The weather is the most important factor determining where certain fruits can be successfully grown. Terms such as chilling requirement and cold hardiness play a major role in both species and variety selection.
Most fruits which grow in the Panhandle are deciduous, meaning that during the winter, they lose their leaves and go through a semi to full dormancy period. This period is a much needed rest and reset for the plant. The cool season actually helps the plant to rebound for another fruiting season and affects how well the plant will yield fruit. This is where the term “chilling hours” comes into play.
Temperatures below 45 degrees Fahrenheit are considered “chilling”. The number of hours below 45 degrees accumulated throughout the winter determines the total amount of chilling hours. Different species of citrus and dooryard fruit, along with different cultivars of these plants differ in the amount of chilling hours need for that all important rest & reset period. Satsuma is a popular fruit trees in our area, as it is by far the most cold hardy citrus. Evidence suggests that the satsuma can survive a temperature as low as 14 degrees Fahrenheit.
Figure 1. Mature satsumas ready for harvest.
Credit. Pete Anderson. UF/IFAS Extension.
What happens if the plant doesn’t receive the needed amount of chilling hours? Plant hormones can be disrupted, and both leafing and blooming could be light and come outside of the normal range of the season. So, where do we stand in the Panhandle for overall chilling hours? Typically, we see approximately 500 hours chilling hours. Therefore, its best to plant citrus and dooryard fruit that have the characteristic of needing 500 or less hours for chilling. Please see this informative document on citrus and dooryard fruit varieties: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/MG248
Now, on to the term cold hardiness. By definition, this is the plants ability to withstand cool season temperatures without injury. Most tropical fruits cannot tolerate our Panhandle temperatures. Those of us that cut back banana trees every year know this all too well. To check your plant hardiness zone, please see the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map: https://planthardiness.ars.usda.gov/
Before you plant a fruit tree, make sure you understand about its cold hardiness and whether or not it has a chilling requirement. This will both save you money and a headache, in the end. If you’re in doubt about a particular variety, contact your local extension office.
Information for this article can be found at the UF/IFAS EDIS Publications, “Dooryard Fruit Varieties: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/MG248 & “The Satsuma Mandarin”: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/CH116
UF/IFAS Extension is an Equal Opportunity Institution.