Growing Citrus in Marginal (colder) Zones

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Several years ago, I had a dream to grow citrus trees. It started with a Ponkan tangerine my Dad got. I planted it myself, and my desire for more grew. We now have in our side yard 5 citrus trees total. Oldest being the Ponkan planted in 2009, Glen navel orange 2009, Meyer lemon 2009, Ruby Red grapefruit 2010, and Parson Brown orange 2011. 

This is a very marginal zone here in the Florida Panhandle for citrus. There are only a handful of citrus that are Bulletproof for such areas that receive upper teens every few years.

Unfortunately, the first winter my citrus experienced was pretty bad. January 2010 got to 17 degrees. I wasn't as experienced with protecting things then, and I threw a few blankets over the small trees. Of course they blew or partially blew off in the wind. All the citrus had total defoliation, but thankfully came back (Meyer lemon, Ponkan tangerine, and Glen navel orange). 

I've found the cold hardiness of my 5 citrus varieties to be in this order from most cold hardy to least. Parson Brown orange (hardly any leaves damaged after upper teens), Ponkan tangerine (little to moderate defoliation from upper teens), Glen navel (good amount of defoliation from aforementioned temps, but comes back strong), Ruby red grapefruit (about same as Glen navel), and Meyer lemon (defoliates in low 20's, but fairly stem hardy and comes back strong).

As for fruiting, it has been somewhat of a mixed bag. For maybe 4 years, I've gotten good crops off the ponkan tangerine (one year I counted over 100 fruits on it), Ruby red grapefruit only once had an appreciable crop (2012 while it still wasn't that big of a tree), glen navel- only one year (2014) it had a good crop of oranges on it, parson brown- while it was still a very small tree it got a good amount of oranges on it, and then this year it has just a few. And Meyer lemon has been the best fruiting one, with several to over a dozen fruits on the tree each winter. All those other years though, many of them have just not fruited that much or even at all.

Check out my post Spring in Northwest Florida for some additional pictures of my trees.

What are your experiences with growing citrus in a marginal zone?

 

Edited by Opal92
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Ponkan tangerine on right, Ruby Red Grapefruit on left.

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Glen navel orange

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Meyer lemon

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Parson Brown orange

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Edited by Opal92
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Parson brown oranges on the tree right now.

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Glen navel oranges (hardly any on the tree this year, but 2 are visible here).

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Ponkan tangerines

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Meyer lemon developing fruits

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Meyer lemon

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Edited by Opal92
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Most citrus can take upper teens without a problem. Limes, citrons & lemons are the few that really take any damage. I have 40+ citrus in my yard & never protect anything. They produce thousands of fruit every year.

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Maybe you can try a satsuma (japanese mandarine) from the variety Oksitu, it flowers late and produces fruit early than any of the citrus. I want to try it but I'm searching for a specimen carried on Citrus trifoliata (the hardiest carry of citrus).

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On 5/24/2017, 11:03:04, Laaz said:

Most citrus can take upper teens without a problem. Limes, citrons & lemons are the few that really take any damage. I have 40+ citrus in my yard & never protect anything. They produce thousands of fruit every year.

Wow, that's a lot of citrus! Can you give some highlights of what varieties you have?

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Recently got a Ponderosa lemon. (also called the 3 pound lemon)- it's actually a hybrid between a citron and a lemon. This one is too cold tender to grow in ground here, so it will be a potted plant as long as I can keep it. Ponderosa blooms almost constantly: and I've found that to be true with this one as almost every stem has developed flowers.

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I think I will cut this lemon off since the plant is so small and it would put all it's energy into this fruit.

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What varieties? Lol, too many. Variegated satsuma, variegated hamlin, variegated valencia, variegated cara cara, variegated blood orange, blood clementine, ponkan, ruby red, many different satsumas, navel, clemenules, sudachi, sanbokan, eustis limequat, feminello lemons... There's more I can't remember at the moment...

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Here's a quick pic this morning of one of my seed grown ruby reds still holding a ton of fruit.

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Edited by Laaz
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On 5/26/2017, 6:03:55, Laaz said:

What varieties? Lol, too many. Variegated satsuma, variegated hamlin, variegated valencia, variegated cara cara, variegated blood orange, blood clementine, ponkan, ruby red, many different satsumas, navel, clemenules, sudachi, sanbokan, eustis limequat, feminello lemons... There's more I can't remember at the moment...

