Failed Citrus Grafts

About 2 years ago, I received a Moro Blood Orange Tree as a gift. This tree spends the summers outside and the winters inside near the west window of the house. This past fall, our weather stayed very warm late into the season. I made the mistake of over-estimating the cold-hardiness of the Moro orange tree. A couple nights, the temperature dipped into the high 20’s. Upon bringing the tree into the house, all the leaves fell, and branches turned black.

Failed Orange Graft

Failed moro orange graft

Weak graft failed when temperatures dipped below 25F.

Now, Moro orange is supposed to be hardy to zone 9, or around 20F-25F for its lowest temperature. Much of this hardiness is owed to the fact that most dwarf Moro orange trees are grafted to Trifolate orange rootstock. Trifolate orange is one of the hardiest citrus, and can even be grown in warmer or protected areas of zone 5. It is unusual in that this tree is deciduous, which helps protect it in freezing temperatures.

When my tree was exposed to the cold temps, the union between the Trifolate rootstock, and the Moro scion (which was probably weak to begin with) failed, leading to the death of the scion.  Earlier in the season, this tree had shown some areas of chlorosis, or leaf yellowing, and the area around the graft appeared to be girdling the tree a bit. It’s likely this graft would have failed eventually anyway, as the trunk was growing at a much different rate than the scion, and the graft was not strong.

Trifolate Orange

What I have left is a trunk with no leaves. I continued to water about every 2 weeks throughout the winter because there was some green still in the trunk. Superthrive I also used a few drops of Superthrive (my bonsai/indoor tree magic potion) with each watering. Superthrive is a combination of b-vitamins, hormones, and other non-disclosed secrets that many indoor gardeners swear by.  I’m not sure how much is hype, and how much is real, but it’s cheap, so oh well.

Last week, it appeared that this tree broke dormancy and 2 small leaf buds appeared low on the trunk. If this continues to grow, it will require a lot of re-working and re-pruning, but I may end up with a nice Trifolate orange, or Poncirus trifoliata, for a bonsai.

Trifolate Orange Buds

Trunk with new buds appearing.

In Asian and Mexican cooking, the oranges from these trees, which tend to be small, seedy, and bitter, are used similar to limes. They can also be used in marmalade.  In warmer climates, this tree, sometimes referred to as Bitter Orange, or Flying Dragon Orange, is used as a sort of natural barbed wire fence.  Its branches are generally curled, and full of dangerous looking thorns.

In zone 5, it’s even -possible- to grow these trees outdoors if they are given protection in the winter, or if grown in an area that stays warmer.  I’m not sure that I’d trying planting one any time soon, but it might be a fun experiment if I had the space for a killer shrub.  For now, my dragon is going to stay in the pot.

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