Cold Hardy Citrus Trees: Citrus Trees That Are Cold Tolerant

Cold Hardy Citrus Trees: Citrus Trees That Are Cold Tolerant

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By: Amy Grant

When I think of citrus trees, I also think of warm temps and sunny days, perhaps combined with a palm tree or two. Citrus are semi-tropical to tropical fruit crops which are fairly low maintenance and easy to grow, but not usually in regions where temperatures dip below 25 degrees F. (-3 C.). Fear not, there are some cold hardy citrus tree varieties and, if all else fails, many citrus trees can be container grown, making them easier to protect or move if the big freeze hits.

Cold Climate Citrus Trees

Citrons, lemons and limes are the least cold hardy of the citrus trees and are killed or damaged when temps are in the high 20s. Sweet oranges and grapefruit are slightly more tolerant and can withstand temperatures in the mid 20’s before succumbing. Citrus trees that are cold tolerant down into the low 20s, such as tangerines and mandarins, are the most optimistic choice for planting cold climate citrus trees.

When growing citrus trees in cold climates, the degree to which damage may occur is related not only to the temperatures, but a number of other factors. The duration of a freeze, how well the plant has hardened prior to a freeze, the age of the tree, and overall health will all affect if and how much a citrus is affected by a drop in temperature.

Varieties of Cold Climate Citrus Trees

A list of some citrus trees that are the most cold tolerant is as follows:

  • Calamondin (16 degrees F./-8 degrees C.)
  • Chinotto Orange (16 degrees F./-8 degrees C.)
  • Changshi Tangerine (8 degrees F./-13 degrees C.)
  • Meiwa Kumquat (16 degrees F./-8 degrees C.)
  • Nagami Kumquat (16 degrees F./-8 degrees C.)
  • Nippon Orangequat (15 degrees F./-9 degrees C.)
  • Ichang Lemon (10 degrees F./-12 degrees C.)
  • Tiwanica Lemon (10 degrees F./-12 degrees C.)
  • Rangpur Lime (15 degrees F./-9 degrees C.)
  • Red Lime (10 degrees F./-12 degrees C.)
  • Yuzu Lemon (12 degrees F./-11 degrees C.)

Choosing a trifoliate rootstock will ensure you are getting the most cold hardy variety of citrus and the smaller sweet citrus, such as Satsuma and tangerine, seem to have the most cold tolerance.

Care of Hardy Citrus Trees

Once you have selected your cold hardy citrus tree, there are several keys to insuring its survival. Select a sunny location that is sheltered from the cold northern winds with well draining soil. If you are not container planting the citrus, plant it in bare, non turf ground. Turf around the base of the tree can significantly lower the temperature, as can situating the tree at the bottom of a hill or slope.

Place the root ball of the citrus 2 inches (5 cm.) higher than the surrounding soil to promote drainage. Do not mulch around the tree, as this will retain moisture as well as encourage diseases such as root rot.

How to Protect Growing Citrus Trees in Cold Climates

It is crucial that you take protective measures when the threat of a cold snap is imminent. Be sure to cover the entire plant, taking care not to touch the foliage. A double layered covering of a blanket over layered with plastic is ideal. Bring the covering all the way to the base of the tree and hold it down with bricks or other heavy weights. Make sure you remove the cover when temps rise above freezing.

Do not fertilize the citrus after August since this will encourage new growth, which is sensitive to cold temps. Once your citrus tree is established, it will be better able to withstand and recover from freezing temperature.

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Read more about Citrus Trees

Growing citrus indoors

Lemons in Minnesota? This idea is not so far-fetched if you consider growing certain citrus plants indoors. The flowers and fruit can be fragrant and attractive.

Most varieties of citrus grown commercially in warm climates are too large to be grown indoors. But there are many small or dwarf varieties that can grow well as potted plants. Even in our cold winters.

Growing citrus plants is not difficult. Getting the plants to bear luscious tropical fruits is another story.

It may be better to simply consider your citrus a nice houseplant that might produce fruit as a bonus.

Watering Indoor Citrus Trees

Overwatering is the No. 1 killer of citrus. The soil needs to dry out between deep waterings: A moisture meter ($15, The Home Depot) fully inserted in the soil should read 3. When your plant needs more hydration, drench its soil until water runs from the pot's drainage hole. Suction up any water in the saucer with a turkey baster to prevent a soggy bottom and root rot.