Cool! what's the lowest temps they've seen?

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Probably 19 or 20F.

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3 hours ago, Laaz said:

Probably 19 or 20F.

Your climate is just a little friendlier than mine for the citrus I think. Although my ultimate lows have been only a couple degree colder than yours, frequency of the freezes around 20 degrees or under is just a little greater here.  

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Here are the earliest pictures I can find of my citrus. This was in May of 2009.

Meyer lemon

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Glen navel orange

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Edited by Opal92
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Before the 2010 freeze, we also had a limequat bush. Really liked it. Was everblooming, and the fruit had a nice limey tang.

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Ponkan tangerine

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Amazing how much growth in just a few months. These were taken in September 2009.

Limequat

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Meyer lemon

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Edited by Opal92
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Ponkan tangerine

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Me trying to scrape leaf miners off the navel orange.

593057ebc7c55_WeekendActivities12Sep024.

 

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These Giant swallowtail caterpillars really like the citrus. I leave them on, as there aren't enough to do real damage. Nice native butterfly, the adults are huge and so beautiful. I see them flying around laying eggs on the new growth from time to time.

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Adult (picture taken from wikimedia commons)

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April 2010- after the hard winter with one night getting to 17 degrees. It was taking a long time for some of the citrus to come back after defoliation.

Ponkan tangerine was pretty resilient.

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and flowered!

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With the meyer lemon, I thought most of the stems were dead and SEVERELY cut it back. I also did this partially because I expected I was going to have to remove it. I didn't know it would just take a little more time for it to come back. Of course, it did come back, and is one of my best trees now.

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Glen navel orange came back just fine.

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Edited by Opal92
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Had 2 new additions to my citrus plot that year. A pink fleshed pummelo [tag said "HP pummelo (pink)"] and the Ruby red Grapefruit. The latter grew like a bullet, while the pummelo was slower, and then unfortunately got weed eater damage at the base which began it's decline. It was gone after that winter. I'm sure if we'd taken better care of it it would have grown just fine.

Ruby red

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Pummelo

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How things were looking a couple months later in June.

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Note how strong the Meyer lemon came back compared to the April 2010 Picture.

July 2010

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All healthy and happy with new growth. March 2011. By this time, we had replaced the pummelo with the Parson Brown orange (visible near the end with the orange tags)

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First significant flowering for many of the trees in March 2012

Grapefruit

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Edited by Opal92
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Parson Brown orange

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Meyer lemon

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Grapefruit unfortunately got strafed by the weed eater. I was really concerned, but it healed with no problems whatsoever.

March 2012

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Edited by Opal92
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Fruits growing April 2012.

Parson brown oranges

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Grapefruits developing

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September 2012

Grapefruit getting big. I actually had to thin a little as some twigs had too many fruit on them.

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Ponkan tangerine

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Parson brown orange. Oddly, it developed this black mold/mildew/fungus? on the rind. Looked it up, and it is harmless to the tree/fruit quality and is still totally edible. Weird though how only this tree got it.

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Edited by Opal92
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January 2013- our first real harvest.

Meyer lemon

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Edited by Opal92
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Ruby Red Grapefruit. Doesn't look like a whole lot of fruit in these pictures, but there was at least 2 dozen, I think even more. They're all hidden on the underside of the tree.

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Edited by Opal92
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Parson brown

 

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Ponkan tangerine

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Edited by Opal92
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Fast forward to polar vortex 2014. Heavy duty covering on the night of 17 degrees. The entire next day, it never really got above freezing, and the next night was something like 21 or 22 degrees. Here are my covering methods :P Spotlights underneath each tree I think made the big difference vs. just the coverings. This protection saved all trees except the Meyer lemon from complete defoliation. In late January though, we had the winter precip. event with light sleet and freezing rain. First of all, I was distracted and excited with the possiblity of frozen precip. in our area, and then I sort of thought ice forming on the leaves would insulate it in a way (like what you see them do in central FL). Was not a very good decision. Caused more damage and some additional defoliation.

Meyer lemon

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Parson brown orange

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Navel orange

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Ruby red and ponkan tangerine on right.

