Plant rescue

Plant Rescue

Got a lemon that’s looking worse for wear, or a pot plant in need of TLC? Sometimes, plants that look like they’re not long for this world can actually be saved. Here are some first-aid options that might bring them back from the brink.

The leafless lemon

Lemon trees are prone to what’s called root rot. Allied with that is collar rot, where the bark just above ground level starts to split and ooze. Leaf drop and dead twigs are other symptoms.

This problem is much more likely to occur in heavy soils, after rainy periods, or when the lemon tree is growing in shade.

Clear away the rotten bark with a knife or chisel, and paint the area with a paste made from copper fungicide and a little water. Make sure no grass is growing around the base, and spread an 8cm-thick layer of organic-based mulch over the root area, avoiding contact with the trunk. Spray twice a year with a root rot fungicide.

If drainage is poor, consider growing a new lemon tree in a better-draining part of the garden, or in a large pot, where good drainage is more easily guaranteed.

The sad container plant

Pots can make life tough for plants. Very small pots, in particular, pose a threat because they dry out and heat readily. Roots hate being hot, and the soil or potting mix should feel cool when you insert your index finger. If it doesn’t, the plant will always struggle. One tip is to line the inside of the pot with sheets of newspaper or a layer of bubble wrap, as this acts as insulation.

Also, check that the mix can drain freely. This is especially important if the plant has been in the container for a long time, because roots often grow down into the soil beneath the pot and gradually expand to block the drainage holes. Clear the holes and raise the base onto pot feet or old bricks.

If a pot has dried out, it’s worth trying a ‘resurrection soak’. Submerge the pot
in a container of water for 10–15 minutes until bubbles stop rising. This can often bring a sad specimen back to life.

Pick up more first-aid tips in the January 2021 issue of ABC Gardening Australia magazine, out now.