There are only a few states with climates suitable for growing citrus trees, and Texas is one of them. With the delicious winter-time fruit and evergreen shade they provide, these trees make a great addition to a garden.
However, the unpredictable winter weather pattern does create a challenge for us as it affects the maturity time of the fruit and can damage or kill some trees when temperatures fall below 28 degrees. Learning how citrus is cultivated and which varieties work best in Central Texas will set you up for successful citrus growing.
Nearly every fruit tree sold today, including citrus, is grafted. Grafting is a convenient way to reproduce such trees, since virtually all citrus varieties are very easy to graft. Grafting begins with a root stock that growers prefer because of the root stock’s vigor, rooting strength and disease resistance. If left to grow on its own, this root stock would produce thorny, lanky, mangled branches with sour-tasting fruit or no fruit at all.
Instead, growers cut off the unwanted top of the root stock and insert a piece of a plant with desirable traits like large fruit and leaves onto it. This “scion” will grow to produce the tasty fruit we are after. This is important to know because if your citrus tree is affected by frost or extreme heat and limited water, the scion can die and the root stock will begin to take over, producing a new tree with the unwanted traits. This is the same reason why citrus trees can’t be grown from seed.
Just like humans, fruit have traits from both parents, and for citrus, it is a collection of traits from a large gene pool. The characteristics expressed in any given seed may be barbed branches or tiny, bitter tasting fruit, not the delicious, juicy fruit you expect. Grafting takes change out of the equation and ensures that your tree produces tasty fruit.
When choosing a variety to plant, consider those with fruit maturing in October, November and December. This is important because fruit is damaged at temperatures of 28 degrees Fahrenheit on all citrus. Satsumas, tangerines and other mandarins are the earliest-maturing fruit. Second, consider the cold-hardiness of the plant. Satsuma mandarin, kumquat and calamondin will survive mid-teens or possibly lower temperatures. Limes, Meyer or valley lemons, and citrons could suffer damage from temperatures in the mid-20s.
One way to help citrus plants survive cold temperatures is to be able to move them into protected areas like greenhouses, garages or even near a south-facing wall with radiant heat. This can be done by growing citrus in containers. To do this, start with a large container and put it on wheels so you can move it. Fill the container with a good quality potting mix and plant your tree.
Containers dry out much faster than soil grown trees; stay on top of the irrigation. When watering, make sure water comes out of the bottom of the pot to avoid salt accumulation in the root zone. Prune as necessary to keep the canopy in balance with the pot or pot up to the next size.
To learn all about growing citrus in Central Texas, register for the Citrus Tree Care class at Sustainable Food Center 2-4 p.m.Feb. 10 at sustainablefoodcenter.org.
Spinach and Winter Citrus Salad
1 bunch fresh spinach, stems removed
1 head leaf lettuce
1-2 red grapefruits, peeled and sectioned
2-3 tangerines or oranges, peeled and sectioned
2 avocados, peeled and sliced
½ cup toasted pecans (see Note)
2-4 Tbsp. honey
½ Tbsp. lemon juice
3 Tbsp. vinegar
½ cup olive oil
½ tsp. paprika
½ tsp. dry mustard or 1½ tsp. prepared Dijon mustard
Mix the spinach leaves with the lettuce in a large bowl. Top the greens with the grapefruit and tangerines or oranges. Chill the salad in the refrigerator.
Put all the dressing ingredients in a bowl except for the oil. While whisking the dressing, slowly add the oil until thickened. Pour the dressing over the salad when ready to serve.
Top with avocado and toasted pecans.
Note: To toast the pecans, heat them in a dry skillet, stirring occasionally, until they begin to brown and become fragrant, about 5-10 minutes.
— Cathey Capers