Sunday, January 21, 2018

Maybe They Should Be Contained

     Well, at least it is a sunny, reasonably warm day today. A FAR cry from what many in the country have experienced already this year. I bring this up, not to brag, but to preference that, here in Charleston, we have had a very nasty cold winter so far. Personally, I have had 7 inches of snow and days upon days of sub-freezing temperatures. This is South Carolina, NOT South Dakota, so that kind of weather is rare, not unheard of, but very rare.
     Needless to say, many plants have been hurt badly by this kind of weather, especially tropical and sub-tropical like Citrus. This is, unfortunately, an all too common picture here around the Lowcountry.

These are Calamondins, a kumquat hybrid. Yes, they are in containers, and yes, they stayed outside in the snow. They looked like this with the white stuff on them.

Yes, same tree. It is still alive, there is green under the bark.
There are many, many trees that look like this either in the ground or in containers that were left outside.
     The purpose of this article is not to depress you more or cry over the tree's appearance. I am still an advocate for growing citrus in the ground in Charleston! Mamma said there would be days like this! Or years!
     No, the purpose of this article is to give you an option of how to grow your citrus. In Containers!
Everybody that has been following me or knows me, knows that I grow my plants in containers for among other reasons, emergencies like this.
     Of course, the logical thing to do would be to put them in a greenhouse or garage when this kind of weather is approaching. That is fine and dandy if you have one or two trees. I have dozens. Some of my "special" trees got to go into the greenhouse. Just for the record, even with an electric heater in there, it dropped to 27 degrees a couple of times. The damage?
This is what I saw when I opened the door.

     Now, I did have them pretty packed in there and when I did water everything, there were a few missed and those ones look sad, but only because they did not get enough water. They will be fine.
     I know what you are saying, "I don't have a greenhouse or even a garage to use, so what then?"
Glad you asked!
     I posted this picture before the storm hit, wished them luck, and hoped for the best. It looked like hell, but, hey, I was almost in desperation mode because nothing else would fit in the greenhouse.

     What is in that trash pile of, a frost cloth, a tarp, and a crocheted blanket? A dozen citrus trees, ranging in size from 7 gallons to 30 gallons, all laid down on the ground. I watered them really well, laid them down, and stacked a few on top of each other. No other protection. This was on January 2nd that I created this disaster. The snow, ice, and wicked cold temperatures came and went. I was afraid to even peek under there.
     Well, today is January 21st, just 2 days shy of three weeks, I decided I needed to clean this up and face the destruction. I took all of the coverings off and stood everything back up.What I found is absolutely amazing!

     If you look closely at the second picture, on the right-hand side is a bunch of dead looking leaves. That is a Lemon tree that was under there. I have always said that lemons and limes are more cold sensitive.

     This is a Key Lime that was also under there, probably THE most cold sensitive of all of the citrus trees. It is still alive, I saw green under the bark, it is just not happy right now.

     But, as you can see, aside from those two, the trees pretty much came out unscathed. What else was under there? A kumquat, a few tangerines, a lemonquat, a flame grapefruit, and a few other assorted hybrids. I gave each one an attaboy and a good drink of water while they were enjoying the sun again.
     I am not trying to brag here! To be honest, I tell people to use blankets and such on top of the trees that are laid down on the ground all the time, but after the severity of all of the bitterly cold temps and snow/ice, even I had my doubts about how these would look.
     I said above, I will always be an advocate for planting citrus in the ground if you can. This kind of weather is not an every year event. But maybe, just maybe, you might want to consider growing them in big pots and laying them down for a nap when the wicked winter weather does come for a visit!
     If you have any questions about this or any of my other articles, please feel free to send them to
     There is still time to get signed up for my monthly newsletter of Citrus Growing Tips, slated to come out February 1st, 2018. You can sign up for it HERE
Happy Growing!

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Citrus Freeze Damage and What you Should or Should Not do

     The start of 2018 has been anything but happy here in the Southeast. January 3rd we started with freezing rain, ending with snow. In some places of the Lowcountry, up to 7 inches of the white stuff fell. As of today, January 7th, there are still roads covered in ice, inches of snow on the ground, and business' closed. The good news is, tomorrow, Monday, we are in for a real warm spell and by the end of the week be at 70 degrees.
     I have received many e-mails, phone calls, and messages on Facebook asking if the citrus trees are going to be okay here in Charleston? The best answer I can give them, maybe. Some of it depends on whether the cold weather we had prior to this long cold/snow spell was enough to get them to go into their semi-dormancy. Another factor will be if the tree was healthy going into all of this.
     Here is a list of what to possibly expect, what is happening, and what you should and shouldn't do.

