citrus in northern arizona

abuelitojdSeptember 28, 2012

We just recently moved to Sedona AZ, can an orange tree be grown here? Our home is around 4,350' in altitude. Thanks in advance for any reply.

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If you're thinking of a navel orange or some other citrus you can pluck off the tree and eat, the answer is no. The hardiest edible-off-the-tree citrus (mandarins and kumquats) are generally killed by temps in the low teens.

You're in zone 8b, which averages lows in the 15 to 20 degree range every winter, and can of course get much colder in any given year. I'm not sure how cold it got during the record Feb 2011 freeze, but I would guess around 0. That brings me to the next thing: so-called hardy citrus. There are citrus hybrids and relatives, such as YUZU, CITRANGE, CITRANGEQUAT, and CITRUMELO, which are generally not edible fresh but can be used for juice and in cooking, and can withstand lows below 10 degrees F.

Lastly, if you're willing to protect your trees whenever the temps get too low, you could expand your possibilities to mandarins, kumquats, and other hardy and "more edible" citrus. One thing to remember is that most citrus require an enormously long ripening time, so only very early ripening species and varieties would have a chance of bearing crops before your first fall frosts.

    Bookmark   September 28, 2012 at 10:15PM
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Unfortunately, no. It gets too cold.

Generally, most citrus in Arizona is grown in the Phoenix-Tucson-Yuma triangle.

    Bookmark   October 1, 2012 at 2:03AM
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I figured sooner or later someone with more common sense than I, and probably an Arizonan, would come back with a simpler response than I. The simple no...

But in case my long-winded response above was not clear, Sedona is a great place to experiment with hardy citrus and related plants, even if you can't grow standard oranges unprotected in the ground like your friends in Yuma.

Incidentally, in the same zone as you there is a famous commercial (pick your own) hardy citrus orchard and nursery called McKenzie Farms. It's in South Carolina, and has a mail order nursery through a website,

    Bookmark   October 1, 2012 at 2:48PM
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hoosierquilt USDA 10A Sunset 23 Vista CA(10b Sunset 23)

Okay, it's not a flat unqualified, "no", abu. If you're willing to do a little work, and plant in very protected ways, as well as select some very cold tolerant varieties, you may be able to grow some citrus in your area. There are several satsuma varieties that are extremely cold tolerant - down to 17 degrees. Also, interestingly, the Bloomsweet grapefruit (it's on MacKenzie Farms' web site), is another option. I bought one because we usually don't get the prolonged heat here where I am in Coastal San Diego county (although certainly not today!) to sweeten up most grapefruits, but for your opposite concerns, this is another variety that might make it for you. And, to pass on some very interesting information about one of the "Gold" mandarin crosses that UC Riverside produced, the "Gold Nugget" mandarin, which is a really exceptional cross between two older mandarins, Kincy and Wilking, is surprisingly cold tolerant. The folks at the UC Riverside Citrus Variety Collection told me that their 2 Gold Nugget mandarin trees handled a record freeze they had back in the '90's better than the Frost Owari mandarins. I heard this confirmed again, from an unrelated source - Clausen Nursery in my neck of the woods, a commercial citrus tree grower. They sent up an orchard full of Gold Nuggets to a customer in N. California (also in 8b), and that orchard is doing just fine. That was about 10 years ago, Clausen's was flabbergasted. So, that might also be an option. You'll need to plant them in a manner that they can be protected in the winter from cold winds, so on the east side of your house near the wall will give them enough sun, protect them from any brutal summer heat & sun, but also allow them some radiant heat from your house in the winter. Also, 3 to 4 inches of bark mulch to protect the feeder roots (which might be an issue for you, if you have scorpion problems.) You might need to string Christmas lights (not the LED kind, but the regular miniature kind) and cover during a really bad cold snap, as well as flood the ground with water to keep the dew point up and prevent the area around the tree from dropping much below 32 degrees. It's going to be more work, but you should be able to do it if you plant right, pick the right varieties, and perhaps take some protective measures during the really cold, cold nights in the winter. Also, be sure to plant in the spring, after threat of frost/freezes are over, so you give your citrus trees amble time to establish a good root system.

Patty S.

    Bookmark   October 1, 2012 at 4:03PM
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Well, anything is possible with enough money and know-how. You can do container citrus up there or build a greenhouse. However, if the original poster's intent is to buy a sweet orange tree from a nursery and plant it in the ground without aggressive efforts to minimize freeze and frost damage, it's not going to work in Sedona without a lot of effort by the original poster.

That being said, there's a lot of deciduous stuff that you can grow up there that I wish that I could grow in Phoenix.

