A fruit tree is a great gift. But what about those of us that live somewhere where the climate isn’t conducive to growing fruit? Can fruit trees withstand the cold?
Surprisingly, many fruit trees can withstand temperatures well below freezing. Good news for those of us living up north! The first thing you need to determine is your climate. Since fruit trees will be around for years, you need to consider climate extremes, not just the average temperatures. To do this, find out what agricultural zone you’re living in. Check our graphic for your location. You can also visit the USDA interactive plant hardiness zone map for a more detailed look.
The temperature at which the tissue of a particular plant will freeze and the degree of the damage are determined by a number of different factors. Some of these include the actual temperature reached, the duration of time the tree was exposed to this temperature, how well the plant was conditioned before exposure, age of the plant, and the overall health of the tree. A more mature, healthier tree can withstand much more cold than a diseased or younger tree.
The temperature range given for a tree to survive refers to its leaves and wood, not the fruit itself. Therefore, the fruit crop may be damaged in the cold while the tree remains undamaged. If the fruit buds are still very tight, the fruit damage should be minimal, but if the fruit has already started to bloom it is likely about 90% of the fruit will be lost.
So how do you prepare and protect a tree from the cold? Plant the tree in a sunny location that is sheltered from wind. Plant it in bare, non-turf ground as turf near the base of the tree can lower the temperature. Also, keep the tree away from the bottom of a hill as this can also lower the temperature. Do not mulch around the tree as this will retain moisture and even encourage disease. Be sure not to fertilize citrus trees after August as this promotes new growth which is more sensitive to cold temperatures.
There are things you can do to protect a tree when you know temperatures are going to drop. First, you should cover the entire plant, but leave the foliage untouched. Bring the cover all the way to the base and use weights like bricks or rocks to hold it down. Remove this cover as soon as temperatures rise again. Another option is to install small lights, like Christmas lights on the tree to increase the nearby temperature. This works well because it is usually the holiday season when temperatures are dropping.
If you’re in a climate that is still not conducive to growing fruit, or you want a fruit that can’t withstand your local climate, you may consider growing it in a container. Then you can leave it on a patio or deck in the warmer months and bring it inside as temperatures get colder.
Be on the lookout for cold hardy plant recommendations coming later this week!