     Freeze damage on citrus trees occurs when the water inside the fruit, leaves, twigs, and wood
of a tree freezes rupturing the cell membranes. Unlike deciduous trees which protect
themselves from the cold by shedding their leaves in the fall and entering a dormant state,
citrus trees continue growing year-round. Extended periods of cool weather prior to a
freeze may allow a citrus tree to prepare, by going into a semi-dormancy. This is why sharp freezes following warm weather are more damaging than gradual temperature changes. Virtually all
freezes will cause damage of some kind. Regardless of what steps you take, there are
times when nothing you have done helps and your citrus is damaged by any freezes. However,
as long as the damage is not too severe, your tree can recover!
     One of the keys to dealing with freeze damage is not to do something right away but to
wait awhile until the extent of the damage becomes apparent. In some instances, twig and
branch death from a severe freeze can continue for as long as several months after an event. Act too soon and you run the risk of either pruning away parts of your tree that can recover on their own or missing parts that look healthy enough at first glance but are really fatally damaged.
     The appearance of citrus leaves damaged by freezing can be a little deceptive in that
they can appear firm and green at the outset. It is only later, as they thaw, that they
soften and droop, very much like the picture above. In instances where the damage is not severe, freeze-damaged leaves can recover. However, if the damage is fatal, the leaves will lose their structure completely, dry out and fall.While alarming, leaf fall alone does not indicate tree
death. If the wood remains healthy, the tree will recover and put out new growth in the
spring. As for twigs, the damage will almost invariably result in leaf death. In
the case of serious damage, the leaves will dry out but may stay attached for a time,
several weeks in some cases. If the twig is not badly damaged, the leaves will
fall more rapidly.
     Signs of freezing damage in branches and trunks include the loosening and splitting of
bark. Patches of damage may appear oozing canker-like areas, occasionally mistaken for
the disease gummosis. Keep an eye out for this, especially being that it looks like it will be a quick warm up.
     The first step in the pruning process is to wait until late spring or the summer following the winter the damage occurred. This will give you time to assess the damage. Many times the dead wood on a twig or branch will become a grayish color, that is an easy way to tell where to prune. 
     In addition, freeze-damaged trees occasionally put out a false start of new growth in the
early spring which soon dies back. What is happening here is, the damage is farther down the branch than expected. It warms up and the leaves want to start flushing out. The stored energy between the damaged branch and the growth tip is quickly used up and it can't receive any deliveries from the root system, so it dies.  Delaying pruning until after this could occur will save you time and energy.

     In very severe cases, a citrus tree may be damaged all the way to the ground. In such
cases, the root area may still put out new growth and the tree may, in time, recover. The above picture shows that, what I thought was a completely gone tree, sent a new shoot up from the roots. I knew this tree was on its own roots, so I allowed it to grow and be prosperous again. It took about 3 years before I saw fruit.
      However, if the original tree was grafted and the tree is killed off below the graft, any
resulting new growth will be of the variety of the rootstock and not of the graft or
scion. It will be up to you to decide whether to re-graft, allow the rootstock to
continue growing or start over again. Be very observant of the leaves that come up, if they look like this:

It is either Poncirus trifoliata or some hybrid of Poncirus. The fruit will be edible, just not really tasty.
     If you have any doubt as to whether your citrus will come back or not, time is the only thing that will tell. If you have any questions, please feel free to comment on this article or any of my others.
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Happy Growing!

Saturday, January 6, 2018

I had my doubts, but......

     With all of this crappy winter weather here in the Southeast, snow, ice, cold temperatures that feel like they have been here forever, a LOT of people are starting to get cabin fever, Especially Gardeners! I will be upfront and honest, there are links associated with Amazon on my blog, and this article has many of them, only because I REALLY like this product.
     On a lark, about a month ago, I went ahead and hooked up something that a friend gave me sometime over the summer. I truly appreciated it, but never really had the time to get it hooked up, not that it took very long. I guess I really had my doubts that it would actually work.
Boy, was I wrong!
     I am talking about something that Miracle-Gro puts out, it is called the AeroGarden.
From their own website, it states: Enjoy big harvests in just weeks, you just drop in the seed pods, add water and nutrients, and watch it grow.
It sounded too good to be true, and you know that old saying about anything sounding too good?!
My friend actually gave me one of the AeroGarden Ultra (LED)and three of the smaller, Miracle-Gro Aerogarden Sprout Led - Black, one of which was not working properly, but I didn't care, I like fooling around with things to fix them.
     Well, I used the three little ones, more for the lights for my Citrus seeds. I sprouted the seeds then transferred them to the lights. Take a look at them now:

I know, I am not using this product like you are supposed to, and you can buy a setup or make one yourself for this purpose. That is not the point of this article.
     I am coming to you today to tell you about these things because of the way the AeroGarden Ultra is working out. Like I said, I put this thing together in a matter of maybe 5 minutes just a little over a month ago.
Look what I have NOW!!

