The fruits and fragrance are great reasons to plant citrus trees.

One of my earliest memories of moving to Texas was the smell of a bouquet of lemon blossoms. I hadn’t experienced the sweet fragrance right on my face It’s a lingering memory.

Despite recent frosts impacting our ability to enjoy our favorite citrus trees, by flower or by fruit, we continue to try to grow plants that may die. But who cares? We don’t enjoy happiness because it lingers, we enjoy it in the moment, and the citrus provides them with its scent in abundance, thick in the air, and then again with its sour taste on the tongue.

Generally, the sweeter the fruit, the more cold-hardy it is. Kumquats and satsumas are the most tolerant of temperatures in the 20s. Sweet oranges are more tolerant of tangerines and grapefruits, while lemons and limes are the least cold tolerant, to no one’s surprise.
There are several citrus varieties that do well in Harris County:
Meiwa kumquats are a favorite with small fruits and few seeds. They are sweeter than Nagami.
One advantage of growing satsumas over other citrus fruits is that they usually ripen before any cold events. Owari is a standard productive tree, while Miho is known to survive severe freezing. Other varieties: Okitsu and Brown Select.
Many of the oranges offered locally are dwarf varieties, making harvesting much easier for the average homeowner. Successful strains include Pineapple, Republic of Texas, and Navel N-33 (nana).
Did you know that Texas produces more grapefruit than any other fruit tree? Rio Red is a natural mutation of Ruby Red (a Texas favorite for decades), but it’s sweeter and seven times redder. Bloomsweet, on the other hand, has a clear flesh with a grapefruit and orange flavor. When growing grapefruit, do not over fertilize.

Tangerines are a type of orange and clementines are a type of tangerine, but the family tree of these citrus fruits gets confusing. The recommended varieties for the area are Clementine, Honey, Page and Pixie.
You may have heard that Meyer lemons aren’t real lemons, and they are. They are a hybrid between a lemon and a tangerine, which represents the sweetest juice. The Improved Meyer Lemon is available in standard and dwarf sizes. Ujukitsu is another sweet cross between orange and lemon (standard and dwarf). Eureka Frost is a true lemon, with rounder fruit and a thinner skin than Meyer’s. Eliminate lemons to allow for larger fruits.
Although Thai limes are more sensitive to cold than other varieties, all limes should be protected from frost and frost. Thai limes are used not only for their bumpy-looking fruit, but also for their leaves, in Asian cuisine. Persian limes are virtually seedless, while both Persian and key limes are closest to maturity when greenish to yellow.

Planting and care

The ideal time to plant citrus fruits is from October to March. If you don’t want to plant a potted tree just yet, then March is the time.
Plant in full sun with well-draining soil. Place the tree slightly higher than ground level and use the same soil to fill in the hole. Build a 6-inch-tall, thick soil irrigation ring around the perimeter of the bed. Fill with hose to allow for slow water absorption. New plantings need to be watered more frequently, but take into account rainfall.
The short-term goal is to get the tree as established as possible before the summer heat. When planting in a pot, use at least a 20-gallon container. This will provide enough space for roots to grow. Do not fertilize at planting time. Wait for spring growth and then only fertilize during the growing season. Use a complete fertilizer (such as 10-10-10). After a couple of years, lawn fertilizer may be sufficient, unless micronutrients are needed.

Citrus disease and quarantines

Unfortunately our area is battling two citrus diseases with no cure: citrus greening and citrus canker. Prevention is the only management, but your help is needed. If you buy citrus trees here, you don’t have to transport them outside the quarantine zones. The state depends on the industry and diligence of the homeowner.
Citrus greening is a bacterium spread by the Asian citrus psyllid insect. It has devastated millions of acres of citrus crops across the United States. Symptoms include asymmetrical yellowing of leaves, raised veins, stunted growth and deformed fruit. There are five counties in the Greater Houston area that are part of a quarantine for Citrus Greening disease as specified by the Texas Department of Agriculture.

Citrus canker is a contagious plant disease that resurfaced in Texas in 2015. It’s caused by a bacteria spread through wind and rain. Symptoms include premature leaf and fruit drop, blister-like lesions on leaves and fruit, and general decline. There are small pockets in Harris and Fort Bend counties under a citrus canker quarantine.
If you suspect a citrus disease, find more information and reporting procedures at

Sale of gardens

HARRIS COUNTY MASTER GARDENER FRUIT AND CITRUS TREES FOR SALE: Master gardeners will be on hand to answer questions about plant selection. 9:30 in the morning. – 1.30pm or while stocks last. February 11th. St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 5373 Franz Road, Katy.

HARRIS COUNTY MASTER GARDENER TOMATO FOR SALE: Check out the demo and test gardens while you shop. Order online between February 1 and February 16 for the best selections. 9:00-13:00 February 18. Genoa Friendship Gardens, 1210 Genoa Red Bluff Rd, Houston.

Plant sales are the top fundraising events of the year supporting volunteer outreach and Texas A&M AgriLife Extension programs. For more information, visit

Brandi Keller is a Harris County Horticulture Agent with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension.