Cold weather creates citrus dilemma
Photo by Trevor Hylton, Defoliation caused by cold damage
January 24, 2014
By Trevor Hylton
The recent cold spell we had is the worst I have seen in all thirty years that I have lived in Tallahassee; I have experienced colder temperatures here but never that persistently. I remember going to lunch and leaving my drink cup in my truck and the following day at lunchtime it was still frozen, getting cold in Tallahassee is not uncommon but staying cold is what we are not used to.
I have two mature citrus trees, an orange and a tangor which is a hybrid of the mandarin orange and the sweet orange. The name “tangor” is a formation from the “tang” of tangerine and the “or” of orange. Both trees are over 12 feet tall and have been producing for years. They are located under an oak tree which provides cold protection and as such the fruits usually remain on the trees well into spring.
Subsequent to those two days of continuous below freezing temperatures I walked in my backyard to see an ordinarily colorful garden with mostly one color…..brown. After assessing the extent of the freeze damage to my annuals and some of the perennials I turned my attention to my citrus trees. I noticed that there was excessive leaf loss and some of the leaves that were still on the tree showed signs of browning on the margin. I shook a branch to ascertain the extent of the leaf drop and leaves fell like rain. I shook a little harder and a number of fruits started falling. I realized then that I may lose most of my tangor. One might question my decision to not have harvested those fruits before the freeze but even though they had turned yellow a month ago, they were not ripe. This variety naturally matures late and is for that reason it is not usually recommended for our area. Being a stubborn, risk taking gardener who does not believe that my friends in the southern parts of the state should be the only ones to enjoy this extremely sweet juicy fruit, I decided to embrace this variety for its many desirable characteristics despite its cold intolerance.
I did not observe any twig damage so I know the tree will rebound from this with ease. I am concerned though, that should we see another harsh cold spell, then I may get a reduction in production next season. This is because some of those buds may be starting to develop soon. I also think that the plant will be using most of its energy to replace the missing leaves and will not have enough for fruit production. Right now I don’t know how this story is going to end but I hope this winter ends soon.
Trevor Hylton is an Extension Agent with Florida A&M University and University of Florida IFAS Extension in Leon and Wakulla Counties. 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 Ask-A-Mastergardener@leoncountyfl.gov