Yes, folks, those are tomato plants!
It is a type of Cherry Tomato and, you can't really tell from the picture, they will be flowering in about another week!
It is really amazing how easy it is to set up, plant, and monitor. It tells you when you need to do everything, from when to add water to when you need to add nutrients. It comes with seed pods or you can use your own seeds of whatever you want to grow. Add water, nutrients, drop the pods into the holes, then follow the prompts on the screen. Seriously, that easy!
     I have always wondered about Aquaponics and wanted to toy around with it some, this makes it easy. I plan on getting a few more of these for next Winter so I can be gardening, truly all year round!!
If you have any questions about these things or about any of my other articles, please do not hesitate to ask! You can reach me at or Follow me on Facebook.
I have also launched my new website: swing by there, check it out and tell me what you think, I am always looking for ways to improve and make it easier to pass out information.
Happy Growing!

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Ice, Ice, Oh, Boy!

Happy Freekin New Year!
     Mother nature apparently is NOT in the holiday spirit!
Charleston is going to get Cold, which means folks to my west and north are going to be even colder!! The Citrus will not be happy.
     The past few days have been okay, lower 30's at night, so I was not worried. I looked at the next week or so and suddenly I was a little concerned. 28 is my "Take Action" forecasted low, I am looking down the barrel of 36-28-24-24-25-22-24-28. The highs will only peak into the upper 30's. The good news is, with the colder nights we have had, the citrus trees have had a chance to go into their semi-dormancy. The bad news is, that is too many nights in a row, NOT to take action. So I did just that this morning.
     I also figured I would throw some tips out there for folks that might also get a little concerned about their Citrus.
     The first thing you should do, while the temps are still decent is, Make Sure They Are Well Watered! A well-watered, hydrated plant can handle the cold much better than a dry one. This goes for in ground and container plants as well.
     If they are in the ground, you might still have time, get some frost cloth. Check the big box stores, hardware stores, etc. My friend Stan McKenzie, up around the Florence SC area, is getting his in-ground trees ready.

I have NEVER said growing citrus is easy!
You can also put some Christmas lights, the ones that get hot, or a couple of 100 watt light bulbs in there to help keep in some heat.
     Now, those of us that grow them in containers have a few more options. I put what I could in my greenhouse, did they all fit, not a chance. My greenhouse stretcher is still in the developmental stage.
What did get put in there got watered to within an inch of its life, shoved together, and my little electric space heater is at the ready. As long as it keeps it at 32 or higher, I am happy. If you only have a couple of trees, I would suggest at least putting them in an unheated garage, storage shed or something along those lines to keep it a little warmer. If your tree is very small, and this can go for in-ground or container, flip a large trash can over it. The ground will help keep it a couple of degrees warmer.
     What did I do with the ones that would not fit in the greenhouse?
There are a few that I gave some encouraging words to and told them they will be fine, which they should be, most of them are pretty cold hardy, down into the 20's type. The rest of them got laid down on the ground, overlapping each other, and covered with a tarp, a blanket, and some frost cloth. It ain't pretty, but it will work.

Again, I watered each one very well, tipped them over and covered.
Hopefully, this will be the worst we get all year and it will be here and done!
     I mentioned it in my book, How To Grow Citrus Practically Anywhere as well as above, I have never said growing citrus is easy, it all depends on how much work you are willing to put into it as to whether you can grow citrus practically anywhere!
     If you have any questions about this or any of my other articles, please feel free to contact me via e-mail: You can also follow me on Facebook
Happy Growing!

Sunday, December 10, 2017

5 Citrus Myths-Debunked

     I have stated before that there is a lot of misinformation on the Internet. I hear many of the same questions asked over and over again because the folks asking them saw something on a website and it freaked them out. So I figured, it was time to set some of the bad info straight on growing Citrus.
     This is in no particular order.

