Photo by Brandy Cowley-Gilbert Tree Ripe North Florida Citrus
November 15, 2013
By Brandy Cowley-Gilbert
Living in Florida certainly has its advantages, warm sunny summers and mild warm winters. We happen to live and garden in one of the rare climates where we can grow citrus fruit. In the central part of the state citrus groves are everywhere, and here in North Florida, with some careful selection and good cultural practices, we too can grow a wide range of oranges, lemons, limes and grapefruit.
Successfully growing citrus in our area requires following a few simple rules. Choose the right variety, and make sure it’s grafted on the right rootstock. Pick the right place to plant the tree, and protect it while it’s young.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT VARIETY GRAFTED ON THE RIGHT ROOTSTOCK
In the world of citrus there are literally hundreds of varieties to choose from. Here in the colder regions we look for varieties that have cold tolerance, and will ripen their fruit before cold weather sets in. The rootstock your tree is grafted on plays a big part of whether it will survive the cold in our area. We need our trees grafted on Trifoliate orange rootstock. There are several varieties of trifoliate and some will dwarf your tree, making it easier to cover and to pick fruit from. A knowledgeable nursery will know the difference and be able to guide you in the correct selection.
If you are new to citrus growing the best way to get started to choose some of the most cold- hardy varieties. Satsuma tangerines are super popular and come in several varieties. Brown Select and Xie Shan are early ripening, while Owari and Kimbrough ripen somewhat later. Choosing some of each will give you a longer ripening season. Other good cold hardy choices are Nagami (sour) and Meiwa (sweet) Kumquats, Meyer and Harvey lemons, Calamondins, and Changshi tangarines; all these can take most of what Mother Nature dishes out in our area. Once you’ve mastered these, you can expand your selections with early ripening varieties of tangerine, oranges and grapefruit. Always choose varieties that ripen in the October through December window, before the coldest weather sets in so you are only protecting the trees against hard freezes 25F or below. Tender citrus like Key Limes, Blood Oranges and late ripening oranges can be grown in containers and brought in during freezes below 28F.
PLANT IN THE RIGHT SPOT
Choose the right site to plant your trees. The best place to plant your trees are in area that is sheltered from north winds, look for sunny south sides of buildings, trees or walls, and be sure to plant the trees 6-8 foot away from the structure to allow room to grow. Areas under pine trees, or between large shade trees, are also great spots for citrus. As a rule, any place that has a good stand of grass growing is sunny enough for a citrus tree.
PROTECT WHILE YOUNG
It’s important to protect your new citrus trees, as most citrus trees are lost to freezes the first or second year. The tree gains cold tolerance as it matures. Be sure to cover your trees with two layers of frost protection. For the inside layer against the tree, use cloth, burlap or weed barrier cloth. Over that use plastic. Make sure the tarps cover the tree to the ground and are weighted down to keep cold air out, and to keep them from blowing off on windy nights.
Nothing beats walking out and picking tree ripe citrus in the winter, while the rest of the country trucks in oranges, limes and grapefruit. The fruit tastes so much better, and citrus trees rarely have major pests or diseases in our area, so you can rest assured that your fruit is grown naturally.
Brandy Cowley-Gilbert co-owner of Just Fruits and Exotics Nursery, and a member of the Leon County/UF IFAS Extension Urban Forestry/Horticulture Newspaper Column Working Group. For more information about gardening in our area, visit the UF/ IFAS Leon County Extension website at http://leon.ifas.ufl.edu. For gardening questions, email us at email@example.com