How to protect your citrus trees in the winter.
Citrus trees like lemon, lime and orange trees, thrive in warm, sunny climates with mild winters. This is because citrus trees are evergreen as opposed to deciduous, and do not drop their leaves and go dormant in the winter. Since citrus trees keep their leaves all year, it is ideal for the temperature in their environment to stay fairly consistent. When the colder months arrive, it is important to ensure that your citrus trees are protected from extreme cold or long periods of freezing weather. Not doing this can kill the leaves and compromise the overall growth of your tree.
Protecting citrus trees during winter- especially in colder climates- is essential to ensure their survival and health. They can typically only handle short periods of below freezing temperatures.
Here are some tips on how to protect your citrus trees in the winter if your citrus tree is planted in the ground. In-ground citrus planting is recommended for areas that do not typically see freezing temperatures in the winter.
1. Covering: Use frost cloths, blankets, burlap, or specialized tree covers to shield the trees from freezing temperatures. Make sure the cover extends all the way to the ground to trap heat effectively. Avoid using plastic directly on the trees, as it can damage them due to temperature fluctuations.
2. Mulching: Apply a thick layer of organic mulch around the base of the tree. Mulch helps retain soil moisture and regulates soil temperature, protecting the roots from freezing. Use materials like wood chips, straw, or compost, and spread them a few inches away from the trunk. Be sure not to pack mulch around the base of the trunk.
3. Watering: Water your citrus trees adequately before the arrival of freezing temperatures. Moist soil absorbs and retains more heat than dry soil, providing insulation to the roots. However, don't overwater, as waterlogged soil can harm the roots. Citrus trees generally require less water during the winter months versus the spring and summer.
4. Location: If possible, plant citrus trees in a sheltered area or near a building, fence, or wall that can provide some protection against cold winds. Windbreaks help reduce the impact of cold drafts.
5. Pruning: It is fine to prune your citrus trees in the fall to remove dead or damaged branches. However, avoid heavy pruning close to winter, as new growth can be more sensitive to cold temperatures and could freeze.
6. Heating Devices: For smaller trees or container-grown citrus, consider using frost protection methods like incandescent Christmas lights (not LED), heat lamps, or specially designed frost-protection devices. Ensure these devices are safe and don’t pose a fire hazard.
7. Monitor Weather Forecasts: Stay informed about weather predictions in your area. Be prepared to implement protective measures when temperatures are expected to drop significantly.
If you have your tree growing in a container, you may find it easier to protect your citrus trees by bringing your tree inside and away from the freezing temperatures. Inside, they will undergo a transition period and some leaf drop. This is normal. Keep your tree exposed to a sunny window and away from drafts or heating vents. A supplemental growing light to extend the day as well as a humidifier may help your tree thrive through this period.
Remember, the level of protection needed depends on the severity of the winter in your region and the specific type of citrus tree you have. Providing adequate care and protection during winter will help your citrus trees survive the cold and thrive when warmer temperatures return.