#1- "A Citrus tree HAS to be grafted in order to produce fruit"-FALSE!
While a citrus tree that has been grafted will produce fruit faster than from seed, as long as the Scion came from a tree that is already producing fruit, it does NOT HAVE to be grafted. There are many trees that are on their own roots, which in some ways is better. You can easily root cuttings from a Citrus tree. The main reason being on its own roots is better, if the tree happens to get killed back by severe cold, it will come back as the same thing. If it has been grafted and gets killed to below the graft, the rootstock will come back and that could be a number of different things, most of which is rather untasty. Even Kumquats will grow on their own roots, some say not as well, I tend to disagree here, I have seen no real problems.
As a bonus tidbit of information here, the rootstock of a grafted tree will in no way affect the seeds of the fruit that it produces. The rootstock only effects the size of the tree, cold hardiness, and what kind of issues the roots might have to contend with, i.e Nematodes or Salt Intrusion.

As you can see in this picture, the leaves in the upper part of the plant are large, normal looking leaves. The leaves that have three lobes towards the bottom is rootstock, some kind of Poncirus spp. starting to grow. Those should be cut off.

     #2- "Citrus will not produce fruit if grown in a container"- FALSE!
If the tree is a rooted cutting or a grafted scion, and it came from a tree that is already bearing, it could be very small and produce fruit. The trees I have are ALL in containers, normally a minimum of a trade seven-gallon container, usually a trade 15 or 30 gallon. I have seen trees in a 3-gallon pot with one piece of fruit on it. Besides, don't ever say that to my Kumquat tree, it may get its feelings hurt.

#3- "Citrus trees will die if the temperature gets below 40 degrees"-FALSE!
Citrus can handle down to 28 degrees for a short period of time, as long as they are allowed to go into a state of semi-dormancy. If the temperature has been very warm, say 50's and 60's and it drops suddenly to 32 degrees, it will get hurt much more than if the temps have been upper 30's and 40's than suddenly drops to 28 (or lower). It also has a lot to do with the duration of the cold, how healthy it was going into the cold event, and how well watered it was. A dry plant will suffer much more than a well-hydrated one. Want proof?

     This is a Republic of Texas Orange, grown in a container, that was subjected to a low of 18 degrees. I watered it thoroughly the day of the cold event.

By most accounts, it would be considered dead, correct?

This is that same tree the following Summer.

It did not produce fruit because it was putting all of the energy into leaf production. It is fine to this day.

#4- "Citrus trees will never produce fruit from seed"-FALSE!
Granted, it may feel like forever, but it will eventually produce fruit. Just some of the generalized timetables are:
Key Limes are your earliest producer from seed, averaging 2-3 years.
Your oranges, lemons, Persian limes, tangerines will be in the 5-7 year ballpark.
The grapefruit and pomelo will be the longest, taking anywhere from 8-12 years.
This will, of course, depend on how good your horticultural practices are. If you feed it, water it, and give it plenty of sunshine, you may be able to shave a few years off of these times. I was once given some seeds from a Lemonquat, a lemon kumquat hybrid, I actually saw one piece of fruit within 18 months. Granted it was probably just a fluke, but it is possible.

#5- "You need more than one Citrus tree to produce fruit"-FALSE!
As long as you have a tree that is flowering, it will produce fruit. Bees are your best pollinators, but, if you are growing Citrus inside, or there just does not seem to be many bees around, you will have to step in. Take a small artist paintbrush or Q-tip and dab from flower to flower. Basically, you are transferring pollen and fertilizing the flower. Just remember to buzz like a bee so you don't scare your tree. (The preceding statement was and is the only thing in this article that you should ignore)

     And there you have it, 5 of the most common myths about growing citrus. Next time somebody mentions one of these, or you see it in print somewhere, call Buffalo Chips on them and send them to me! I will be glad to set them straight!
     If you have any questions about this, any of my other articles, or maybe you have some kind of garden myth you would like debunked, drop me a line to
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Happy Growing!

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Pictures Tell It All

     I got home from work today and realized that all of my Citrus (and Camellias), as well as everything else, had not been watered in over a week when we got an inch of rain. So, out I went to give them all a drink.
     While doing so I realized just how good a citrus crop we had going on this year, so I snapped a few pictures. Keep in mind that all of my citrus are grown in containers. I mention that only because I used everything I have learned growing them that way when I wrote my book.


Here is what was ripe as of the writing of this article.

