I’ve lived in many states including Florida, California, and Texas and I’ve grown citrus trees in each one. However, I’m thinking about moving to North Carolina and I’m trying to see if citrus trees will grow there. So, I did some research on which states citrus trees will grow in, including the best citrus varieties for each state (I went a bit overboard).
To keep it easy and convenient for you, I put everything into this one table:
|State||Hardiness Zones||Best Citrus Variety|
|North Carolina||6a-8a||Cold-Hardy Varieties|
|South Carolina||7-9||Cold-Hardy Varieties|
Ideally, grow outdoor citrus trees in zones 9-11, but with proper cold protection, they can survive in zones 7-8, and occasionally below. During frost, you can insulate them with cardboard, sheets, or mulch. Potted citrus trees can be grown just about anywhere as they can be moved inside during colder weather.
To find out the exact hardiness zone you have, check out this page on the USDA website.
While this information may be helpful, which states are the best to grow citrus trees, and is there a way to stretch your hardiness zone? Let’s take a closer look.
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Which States Do Citrus Trees Grow the Best?
The best states to grow citrus trees are Florida and southern California due to their warm and stable climates. Since citrus trees are tropical trees, they grow best in hot and humid climates including USDA hardiness zones 9-11. Citrus trees can generally be grown elsewhere as long as they aren’t exposed to frost.
While any state can technically grow citrus trees, Florida is the best suited due to its subtropical climate. Additionally, its soil has high amounts of limestone and sand, which helps drainage and acidity. Other citrus states such as California, Texas, and Arizona commonly have large pockets of clay, which often need to be amended.
Generally, it’s best to grow citrus trees in USDA hardiness zones 9-11, but their zones can be stretched with a few tricks such as:
- Cold-Hardy Rootstocks
If you haven’t purchased or grown your citrus trees yet, select cold-hardy rootstocks. Hardy citrus trees such as kumquats can withstand temperatures as low as 15-20ºF (more on cold-hardy varieties later).
By far the easiest way to stretch your growing zone is by growing citrus trees in a greenhouse. This is because greenhouses trap the sun’s heat and stay warm, even during cold weather. Citrus trees will grow in them well, as long as the greenhouse’s temperature doesn’t fall below 35ºF.
Another way to grow citrus trees in zones 8 and below is to grow them on your patio in the spring and summer and move them inside before the first frost arrives. As long as you provide the tree with enough sunlight, water, and nutrients while indoors, it should grow nicely.
Lastly, and perhaps the most challenging way, is to create a microclimate where citrus trees can thrive. A microclimate is a small space in a zone where the climate is slightly different than the surrounding area. An example of this is a valley where colder air and fog settle (more about microclimates later).
By stretching your hardiness zone and/or by providing frost protection, you can expand the list of states you can successfully grow citrus trees in to:
- North Carolina
- South Carolina
Which States Grow the Most Citrus Trees?
The four states that grow citrus trees commercially are:
While these states produce the majority of citrus in the US, California, Texas, and Arizona are a bit trickier to grow citrus trees due to their drier climates and high amount of clay soil.
In these states, citrus trees generally need large amounts of irrigation, mulching, and care. Sometimes, citrus tree trunks are also painted white to help keep them cool.
However, if you live in any of these three states and you have sufficient irrigation and amended soil, citrus trees will grow well.
You still might need to provide shade if temperatures reach above 100ºF, especially in drier climates. Mulching is also vital to keep the roots cool and retain water.
If you do shade your citrus trees, it’s best to do so in the afternoon when the sun is hottest. Because of this, shade from the tree’s west side. Some good ways to shade citrus trees are with umbrellas, shade sails, and other trees.
When it comes to amending clay soil, it’s generally better to plant the trees on mounds of soil and mulch, rather than in the heavy clay ground. This is because the citrus tree’s roots will have a hard time piercing the hard clay and will lack proper drainage.
If you’d like more information about amending clay soil and planting citrus trees in mounds, feel free to check out my recent post: Can Fruit Trees Grow in Clay Soil (& How To Plant Them)?
Cold Hardy Citrus Tree Varieties
|Cold-Hardy Citrus Variety||Hardiness|
By far the best cold-hardy citrus tree is one that is grafted onto a trifoliate orange rootstock. Since trifoliate orange can handle temperatures as low as -22ºF, it’s a great way to boost a citrus tree’s hardiness. However, there’s still a chance the grafted tree (scion) will die from the cold before the rootstock.
When I lived in Florida, we had a lemon tree that was grafted onto a trifoliate orange rootstock and it had no issues surviving the occasional frost without protection.
Other cold-hardy citrus trees include sour orange, Cleopatra mandarin, and orange crosses. Meyer lemon is the most cold-hardy lemon variety and can survive in temperatures as low as 25ºF.
More Tips To Grow Citrus Trees
Since North Carolina is in USDA hardiness zones 6a-8a, it’s not ideal for me to grow citrus trees outdoors unless they are properly protected in times of frost.
Alternatively, I can grow citrus trees in pots—keeping them outdoors during the spring and summer and moving them inside before the first frost arrives.
Here are a few more tips to grow citrus trees (especially in colder weather):
- Insulate potted and planted citrus trees by providing 6-12 inches of mulch such as leaves, bark, or straw. You can also bury the pot in the ground or place it in a box packed with mulch if you have a light frost.
- Place indoor citrus trees next to a sunny window. A southern-facing window is best as it gets the maximum amount of sunlight.
- Avoid placing indoor citrus trees near central heat. I did this once with my potted Meyer lemon tree and the leaves quickly dried out—curling and dropping. After I moved it to a cooler room without a heat vent, it recovered nicely.
- Avoid fertilizing in winter as citrus trees don’t need many nutrients. Chemical fertilizers that sit unused can even chemically burn the tree’s roots. Only use chemical fertilizers in the early spring, or apply organic compost every 1-2 months. If you’d like my recommendation on citrus tree fertilizers, check out my recommended fertilizer page.
- Only water when the first 2-4 inches of soil gets dry. By doing this, you’re preventing both over and under-watering and only watering when the tree needs it. You can check the dryness of the soil by pushing a finger into the soil, up to the second knuckle.
- When in doubt, grow citrus trees in pots. This way you can simply move them inside to avoid the frost (and the occasional heat spells).
- Grow citrus trees in a greenhouse for the best results. Greenhouses don’t have to be expensive and can even be placed on an apartment patio. If you’d like to learn more, check out these affordable greenhouses on Amazon.
If you’re interested in learning more about microclimates and their advantages, check out this cool video by Gardener Scott:
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