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Edited by Opal92
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The other best fruiting year besides 2012 was 2014. That spring, the glen navel (for the first time) and the ponkan tangerine flowered like crazy and I had great crops off them.

Here are a couple photos showing the navel oranges developing that year.

June

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September

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Harvest Dec 2014

Ponkan tangerine. I think this was the year that I counted over 100 fruits initially (I thinned some of them out earlier in the year because it was too much on some of the branches).

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This is the best picture I could find of the Glen navel orange with the ripe fruit on it. Aesthetically beautiful fruit as well as one of the best oranges you will taste! The Glen navel orange is a mutation of the Washington navel orange. Several trees of what would become Glen it were found growing in a grove of Washington navel at Glen St. Mary Nurseries in Glen St. Mary, FL the 1950's. It grows a lot better in FL conditions than regular Washington navel and the variety is now used commercially in FL. Here is a site describing this variety more with additional pictures.

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Glen navel orange on left with ponkans on right.

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Edited by Opal92
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A few more close up pictures of cut fruit off the trees.

Meyer lemons can get huge! This picture shows a meyer lemon (with my finger on it) in comparison to the grapefruit

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Meyer lemons with ponkan tangerine in middle

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The Meyer lemon has a much different taste than a regular lemon. You will hear that is less acidic and that is true. I've tried using slices in my water and making lemonade with it, but I just can't get used to the different taste that it has, I would describe it as a spicy-sweet tang. I have heard that it is good in desserts though. So one year, I made a cold lemon pie with the Meyer lemon, and it was amazing!

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Edited by Opal92
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Also here's a couple shots showing the ponkan tangerine fruit up close. Fruits near the top of the tree I've found to be much larger (even almost the size of a grapefruit) and with a more bumpy rind and not quite as juicy, while fruits near the bottom of the tree smaller with a tighter and smoother skin and very juicy. Ponkan is an old variety from India. It is known for being very sweet and extremely easy to peel. Much of the time, once you begin to peel it, the rest of it basically falls apart in your hand. It never has gotten much commercial use though since the fruit doesn't ship well.

Fruit from the top of the tree.

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Fruit farther down on the tree are more like cutie clementines.

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So there's just about the entire history of my citrus trees! Tell me about yours!

Edited by Opal92
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2 hours ago, Opal92 said:

Ponkan tangerine

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Me trying to scrape leaf miners off the navel orange.

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Do u have any advise on how to get rid of leaf miners? They are attacking my orange and lemon trees. I hear they are an epidemic nationwide. I have tried sprays with no good results. I recently tried systemic and am now just waiting to see. 

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56 minutes ago, 5150cycad said:

Do u have any advise on how to get rid of leaf miners? They are attacking my orange and lemon trees. I hear they are an epidemic nationwide. I have tried sprays with no good results. I recently tried systemic and am now just waiting to see. 

Yes, I've been pretty frustrated with them over the years. I can't stand the disfigured leaves. Sometimes (as you saw in the picture) I scrape each one off by hand. This was better when the the trees were smaller though. As for another method, I recently sprayed the new growth on my grapefruit (which was starting to get infected) with Bayer Advanced 3-in1 Insect, Disease, & Mite Control. In the next few weeks I hardly noticed any leaf miners on them. In the past I used a product (forget exact name, but pretty much the same thing) by Ortho and it had the same results.

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I have a washington navel orange that I keep in my small greenhouse during the winter. I had hundreds of blooms this past spring but all of the fruits dropped? It's blooming a second flush now. Hopefully some of the new fruits develop without dropping. Not sure why they dropped. 

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On 6/7/2017, 11:24:52, Brad Mondel said:

I have a washington navel orange that I keep in my small greenhouse during the winter. I had hundreds of blooms this past spring but all of the fruits dropped? It's blooming a second flush now. Hopefully some of the new fruits develop without dropping. Not sure why they dropped. 

The exact same thing happened to my navel orange last year! It had a good crop of fruit, but in June (I think it was) they all dropped off. I saw on some site recently that this can happen on citrus and they actually call it "June drop." Apparently it can happen especially when there is a stress on the tree. Here's a couple good articles I found about it.

http://irrec.ifas.ufl.edu/flcitrus/pdfs/short_course_and_workshop/citrus_flowering/Davies-Fruit_Drop_Problems.pdf

http://articles.latimes.com/1999/jun/19/home/hm-47982

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