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Cold-Hardy Citrus Trees



Citrus is one of the most favorite fruit trees to grow, and new cold-hardy varieties can be grown as far north as central Georgia, and along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts from Charleston to Houston. Citrus can also be grown easily in containers, so can be a great patio plant and brought indoors during cold days, or kept in a sun-room for the winter. The fragrance of citrus blossoms is one of the most wonderful perfumes imaginable, and picking fresh citrus and squeezing your own juice is one of the best joys in all of growing fruit!

Introduced to the New World by Christopher Columbus, there is a tremendous diversity in types of citrus. Citrus hybridizes readily and some of the very best types are hybrids.

Some of the basic types are:

- Mandarins and tangerines - very hardy trees, originally from Asia, with segmented fruit with a wonderful tangy sweetness and skin that is easily peeled. Satsuma Mandarins have a very good cold tolerance system. They can survive in temperatures as low as 15 degrees F.

- Oranges - medium sized trees that are excellent for juice like Valencia, or the very hardy Blood Oranges with their sweet red flesh and juice, or fresh eating fruit like Navel oranges.

- Grapefruits and Pummelos - very hardy large trees, large thick skinned fruit, great for juice and fresh eating

- Lemons and Limes - small trees that are attractive ornamental; some are very hardy such as Meyer Lemons, and will take temperatures in the low 20s or even colder! Limes are not very cold hardy they can get damaged in temperatures below 33F.

- Kumquats and hybrids - small very hardy trees, with small fruit that ripen year-round. Kumquats sweet-flavored skin is used in making marmelade, and Limequats, a unique hybrid, are dwarf trees that can be grown in a small space, and will withstand temperatures in the teens!

Nothing is easier to grow than citrus. Besides a good fertilization and watering program, they require little pruning, and have few pest problems. They continue to grow as long as temperature is warm. Planting in a warmer micro climate is the key to success, such as the south face of a house, on hillsides, near lakes or under overhead shade (such as under an oak canopy).

Cold Protection

Most people lose their citrus trees in the first or second year of the tree’s life. It pays to protect these small trees during 25 degrees F or lower freezes.

In general, cold winds come from the north and west . Never plant citrus in the North wind! Cold air drains down slopes, so the tops and sides of hills are warmer than low spots. Overhanging trees help trap heat, as do ponds or other water bodies. Citrus on the south or east of buildings will be protected from north winds and will receive heat radiated from the house. As you plan your plantings, try to locate potential sites offering some cold protection combined with maximum sunlight and good drainage

Cover completely with a two-layer combination of a blanket and then plastic. Uncover the next day as it warms up. Mulch is pulled away from the base of the tree to increase heat and absorption during the day.

Once established, citrus trees can tolerate lower temperatures and recover more quickly from freezes.

The duration of freezing temperatures can be more critical than the minimum temperature. For example, serious damage may not occur during a brief drop to 24 degrees F, but could result after several hours at 26 degrees F. Moreover, previous exposure to cold increases the plant's ability to withstand cold. As the days shorten and nights get cooler, plants slow active growth an attain cold-hardiness. For example, Satsumas may withstand 15 degrees F in January when it is completely dormant and hardy, but it may be seriously damaged at 26 degrees F in mid- November.


Well-drained sandy loam soils are preferred, but citrus will grow on many soil types if good drainage is provided. Citrus will grow more vigorously and produce more fruit in full sun. By full sun we mean at least 6 hours of sun in the afternoon. You can also grow citrus under pine trees as long as you have shifting light all day long. Prepare the area by removing any weeds prior to planting. This step is often over looked but is absolutely critical to any successful planting. Weeds and grass steal light, water and nutrients from your trees.

How to plant

Gently remove the plant from the pot and place in the planting hole. To avoid burying too deep, make sure plant is positioned with the top most roots at the soil line. Fill the planting hole with the mix of soil and organic matter; (do not add mushroom compost or manure) gently tamp it in. Water thoroughly to settle the roots and eliminate air pockets.

