Cold hardy citrus in Nassau County

by Jean Mueller, Master Gardener

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Don't let the cold temperatures we've experienced this winter scare you away from growing citrus in Northeast Florida. The soil and climate in Nassau County are ideal for cultivating several different kinds of fruit - as long as the right varieties are planted and proper cultural techniques are practiced.

The best varieties to plant are those that ripen early, before prolonged freezing temperatures arrive. Trees should be planted on the south side of the house, or where they will receive the most sun. Plant trees as far away from the house as possible, ideally in an area free of weeds, grass and mulch.

Fertilize mature trees three times a year in March, June and September with citrus fertilizer, following the directions on the package. If a freeze is predicted, water trees two to three days ahead of time and cover with sheets or blankets. Remove these coverings each morning to allow the tree to take advantage of the sun and to prevent scalding.

At the Monday morning plant clinics at our Pages Dairy Road office, we commonly see the same citrus problems over and over: curled leaves, leaves covered with black sooty mold and leaves with squiggly lines on them. These ailments are unsightly but not fatal. They are caused by aphids and leaf miners and can be treated by spraying with horticultural oil.

Leaves that look as though they have been chewed on are actually playing host and providing food to a caterpillar that will turn into the beautiful giant swallowtail butterfly. Leave these caterpillars alone if you enjoy butterflies in your garden. If not, the best practice for getting rid of chewing insects such as these, as well as katydids and grasshoppers, is to pluck them off and dispose of them.

The most popular citrus fruit in our area, and the most cold-tolerant, is the satsuma. Similar to a tangerine, satsumas peel easily and have good flavor. The fruit matures in October and November. Often tagged simply as "Satsuma" in garden centers, named cultivars include Owari and Silverhill. Trees grafted onto trifoliate orange rootstock are hardiest.

Mandarins are another good choice and they are similar to satsumas. Named cultivars to look for are Dancy tangerine, Orlando tangelo, Robinson tangerine and Cleopatra mandarin.

Sweet, early-season oranges to grow include Hamlin, Parson Brown and Navel.

Duncan grapefruit is delicious, but seedy. Redblush is a good seedless variety to try. Look for Swingle citrumelo rootstock on both grapefruit and orange trees.

A reliable and prolific producer of large, juicy fruits, the Meyer lemon is also less acidic than grocery store lemons.

Limon Tree

Lime trees are very cold-sensitive, so they do not like our cold temperatures. In our area they are usually planted in containers and brought indoors during winter weather.

Two citrus fruits grown as much for their ornamental value as for their fruit are the kumquat and the calamondin. Kumquats are very cold-hardy and the small, orange fruits can be eaten whole and unpeeled, or used to make preserves. Good varieties are Nagami for eating fresh and Meiwa for preserving. The calamondin grows into a dwarf, bushy tree that looks quite showy when laden with fruit. The fruit is acidic and is most often used for flavoring drinks or making marmalades.

Visit for research-based advice from the University of Florida about growing citrus in Florida. Specific information about cold-hardy citrus varieties for North Florida can be found at

Master Gardener Jean Mueller resides on Amelia Island and is an active Master Gardener volunteer with the Nassau County Extension Service and the University of Florida/IFAS. For information on the Master Gardener program and application requirements, contact Becky Jordi at 548-1116 or





Jean Mueller

Jean Mueller lives on Amelia Island and is an active Master Gardener volunteer.