Cold hardy citrus, it seems like a myth here in central Florida. Every time the temperature gets below 35 degrees scores of reporters pack their gear and head into the orange groves to see what the farmers are going to do to save the states’ economy. Sprinklers get turned on, fires are lit, and orange juice prices go up. I have always wondered why they plant trees that can’t take the cold here.
It wasn’t like this 30 years ago when I moved to Florida. I remember seeing large orange groves as I drove south of Gainesville. Today it is hard to find grove of oranges within 100 miles south of Gainesville. I have tried several times to grow trees I purchased locally in my yard with limited success. I have been frustrated time and time again with the damage a few hours of cold weather will do to my trees.
While spending time in the forest, I have seen a very different picture. The woods, swamps and river banks of central Florida have a wide variety of healthy citrus growing wild. Seeds that escaped long ago from local groves before farmers switched to grafted hybrids. These trees thrive in the shelter of the oak or pine canopy without pesticide or pruning. Some are sweet and some are sour, I found some of the best tangerines, oranges and grapefruits I have ever tasted growing wild in Colt Creek State Park, north of Lakeland.
It is a great example of permaculture principles at work. The protective canopy and heat retention of the large Live Oaks are a perfect companion for these cold sensitive trees.
Here is a beautiful grapefruit tree full of fruit on the south side of a large oak tree and another between oaks & pines. There was no sign of cold damage, pest or disease here in February.
My citrus trees will be planted from seed and closer to my oaks. I am looking for citrus with a proven track record of cold tolerance like the Satsuma varieties.