This week’s freezing temperatures got me thinking about citrus. I reminded my many Facebook followers that very few citrus trees need to be covered, never mind have their fruit removed. That’s because most citrus growing in our area falls into an “evergreen” category and can handle occasional temperatures around 30 for a few hours without significant damage.
It also occurred to me that lots of nurseries and garden centers will continue to have plenty of citrus trees for sale over the coming weeks.
Wait! What? You can buy citrus trees from nurseries and garden centers in November and December? I’ll bet you thought they were only available in January and February, when all the county extension offices have their fruit tree sales.
Nope … they are very much available at the family owned-and-operated nurseries we encourage you to visit. And almost every kind of citrus is available. So, I invited the staff at The Arbor Gate - one of those independent mom-and-pop nurseries - to fill you in on why this may actually be the very best time to buy:
“People usually think of spring as the time to buy citrus trees, but there are some great reasons to buy in the late fall. The selection is usually very good, and the trees are nicely sized and filled out.
“Citrus is evergreen in a normal Gulf Coast winter. The trees don’t shed their leaves and go into a deep dormancy the way temperate fruit trees do. But citrus does experience a semi-dormancy. The above-ground growth slows to a near stall, but the root system is happily enjoying the steadier moisture and cooler temperatures. If you want to give your citrus a jump start on spring, it’s a great time to buy a 3-5 gallon citrus, bump it up into a 10-gallon container, and let it concentrate on developing new feeder roots. Make sure to use vegetative compost-based potting soil, and don’t fertilize. Instead, drench it with a natural root stimulator such as the vitamin/hormone product Super Thrive. Drench it again about four weeks later. Let the tree remain outside as much as possible, where it will enjoy the sunshine and mild days. Bring it in only when a frost is predicted or when temperatures could dip below 25 for extended hours.
“Citrus is beautiful. Bring it in, shape it up if needed, then either slip the nursery container into a decorative pot, or wrap the container with a holiday-themed fabric and matching bow. It can brighten up your home from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day. And save anything you trim away - citrus leaves can be used in your table decorations. They are pretty, glossy, and fragrant. Drop them into a resealable bag, and keep them in the vegetable drawer, where they will stay fresh for weeks. You can even decorate a citrus tree!
“Citrus also makes a wonderful gift, one that will be welcomed by everyone on your list. It is literally a gift that will keep on giving for decades. Even apartment and condo dwellers can grow citrus in containers - lemons, limes, calamondin, and kumquats do very well. The host or hostess of a holiday party will be nicely surprised by a gift of citrus. A bottle of wine or basket of cheese will last a night, but a citrus tree will last for years.
“Any citrus purchased now should be kept in its container until the danger of frost has passed. This is usually the first week or two of March. In the meantime, enjoy your citrus for months in your home, on the patio, in your back yard, or until they make their way to a happy recipient on your gift list!”
By the way … that "vegetative compost-based potting soil" mentioned above? They’ve got it at the Arbor Gate, 15605 FM 2920, Tomball. It’s their own Organic Soil Complete.