    Bookmark   October 1, 2012 at 4:04PM
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I am sorry Sedona but it is not just know but h*** no.
I live in Camp Verde just a few miles down the road from you. Eight years ago when we moved from N. San Diego Ca.(had over 30 diff.citrus trees there) to the verde valley we tried one lime tree and one orange, both dwarfs. I tried everything from xmas lights to special cold covers. Transplanted them from the yard into Oak tubs and kept them under the patio. Still used covers and heat lamps, nothing but nothing worked. Paid $40 apiece for those trees @ Clausen's in Vista and they held on for about 2 years then died. If I thought there was anyway possible besides constructing a hothouse or using smugepots, I would give it another shot. 2 years ago, it got down to 16d. 3 nights in a row, that for sure would do them in. Stone fruit trees work great here along with apples or just about anything, that goes dormant. Sorry

    Bookmark   October 1, 2012 at 6:36PM
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hoosierquilt USDA 10A Sunset 23 Vista CA(10b Sunset 23)

campv, a lime tree of all citrus trees, is the very least cold tolerant. And a navel orange tree right behind it. Those would be off the list of my suggestions. And AJBB, as you see in my previous post, I didn't suggest any oranges. It really depends on this person's desire to have citrus, and willingness to put in some extra work. Of course he can grow whatever citrus he likes in a container, as long as he brings it in when temps threaten to drop below 36 degrees. Citrus in containers do not have the same advantage of root protection as those citrus in the ground, so they need to come in when temps are threatening 36 degrees. Some folks are willing to put in the effort. For other folks who are not experienced gardeners, in-ground citrus in 8b is probably going to be more of a headache than it's worth. If abu is willing to put in the effort, he may find the cultivars I have suggested will survive. Not a lime. Not an orange. But the cultivars I've mentioned.

Patty S.

    Bookmark   October 1, 2012 at 11:59PM
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hoosierquilt USDA 10A Sunset 23 Vista CA(10b Sunset 23)

Oops, forgot to mention. Abu, you're probably better served over on the Citrus forum. We do have 8b members on that forum that grow citrus. You might want to post your question there and ask what cultivars might be best bets, and what it takes to make it through a winter.

Patty S.

    Bookmark   October 2, 2012 at 12:00AM
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It tickles me that this has grown into quite a lively debate, even though the original poster has not updated with any more info saying he (judging from the name abuelito) still wants to try growing citrus! :)

In that spirit, I will add yet some more facts about citrus in colder zones... (can you tell I have zone envy?). Of course picking the right plant, as Patty pointed out, is of the utmost importance. Even folks in Tucson should be hesitant about trying to grow limes, and the cold hardy sour orange far outnumbers the tender sweet orange in that city (but has juice that is much more flavorful and valuable in the kitchen).

-- The botanical gardens in Athens, GA, a half zone COLDER than Sedona, has a big beautiful Thomasville Citrangequat that produces loads of fruit.
-- Don's Cold Hardy Citrus (I can no longer find his website) grows kumquat, grapefruit, and other citrus hybrids in Oklahoma City, zone 7a. Some Don believes to be subzero hardy without protection!
-- Hardy Grapefruit Hybrids are being grown successfully outside in places like Maryland, DC, and Pennsylvania (mostly around zone 7).
-- Hardy citrus, such as Yuzu, are becoming more common in the Pacific Northwest (mostly around zone 7-8).

    Bookmark   October 2, 2012 at 11:31AM
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franktank232(z5 WI)

If you have the a few skills, little money, you could just build a simple hoophouse structure to protect over the winter. Additional heat may be needed, but i would imagine not very often.

    Bookmark   October 2, 2012 at 12:53PM
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fruitnut Z7 4500ft SW TX

I'm zone 7b and maybe 8a according to new maps. I can't even keep a fig from freezing back outside. If there's a worthwhile citrus that would make it very long outside here I'd be amazed.

The zone doesn't tell you everything you need to know about what is worth growing. Our temperatures cycle by 50-60F most weeks in winter. That's all the variation you get all winter at most lower elevations in northern CA. So an 8b in northern CA isn't the same as an 8b in TX.

The biggest historical risk to citrus in the subtropical lower Rio Grande valley in TX (zone 9b-10a) is major freeze. In the past they've lost their trees about every 12-15 years. Global warming may change that but there are few totally safe citrus areas east of the Rockies outside of southern FL.

    Bookmark   October 2, 2012 at 2:01PM
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You're right fruitnut, there are many different factors to consider. I don't really understand all that affects dormancy and subsequent hardiness in plants, but I suspect that elevation, latitude, length of growing season, as well as temperature fluctuations all play a role. We've talked before on this forum about how figs and pomegranates seem to be hardier here in NM than in TX. Probably they would be even less hardy in Southern California if a freak freeze hit suddenly -- all due to the dormancy question...

What I'm most interested in though, is what abuelitojd thinks of all of this banter. Is he going to try growing some citrus? he certainly could try a number of exotic things such as olives (Sedona has some nice old olive trees), Indian fig prickly pears, feijoa, fuzzy kiwis, pomegranates, figs, jujubes, Pakistan mulberry, loquat...

    Bookmark   October 3, 2012 at 11:29AM
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