Newsletter ArchivesThe kumquat is state's cold hardiest citrus
Mississippi Gardens Newspaper and Web Column - November 18, 2002
If there was one fruit group I wish we could grow more of in Mississippi it would be citrus. In Florida and Southern California an abundance of all kinds of oranges, lemons, grapefruits and other sunny delights are grown with relative ease.
Citrus grows extremely well in Florida's sandy soil and tolerates a wide range of soil pH. In addition, healthy citrus trees have few pest problems and continue to grow as long as the temperatures are warm. Ah, there's the catch!
Even in Florida, the freezes of the 1980's have pushed the citrus industry to the southern half of the state, down to Indian River and below. So what chance do we have of successfully growing citrus in Mississippi? One way to overcome cold weather restrictions is to protect citrus trees as you would a houseplant. Consider growing containerized citrus trees in sunny locations outdoors and bring them into protected areas when cold weather threatens. Keeping citrus protected from temperatures below 30 degrees will protect the plant, but when fruit is present they should be protected from temperatures below forty degrees.
Certainly the coastal area of Mississippi has an advantage. Every year the Jackson County Fair showcases loads of citrus including oranges, Satsuma, grapefruit and kumquat. Some of this is grown on the south side of a home, barn or other structure. Farther north I have seen lean-to greenhouses on hog barns and commercial fish tanks where the heat from these operations adds the necessary protection. However, even in coastal Mississippi, care must be taken to protect citrus from extremely cold temperatures.
The cold-hardiest citrus we can grow in Mississippi is the kumquat and its hardiness is maximized when grafted onto the P. trifolietta rootstock. The kumquat has been known to survive temperatures as low as 10 degrees F when fully dormant. Kumquat trees are evergreen and look more like shrubs, rarely reaching 10 ft. in height. It has small leaves and fewer thorns than other citrus. The tasty kumquat fruit is eaten peel and all, minus the seeds, of course.
The two best kumquat varieties to consider include 'Nagami' and 'Meiwa'. 'Nagami' is the most popular due to its pleasant flavor. 'Meiwa' is another pleasant tasting favorite that is nearly seedless. It has a sweet taste and thick peel. Both of these should be readily available wherever fruit trees are sold including catalogue and Internet sources.
The kumquat is our best choice for planting citrus outdoors. However, other delicious citrus favorites may be grown if they can be protected from winter cold. Happy Gardening!
These archived columns were written by Kerry Johnson<, a hobby gardener, former weekly newspaper columnist and retired Extension Horticulture Agent for 11 coastal counties in Mississippi.