Winter means colder nights and drier days for your backyard citrus tree. Uncle Matt’s Production Manager, Benny McLean, offers the inside scoop on how to ensure your backyard tree not only survives, but thrives, during the colder winter months.
Plant Your Tree in a Smart Location. If you’re about to plant a citrus tree in your backyard, it actually matters where. If at all possible, plant your tree on the southeast corner of your home. Here’s why: the killer freezes of recent decades came into Florida with a strong northwesterly wind. If your tree is planted near your house’s southeast corner, your home acts as a shield to block a direct hit from damaging winds. It’s important to know that citrus trees exposed to temperatures 28 degrees or below for 4 or more hours will result in fruit damage, while trees exposed to temperatures of 24 degrees or below for 4 or more hours are vulnerable to wood damage which harms the tree itself.
Protect Your Tree during a Hard Freeze. What if your tree is already planted elsewhere in your yard and vulnerable to the elements? If it’s three to five years old, you may be able to use this DIY hack involving a trash bag, a light bulb and an extension cord. Depending on the size of your tree, you can visit www.uline.com or your local hardware store to purchase extra large trash bags up to 96 gallons. When the threat of a hard freeze approaches, slide the trash bag over the tree, seal it around the base and put a 100-watt lightbulb inside. Keep the lightbulb turned on overnight. The heat generated by the lightbulb generates enough heat to protect the tree from plummeting temperatures, while the trash bag traps the heat inside.
Nourish Your Tree the Organic Way. For the best in tree nutrition during the winter, Benny recommends a one-two punch of compost and organic brown sugar. According to Benny, January is the best month to apply a 50-lb bag of Black Kow compost available at Lowe’s or Home Depot. Apply an entire 50-lb bag of compost under each citrus tree in your yard. Spread it out from the trunk to the edge of the tree, forming a circle of compost under the tree. Next, take two cups of certified organic brown sugar (yes, has to be organic and brown!) and sprinkle it on top of the Black Kow compost and then water the mixture. The organic brown sugar acts as a food source for the beneficial microbes (aka bacteria) in your soil to break down the compost and release the nutrients in the compost, which in turn feeds the tree. This program is an effective way to help the tree fight citrus greening disease (link this) and pests while producing delicious, nutrient-dense fruit.
Don’t Over-Irrigate. Believe it or not, you don’t want to overwater your backyard citrus tree through winter. The tree needs to “stay asleep,” or stay in dormancy. According to Benny, watering more than once a week for an hour would cause the tree to “wake up” and flush, leaving it susceptible to new growth damage should an unexpected freeze occur.
Choose the Right Citrus Varieties. If you want your citrus tree to thrive, choose a variety that grows well in backyard soil. Depending on when you want to harvest your fruit, Benny’s recommendations include:
- Sugarbells, available around Thanksgiving
- Navel oranges, available around Christmas
- Red Grapefruit, available around mid-January
- Valencias (a great juicing orange), available around Easter