Can you grow citrus? With care, you can

 

Joe White shows off some of the citrus he grows in his South Shreveport yard. Photo by Kathie Rowell.

Joe White shows off some of the citrus he grows in his South Shreveport yard. Photo by Kathie Rowell.

Want to pick oranges off a tree in your yard instead of from a supermarket produce bin?

You can – but it will require some TLC on your part.

Dr. Joe White and Denyse Cummins, both retired LSU AgCenter horticulturists, have experience cultivating citrus in our area. I spent some time wandering around White’s yard with him a while back to learn his advice and at 10 a.m. Saturday, March 7, you can hear Cummins talk about growing citrus in Northwest Louisiana at Akin’s Nursery, 5901 E. Kings Highway, Shreveport.

White thinks he put his first specimens in around the early ‘80s and now has several varieties of citrus – satsuma, lemon, lime, tangerine – either in the ground or in containers on the one-acre lot that surrounds his home on the southern outskirts of Shreveport.

And while general citrus culture isn’t that difficult – they’re fairly pest and disease resistant although scale and sooty mold may be an issue – the reason they aren’t grown more commonly in Northwest Louisiana is simple: It gets too cold here.

The LSU AgCenter Home Citrus Production guide recommends citrus production for only the state’s coastal area and a region that stops well south of Alexandria. Citrus in our area will freeze out regularly, according to the guide. Homeowners in our area may risk planting the hardiest of citrus – satsumas and kumquats – if they are grafted on trifoliate rootstock and given winter protection.

So why did White decide to go ahead and plant?

Ponderosa lemons. Photo by Kathie Rowell.

Ponderosa lemons. Photo by Kathie Rowell.

“I fell in love with satsumas when I lived in Baton Rouge pursuing my last degree. I was willing to go to the trouble to protect them,” he said.

In the past, when he was younger and his trees were smaller, White climbed an 8-foot ladder to cover his in-ground satsumas with plastic over a wooden frame and ran a light bulb or heater under the cover on cold nights.

“Now that I’m in my early 80s, I’m a little afraid with my bones being so brittle to climb to that height,” he said.

Instead, he has an electric heater, protected by a folded piece of roofing, underneath the tree and lets the heat rise through the branches without a cover.

Usually, that’s enough, but last year’s cold winter resulted in an 80 percent loss of foliage on his huge Owari satsuma.

“It was the first time ever I’ve had a loss of foliage, but with my heat it did not hurt any of the twigs or branches so it put on a full complement of foliage this year and it has about a 40 percent crop of fruit on it.”

So, at what temperature does White opt for cold protection?

“I don’t really like to protect my trees until the temperate is below 28 to 30 because if every time you think it’s going to freeze you cover them they lose their ability to resist cold. They became less hardy. You’ve got to expose them to some of the colder temperatures to keep them more cold tolerant. I really don’t get too concerned with the satsumas until we go below 25. One of my satsumas has never been protected and this year for the first time it lost a major branch to the cold.”

White’s recommendations for novice citrus growers are Owari and Early St. Ann satsumas, which are tasty, among the most cold-hardy citrus and productive. White says he has harvested about seven bushels from his Owari in a season. Fortunately, they keep well and will last a couple of months in his unheated shop.

Citrus trees need a well-drained location in full sun and regular water, especially when they are developing fruit. A spot on the south side of the house or near a fence that blocks the northern exposure would be idea. White fertilizes with a citrus fertilizer three times a year: February, May and early June.

“It is a risk this far north to grow citrus,” White said.

But worth it the effort and risk.

Citrus talk

  • Speaker: Retired LSU AgCenter horticulturist Denyse Cummins.
  • When: 10 a.m. Saturday, March 7.
  • Where: Akin’s Nursery, 5901 E. Kings Highway, Shreveport.
  • Admission: free, but call 318-868-2701.

Citrus hardiness from most to least:

  • Kumquat
  • Satsuma
  • Sweet orange
  • Navel orange
  • Mandarin
  • Grapefruit
  • Tangerine
  • Tangelo
  • Lemon
  • Lime

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