Winter Storm Elliott brought freezing temperatures to the Panhandle on Dec. 24 that lasted through Dec. 28, 2022.
While we’ve seen freezing temperatures in years past,none remained below freezing for as long as Winter Storm Elliott did, resulting in significant injury to many of our beloved plants, including our citrus trees. We’ve received many calls this winter and spring, seeking information on caring for citrus in the aftermath of the freeze, so I wanted to share some information on proper care.
The first step in caring for citrus after the freeze is to assess the damage. A few days after the freeze, you may have noticed that trees began to shed their leaves, which was a positive sign as this indicates the wood is likely not damaged or dead whereas leaf retention usually indicates dead wood. In general, green tissue indicates live wood while brown tissue indicates dead wood. By now, trees that survived the freeze, should have generated new growth. If your tree does not have any new growth, it is likely dead and should be removed.
For those trees that did survive the freeze, proper pruning will be very important for tree recovery, and now is the time to prune.
When you go to prune, keep in mind the 4Ds: dead, damaged, diseased, and dysfunctional branches of any size. These are the main branches we want to focus on removing. Dysfunctional branches are those that cross each other.
Another important thing to look for is the graft union. Anything below the graft union will be the rootstock variety and it will not produce desirable fruit, so it will be important to remove any growth below the graft union.
Proper fertilization will also play an important role in recovery of citrus. Fertilizer should be applied frequently but the rates should be reduced, depending on the degree of damage. Trees that are severely damaged (50-60% wood loss or more) will most likely not produce fruit this season and their rate of fertilizer should be lowered to promote a slow recovery, whereas trees with 10-15% wood loss, should receive a regular fertilizer program as fruit will be expected.
Trees with significant damage may show signs of nutrient deficiency because the leaves require nutrients to regenerate large amounts of new growth necessary to replace lost foliage.
For recommended citrus fertilizer rates, refer to https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/HS132.
It’s important to note that caring for citrus in the aftermath of a freeze will require patience. It may take several months for the tree to recover fully. During this time, continue to provide proper care and monitor the tree for any signs of further damage, stress, disease, or pests. It’s likely that our trees will produce less fruit this year (if any at all) but that is okay, since trees suffered a major freeze event and are recovering.
For more information or help with citrus tree care, please contact the Gadsden County Extension Office at 850-875-7255 or stop by our office on Highway 90 at 2140 W. Jefferson Street, Quincy, FL. You can also stay up to date by following us on Facebook at UF/IFAS Extension Gadsden County.
Danielle S. Williams is the Agriculture and Natural Resources Agent/County Extension Director for UF/IFAS Extension Gadsden County.