Variegated Eureka Lemon

Seedless Kishu


Harvey Lime

Meyer Lemon

Sunburst Mandarin

Citrus medica 'Buddhas Hand'

Nagami Kumquat

Unidentified Citrange

Variegated Calamondin

Variegated Valencia Orange

Ponkan Satsuma

Thomasville Citrange

Ruby Red Grapefruit

Owari Satsuma

I hope you enjoyed this little pictorial of what can be done with citrus in containers. Just like everything else in life, anything can be done, if you put your mind to it.
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Happy Growing!

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Produce With An Identity Crisis

      When the Coastal Carolina Fair comes to town, I get excited because that means Flower Shows and time to demonstrate some garden expertise in a friendly competition. Flower Show is actually not a really good description because there are also design competitions, plants that don’t flower, fruits and vegetables on display. I don’t only enter different things into different categories; I have been assisting in plant identification and placement of the entries as they come in.

     The fair just recently ended, it was a blast as usual. However, this year there came to light an interesting problem. We have produce that has an identity crisis!! Here is the story.
     I was setting up Section S, Vegetables, Fruits, and Nuts (insert your own joke), and we got a watermelon in to be displayed. The owner had it entered in the "any other fruit" category because they thought there was not a specific place for it. As I was moving things around, I realized that there WAS a watermelon category, under the vegetables!
I thought, okay, there was a major boo-boo in the printing in the show schedule. When I asked about it, they told me that botanically, it is a vegetable. I already knew that tomatoes were classified in the fruit section. SO, I had to do some research and find out if I was living in Bizzaro World!!

Photo Courtesy of:

     It’s true that watermelon and other melons like the honeydew and cantaloupe (which are fruits) are in the Cucurbitaceous family, but the watermelon is in the Citrullus genus, which is an important distinction between the two types of produce. I know that is a lot of fancy jargon, let’s break it down a little. The dictionary defines “fruit” as “the ripened ovary (pistil) of a seed plant and its contents, which includes the seeds.” This includes things like apples, oranges, and cherries. These are ripened ovaries that include seeds of the plant that bore them. A broader definition of a fruit is anything that contains seeds.
     Sounds easy, right? Well, under that definition, squash and green beans would be considered fruits, even though most people would consider them vegetables. The dictionary defines a vegetable as “anything made or obtained from plants.” Basically, that means all fruits are also vegetables. To further clarify the vegetable family, most people consider vegetables to be the leaves, stems, stalks, and roots of certain plants, which helps to define why celery, carrots, lettuce, and onions are all, unequivocally, vegetables.
     Okay, now it gets confusing.
     The “rules” over what is or is not a vegetable are not really set in stone and are often open to interpretation. In many cases, the distinction is made based on how the produce is used and how it tastes. This is referred to as a culinary distinction. Using these culinary distinctions, things that are low in sugar and are of a savory taste are considered vegetables, and things that are sweeter are then considered fruits.
     SO, Bell peppers and tomatoes are considered vegetables because they’re savory and low in sugar, even though they have seeds, which technically make them fruits. Pumpkins, cucumbers, and squash are all fruits because they have seeds. However, in a culinary sense, these items are all vegetables. So, basically "fruit" and "vegetable" are defined differently depending on whether you're a gardener or a chef.

Photo Courtesy of: @TheChefsGarden -

      The fruit vs. vegetable debate can sometimes reach such a fervor that the law must step in.  In the 1893 United States Supreme Court case Nix. v. Hedden, the court ruled unanimously that an imported tomato should be taxed as a vegetable, rather than as a (less taxed) fruit. The court acknowledged that a tomato is a botanical fruit, but went with what they called the "ordinary" definitions of fruit and vegetable — the ones used in the kitchen.

Photo Courtesy of:

     Okay, if all of this is not bad enough, we all know that anything with “berry” in its name is basically a fruit, right? WELL, despite its name, the strawberry isn't a true berry. Neither is the raspberry or the blackberry. But the banana, it turns out, is a berry, scientifically speaking, so are eggplants, grapes, and oranges. To be considered a berry, a fruit must have two or more seeds. Thus, a cherry, which has just one seed, doesn't make the berry cut, rather, cherries, like other fleshy fruit with thin skin and a central stone that contains a seed, are called drupes. HOWEVER, you might be inclined to call it a vegetable, thanks to its green hue and savory taste, but the avocado is technically a fruit, and even more specifically, a single-seeded berry.

     Ready to scream yet?
Did you know that apples, pears, and quince actually belong to the rose family?
That my friends is fodder for another day!
If you have any questions about this article, (or need me to untangle the knots in your brains wiring after reading this) or any of my other articles, drop me a line at
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Happy Growing!