Dig a planting hole approximately two times the width of the pot and at the same depth as the root ball. Enrich the planting hole with peat moss or composted pine bark mixed with soil dug from the hole (50:50 mix).

If desired, construct a water basin around the base of the tree approximately 36 inches in diameter. Keep the area under the canopy of the tree clear of grass and weeds to minimize competition for water and nutrients. Mulch this area with 2-3 inches of mulch, leaving an area about 2 feet from the trunk mulch free or at most only ½ inch thick. Citrus like their roots on top and slightly exposed. Citrus that grow into trees such as satsumas and grapefruit should be spaced 15 feet apart while bushy citrus plants such as kumquats may be spaced as closely as 10 feet.


Citrus trees are heavy feeders. You can use a good citrus fertilizer like Espoma Citrus tone (organic) or 10-10-10 with minerals. Spread the fertilizer evenly under the entire canopy of the plant avoiding a 6-inch area around the trunk. Water in.

In North Florida, we fertilize in late February as the weather warms and the trees come out of dormancy, and again in late May and late July . Withhold fertilizer in fall and winter to slow growth and encourage dormancy during cold weather. Never fertilize after August as this will promote new growth late in the year which will be subject to freeze damage


The first year is a critical time for the establishment of a new citrus tree. Water thoroughly twice a week on light soils and once a week on clay soils. Soak the entire root system deeply – this usually takes 50-60 minutes. Established citrus should receive at least 1 inch of water each week. Water regularly, especially during dry periods. Fruit may drop prematurely if insufficiently irrigated during dry spells.


Prune in March/ early May to maintain height and to thin out interior for good air circulation. Pruning after May can open up the canopy and expose branches to harsh sunlight. Because of the sun's intensity during the summer months, exposed branches can get sunscald or bark rot, both conditions that will eventually require branch removal. At anytime remove dead, damaged, crossed or diseased limbs, water sprouts and rootstock suckers. Trim back excessive growth to keep an even shaped canopy. Make all cuts flush with the limb or the next largest branch. Do not leave stubs. Never prune in winter as this will stimulate growth.

Young Citrus Trees:Because pruning should be minimal doesn't mean you can get away with no pruning at all. Young trees need regular attention to grow properly. Sprout removal is the most critical task when trees are young and not well-established. Weak limbs should be carefully removed as well.

Mature citrus trees still need sprouts removed regularly. They also may need judicious pruning of dead branches. Any limb that looks as if it's ailing should be removed to keep any potential problems from spreading. This also keeps a dying limb from using water and nutrients that could benefit the rest of the tree.

When you're pruning citrus trees, look for limbs that crisscross and remove them. If fruit isn't growing inside the tree, then pruning so that more light and air can get through the canopy may be necessary, but generally this is only in cases where the trees are extremely dense. If the bottom of the canopy is low, hanging down, or starting to show signs of disease, then it should be removed.

Height: 10-20' (depending on type)

Tree Form: Bush

Pollination: Self-pollinating
Bears: All year (depending on type)
Light requirements: Full sun, partial shade for cold protection
Soil type: Well-drained pH 5.5-7.0

Watering: The first year watering is crucial for establishment of new citrus trees. Water thoroughly twice a week on light soils and once a week for clay soils. Soak the entire root system deeply.

Pruning: Prune in June/July to maintain height and thin out interior for good circulation. At anytime remove dead, damaged, crossed or diseased limbs, water sprouts or rootstock suckers. Trim back excessive growth to keep an even shaped canopy.

Fertilization: Citrus are heavy feeders. Use a good citrus fertilizer, fertilize in late February as the trees come out of dormancy, and again in late May and late July. Do not fertilize after August

Maintenance: Easy

Hardiness Zone: 8b-10


No citrus trees can be taken outside of the state of Florida.