Weather is one of the most important factors of growing citrus

Weather is one of the most important factors of growing citrus. The Panhandle is classified as a mild subtropical climate, but this still comes with challenges when managing citrus. As southern Florida has issues growing apples and blueberries, we in the Panhandle, struggle at times with citrus varieties during winter months.

Almost all fruit trees in our hardiness zone are deciduous. Therefore, during the winter, these trees go through a dormant or semi-dormant stage, where leaf drop is common. Fruit trees need a dormant time of cooler temperatures, known as chilling. This process prepares the tree to resume growth the following spring. For citrus, 45 degrees F is an approximate chilling temperature. However, all citrus fruit tree varieties differ regarding their needed chilling term requirement. It’s important to note the if the tree does not receive the ample term of chilling, the fruit yield will diminish the following year. At worst case, the tree may only live for a few years longer. Good news, the Panhandle receives a significant amount of chilling time each year, enough for most varieties of any fruit tree.

The other side of the coin, as stated earlier, is hardiness. Hardiness is our main challenge in the Panhandle in respect for cold temps and citrus. Hardiness refers to the ability of a tree or plant to withstand cold temperatures without injury or death. Most varieties of citrus cannot tolerate low temperatures. However, some citrus varieties, like satsuma are cold hardy to about 15 degrees F. The key is how fast and cold the temperatures come on. A gradual, incremental drop in temperatures over time is the best scenario for survival. In this region, we do have the occasional northern Arctic front that swoops down to cause issues at times. But, coastal counties in the Panhandle like Gulf traditionally suffer less freeze damage. There have been three major freezes since the 1980’s, which have devastated citrus in the region.

So, how does a homeowner care for their citrus in extreme cold conditions? A good start would be to plant citrus on the south side of a house or structure to minimize cold wind impacts. For freeze warnings, soil can be mounded around the trunk in a pyramid pattern for further root insulation. For small, younger trees that are more susceptible, large garbage cans or a portable structure with a 60-watt lightbulb fixture placed under the shelter will help the tree through the cold weather.

Weather conditions loom large when managing citrus. Before you plant, be sure to gather information on the variety’s cold hardiness, chilling requirement and take the proper management practices. For more information, please contact Gulf County Extension at 639-3200. Happy Holidays!

Supporting information can be found in the UF/IFAS EDIS publication, “Your Florida Dooryard Citrus Guide” by Jim Ferguson: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/features/handbooks/dooryardcitrus.html & “Sustainability Assessment of Fruit and Nut Crops in North Florida and North Central Florida” by Peter C. Andersen, Kevin R. Athearn, Mercy A. Olmstead, and Jeffrey G. Williamson: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/MG/MG36700.pdf

An Equal Opportunity Institution. UF/IFAS Extension, University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, Nick T. Place, Dean for UF/IFAS Extension. Single copies of UF/IFAS Extension publications (excluding 4-H and youth publications) are available free to Florida residents from county UF/IFAS Extension offices.