opportunity to try grafting for the first time. How big should I let the ‘trunks’ of the suckers get before I attempt to graft on a new tree? Right now I have varying widths of about 1.5 inches to skinny pencil-sized stems.
Can someone tell me which one is grafted?
I have a young mystery tangerine tree with 2 trunks. It was on property when I moved here 4 years (in August) ago. They both look grafted to me but I am a beginner and research says thats unlikely.
I don’t see how to post pictures here but I can send them to someone with more knowledge than me.
Thanks in advance and have a great day!
Why must citrus trees be grafted? Is it possible to use a non-grafted citrus tree?
Citrus trees only need to be grafted if you want to ensure that they produce a certain kind of fruit. If you grow a tree from a seed, you sometimes get a tree that makes fruit that is slightly different from the fruit from which the seed was taken.
Here are a few related posts that you might find interesting:
Local Open Range cattle got into and ate leaves off our grapefruit tree in January. It’s now May and the tree has not bloomed or grown any new leaves. Appears in shock. Remaining leaves are yellowing, some with brown on the edges. Tree is 10 YO, I removed suckers last fall. Recently used citrus fertilizer, super thrive…. 2 months ago. My other 5 varieties of citrus are fenced off from cattle and are going great. Ideas