How to Protect Citrus a Tree from the Cold

What are citrus fruits? For many, when they hear “citrus,” “orange” is the first word that comes to mind, and for others “citrus” and “lemon” make a faster connection. Those are just a start, though…there are many varieties of citrus out there, and fruits that qualify as what is citrus may surprise you.

Whatever tops your citrus fruits list, however, growing your own fruit can be a deeply satisfying – and very delicious! – experience.  But certain fruit-baring trees like olive and citrus can be sensitive to certain types of weather, so before you start looking for citrus trees for sale you consider your growing conditions.

A citrus tree grows best in a subtropical climate (in the US, that’s growing zones 8-11). Citrus needs warm weather to grow, but some can survive short periods of cold weather. Generally, most citrus fruits will be damaged by exposure to temperatures colder than 27°F. Unless you have a year-round indoor citrus tree or keep dwarf citrus trees in containers that can be moved indoors when freezing temperatures are expected, you’ll need to take steps to protect your tree. Here are a few:

  • Water the citrus tree deeply one day before the expected frost to help them survive the freezing temperatures. (Water stores heat and moist soil is better able to conduct heat than dry soil.)
  • Citrus trees should be covered when freezing weather is expected to reduce shock and increase the chance of survival. Trees younger than three years old should be completely covered.
  • Wrap the tree trunk with frost cloth or an old blanket and tie the blanket in place with plastic zip ties. Wrap the lower limbs with cloth as well, particularly if they are exposed without any foliage to provide insulation.
  • Drive four stakes (such as 2”x 2” lumber, long pieces of conduit or pipe) into the ground on all sides of the citrus tree. The stakes should be 1-2’ taller than the tree after you’ve driven them 1-2’ into the soil. The stakes should also be installed about 1’ out from all branches so that the tree doesn’t touch the covering.
  • Drape a large piece of frost cloth or two layers of plastic over the frame. If multiple pieces of cloth or plastic are needed, overlap the ends to ensure no cold air can pass through to the citrus tree. There should be 2-3’ feet of extra plastic or cloth on the ground.
  • Lay scrap pieces of lumber on the ground to weigh down the protective covering. Roll the lumber up in the extra cloth or plastic to ensure the covering doesn’t come loose and allow cold air to affect the tree. Roll the lumber two or three times.
  • Leave the covering in place over the tree until the cold period passes.

Remember – following these steps is very helpful, but healthy trees have a better chance of surviving a cold snap and recovering afterwards. Learn about the different types of citrus tree disease so you can take steps to prevent and treat them before cold weather comes. Watch for citrus leaf curl (a sign of underwatering), and be sure to encourage winter dormancy by using a citrus tree fertilizer only in spring or early summer. Applying citrus fertilizer in late summer or fall may encourage winter growth, which leaves trees susceptible to cold damage. The same holds true for pruning, so avoid pruning your citrus trees in the fall.