Plant citrus now to enjoy the fruits of your labor
Our occasional freeze makes it pretty tricky to grow citrus on a grand scale here in Southeast Texas, but large scale operations did exist at one time in Beaumont, Orange, Beeville and Falfurrias. The Texas State History Website says that citrus fruit growing in Texas was probably begun by Spaniards who in the 18th century planted seven orange trees in Edinburg.
“Orange County, which was formed in 1852 from portions of Jefferson County, was named after oranges. This common citrus fruit was grown by the early settlers of this county near the mouth of the Sabine River,” according to our Wikipedia friends.
If you drive around town, you can see lots of citrus growing in the older neighborhoods. You too can enjoy grapefruit, orange and lemon trees in your own yard. Just think of your patio surrounded by the dark, evergreen leaves of citrus trees and their fragrant blossoms. You can even pick oranges, grapefruit and lemons for breakfast, if you follow a few precautions.
The very best time to plant citrus is now, during fall and winter. That will give your new tree a few months to get comfortable before the heat comes. Put your citrus trees in an area that gets a little protection from winds like on a patio or near a fence. Plant in the ground or in a large container. Put your citrus on the south and southeast sides of the house, if possible. And when Old Man Winter sends a freeze our way, protect the tree with a good wrap. Once the trees make it a few years, some varieties will develop a cold-hardiness as they mature.
All citrus like deep, rich soil with good drainage. Don’t plant them where water puddles for days after a rain. Dig a hole 3-4 feet deep and fill it with water. All water should drain in 24-36 hours.
These subtropical beauties like full sun. Citrus trees should be 6 feet or so apart and at least that far from driveways or walkways. Plant the new citrus tree about an inch above soil level to avoid water sitting on top on the root ball.
“Most citrus types and varieties don’t perform well on their own root system so they are commonly budded onto rootstocks that are better adapted to certain soil conditions,” according the Texas A&M Horticulture website. Area experts like Bonnie Childers and other citrus pros can be contacted through our fabulous Jefferson County Agri-Life resource at (409) 835-8461 if you have any specific questions. Trees that you buy at area nurseries are ready to plant.
Hear that a freeze is coming? The best protection for new little citrus plants is a bank of soil for the first three or four winters. Just mound soil as high as feasible around the trunk. You may want to drape the top of mature citrus trees with blanket, quilts or plastic from a nursery. You don’t need to cover completely. Wrap the tree with leftover Christmas lights if you want some extra heat. The duration of the freezing temps can be more critical than the minimum temperature.
Southeast Texas has long, hot and humid summers, and we are mostly in USDA growing Zone 9. Our winter temperatures rarely drop under 20-30 degrees. With care, you can easily have your own citrus. Look for orange varieties like Hamlin Sweet Orange, Valencia Orange and Navel Orange. Lemon trees that would love Southeast Texas are Eureka Lemon and Meyer or Improved Meyer Lemon. Grapefruit trees like Rio Red and Chandler would be good options. Varieties like Clementine mandarin, Sunburst Tangerine and satsumas like our climate. You can even explore apple, apricot and avocado tree options.
Joette Reger is an avid gardener and prides herself on staying up-to-date on the latest gardening activities and tips. She can be reached by e-mail at joreger [at] msn [dot] com and on Facebook at “Gardengate with Joette Reger.”