Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Lemons in Winter

Meyer Lemon in the greenhouse

You can totally grow lemon, orange and lime trees outdoors here on the wet, west coast. However, you may be wondering how to over-winter them and protect them from hard frosts?

Contrary to popular belief, the answer is not to bring them indoors for the winter months, unless you have a cool sunroom or 'conservatory'. Citrus do not thrive (and may not survive) indoors, as our homes tend to be much too hot, much too dry, and not really bright enough.

In the greenhouse or sunroom... 

I pop my citrus trees into a heated greenhouse for the winter months. As heating a greenhouse is super expensive, I keep the temps down low, at +5°C from November through till March. The citrus trees love the cool, humid greenhouse, and will flower and fruit all winter long.

Kumquats growing in the winter greenhouse

However, if you have no heated greenhouse...  

All citrus fruit trees have pretty much the same care requirements, whether lemon, lime, grapefruit, or orange. They are happy to live outdoors in our mild, wet winter weather, however, will require some kind of protection when arctic winds threaten to drop temps below 0°C.

Container grown citrus trees .... 

Potted up trees are easy to move around from spot to spot, as needed. In general, while temps are above 0°C, leave them outside, on the front porch or doorstep, under the eaves, or under some kind of overhang, to keep the soil from getting overly wet from all the rain.

Citrus prefer to be on the dry side, only watered when fully dry. Wet soil will cause leaf curling, leaf drop, fungal issues, and even rot.

Most of the winter, you will likely not have to do anything else to your citrus tree, except check for water.

Light bulbs will raise the temps enough to get you through a cold snap

When arctic temperatures threaten, however, you have three options to get your potted citrus through the cold snap...

1. Place into an unheated greenhouse, a bright garage or shed, and add a portable heat source. A small heater will do the trick, or a light stand with several bulbs that emit heat. No LED lights. Pop lemon back outside when the stormy weather abates.  

2. Or... Bring into the house for the duration of the cold snap. Choose a bright room that is not too hot, and make sure to mist several times a day. Place back outside during the day if only the nights are cold, and then back out for good after the cold snap is over.

3. Or... Another way to keep it warm is to leave it outside, wrap with a strand or two of old-fashioned Christmas lights and then some frost blankets. Do not use the LED's, as they emit no heat.

Pic from 'Hitchhiking to Heaven'

Wrap the light strand around the branches and place your potted tree under the eaves, sheltered from excess rain or heavy snow, close to a plug in.

When frosty weather threatens, wrap with white frost blankets 
or these super cool tree covers that look awesome when lit up! 

When cold weather threatens, wrap the tree with two or three layers of the white frost blanket, and plug in the lights to keep the tree cosy and warm till temps go back to normal. I found the above pic on the internet, some kind of super cool tree huts that look just amazing! However, frost blankets are cheaper and easier to find ; )  

Unplug lights when cold snap ends, though you can leave the frost blankets on till spring, if you like.

Pretty at Christmas time, even if no cold snap is in sight ; ) 
Pic from 'Hitchhiking to Heaven' 

Planted in the ground citrus trees... 

Yes, we can grow citrus trees in our yards outside, even here in Canada, in our Zone 7 - 8 climate. I know, right? I am equally amazed about that, even after all these years.

Plant them on the west or south side, preferably close to the house for the additional protection and warmth, or in a well sheltered, hot spot corner of the yard. Make sure you have really well draining soil, ideally build a raised bed for your tree.

Well before winter hits, wrap with strands of Christmas lights. The bigger the tree, the more lights you need. Then wrap the tree with a couple of layers of frost blankets, and just plug in the lights when 'weather' hits. The frost blanket will keep the temps above zero beneath the cloth, so that you do not lose any of your fruits. Flowers and fruits are generally produced from fall through spring.

Grow your own blood oranges! 

Happy winter growing! 

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