Citrus for the Season

Wayne Hobbs
Posted 11/29/17

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – After a very rough year for the crop, now is the time when many citrus trees begin to fully bear fruit, but there are still many things to consider. Citrus tree owners should …

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Citrus for the Season


GREEN COVE SPRINGS – After a very rough year for the crop, now is the time when many citrus trees begin to fully bear fruit, but there are still many things to consider. Citrus tree owners should be reminded that cooler temperatures can damage plants and to think about the future of your backyard groves.

What happened this year?

Judging by the amount of calls and emails I have received over the past few months, it has not been an easy year for most citrus trees in Clay County. As the summer was excessively wet, trees became stressed and Irma came through to further exacerbate issues. As trees become stressed, they usually respond by dropping leaves and fruit so they can use energy elsewhere. If your trees have less fruit or look sickly, this is likely the culprit and they should be able to rebound next year.

However, if you believe something more serious may be occurring check for some ideas for possible issues or you can contact me and send photographs or bring in a sample for diagnosis.

Citrus Care in Winter

When the weather drops, many citrus varieties require some extra protection, especially if the trees are young. However, some misconceptions are out there regarding best ways to care for ailing trees.

First of all, do not fertilize citrus at this time of year, as it will cause new growth that is extra sensitive to cold damage. Wait until the danger of frost has passed to fertilize with a balanced product with micronutrients under the drip line of the canopy. In the same vein, do not prune your citrus at this time of year. In fact, limit citrus pruning at all times, only removing branches that could become a health issue for the tree such as those that rub other branches or are damaged. Suckers that grow from the root stock can also be removed at any time.

So, what can you do to protect the tree? Mounding clean soil up to the first branches is an option for trees but can lead to other issues such as root rot if not done properly. For smaller trees covering with frost cloth is also an option to keep the worst of the cold off the leaves but should not be left on for several days in a row. An incandescent light bulb can also be placed within this covering to provide some extra warmth. With larger trees, covering becomes difficult and at that point it is likely that the tree can survive our winters due to its age and root system.

If a hard freeze is predicted, watering the soil around the tree the morning before can help insulate the soil from temperature changes and protect the roots. Commercial groves will even run irrigation through the night to freeze the trees, keeping them at 32-degrees Fahrenheir but this is not usually feasible for homeowners.

If cold damage does occur, do not prune the effected limbs. Wait until the spring when new growth resumes to see what recovers. With any luck, it will be another mild winter and frost and freeze will be of little concern.

If you have any more questions about citrus, any other landscape topics, or need plant or pest materials identified, contact the University of Florida/IFAS Extension Office online at, follow us on Facebook, or call by phone at (904)284-6355. Also, if you have extra citrus fruit on your trees that you cannot use, contact us and we can arrange a time for Master Gardeners to harvest the crop and donate it to local charities.


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