Dropping green leaves and dying twigs are symptoms of root rot (that fatal consequence of overwatering). If you suspect this problem, you'll need to intervene. With the tree on its side, pull it gently out of the pot, soil and all if roots disintegrate in your hands, they've rotted. Immediately remove soil and damaged roots, wash the pot well with soap and water, and replant in fresh potting mix. Water, then allow the soil to dry out before watering again. If surgery went well, new growth will appear in a few months. If not, it's probably time to toss out your plant.

The "Changsa" mandarin is perhaps most cold-hardy of all sweet orange species. The “Changsa” orange yields sweet, but insipid and seedy oranges that are a brilliant orange-red. It has survived temperatures as low as 4 F in Arlington, Texas. "Changa" mandarins are most cold-hardy if they are grown from seed.

Orange trees are evergreen and can bear both fruit and flowers at the same time. Because they store food reserves in their leaves, they have to be protected from temperature drops that can cause their leaves to drop. Small changes in distance from the coast or in elevation can greatly influence minimum temperatures for growing mandarin oranges. With caution, you can grow them farther inland, farther north and at higher elevations than standard orange cultivars. If you live at the edge of an area suitable for growing mandarin oranges, plant them in warm spots on the sides or hills or around buildings. Mountain foothills often contain small protected areas suitable for growing mandarins.

10 Biggest Citrus Growing Mistakes

There are dozens of varieties of citrus. Choose a type you will eat and enjoy – do a little research about the varieties you are considering.

Try to sample the fruit – this is another advantage of purchasing from a local grower, they often have mature varieties growing.

Does the fruit have seeds? Do you like the taste? Citrus trees are long-lived and produce hundreds of pounds of fruit. Make sure you like the fruit.

Disclaimer: this page contains affiliate links, meaning if you make a purchase, I may earn a small commission at no additional cost to you.

Young lemon trees started from seed

Growing Citrus from Seeds: Step 1

To plant citrus seeds, you want to select a ripe fruit. Completely seedless varieties won’t have any seeds to plant, so you’ll need a fruit with at least a couple seeds in it!

Remove the seeds from the fruit.

You’ll notice that each seed has a tough outer shell. Although the seeds can be planted as is, this outer shell can take months, or years, to break down.

To get your citrus seeds to quickly sprout, carefully remove the outer shell of the seed, being careful not to damage the delicate seed inside.

The tangerine seeds in the middle of this picture have had the shells removed as described.

Growing Citrus from Seeds: Step 2

Once the outer shell has been removed, gently rinse the seeds and place them between two damp paper towels.

Place the seeds and paper towels inside a ziplock bag and keep in a warm place until the seeds begin to sprout (a few days to a few weeks).

When the seeds sprout, they can be planted a well draining soil. You can purchase a special citrus mix, or add a little sand to regular potting soil.

Keep the plants in a south facing window or under grow lights. Move them into bigger pots as they grow.

If you live in a frost-free area, your citrus trees can be planted outdoors once they reach 6-12″.

Citrus trees also appreciate regular fertilizing! You can find a good quality organic fertilizer here:

Growing Citrus Indoors

If you live in a cool climate, citrus can be grown indoors under grow lights or in a big south facing window. The potted trees may be able to go outdoors in the summer time, depending on your night time temperatures.

Citrus grown from seed will take years to bear fruit, and will require a lot of pruning if kept indoors.

They should be watered lightly. Over watering can quickly kill a citrus tree!

When the plants finally bloom, they’ll need to be hand pollinated with a paintbrush or Q-tip.

Blossoms on an indoor lemon tree

Additional Tips

Start with Organic Fruit

Conventional (regular non-organic) citrus is usually grown a lot differently than homegrown fruit, and relies on chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides. Fruit that was grown organically is more likely to be a variety that will do well in the home garden without large amounts of chemicals.

What to Expect From Citrus Trees Grown from Seed

Most modern fruit trees are grafted, giving a more consistent plant height and fruit type.

Citrus grown from seed will often take many years to bear fruit, and will have a lot of variation in the type of fruit. The fruit you get might not look much like the fruit you started with!

If you would like a consistent fruit type, Meyer lemons are typically the most reliable citrus to grow from seeds.

A one year old heirloom tangerine started from seed

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