UGA Citrus Research Benefits From Freeze

Josh McGillCold Hardy, freeze, Varieties

Research in South Georgia cold-hardy citrus requires freezing temperatures for studies to be effective.

Sugar Belle trees on March 15, 2023, after a freeze

When temperatures dropped below freezing for multiple days around Christmas last year, it allowed Jake Price, University of Georgia (UGA) Lowndes County Extension coordinator, to conduct extensive research into various citrus varieties and rootstocks. He discussed his research during a citrus meeting in early August.

“We’ve got three varieties, all in the same location. We’ve got Sugar Belle on four different rootstocks, Tango on 10 different rootstocks and Owari satsumas on six different rootstocks,” Price said. “In the previous eight or nine years, when we had the Owaris out there, there’s never been enough cold to do any damage. Every year everything looks great.

“This year was definitely a difference maker because we didn’t know how cold hardy the Tangos were to start with. We got to see how they did overall, and how the rootstocks affected them … Then we did the cold-hardy citrus survey with agents in the state where they rated non-satsuma varieties. I put all of that data together and came up with which non-satsuma varieties tolerated the cold the best.”

Price said that Sugar Belle did well, followed by Tango and navels. Shiranui, grapefruit and Kishu did not fare as well.

The Christmas freeze event devastated this year’s crop in the cold-hardy citrus region of eastern Alabama, southern Georgia and the Florida Panhandle. That freeze, coupled with a second one in March, has left growers with minimal production this season. Harvests are expected to be reduced to about 25% of the normal crop.

Still, the challenging freezes have not deterred Price’s belief that citrus can continue to be a long-term option for growers in the cold-hardy region. He noted that older satsuma trees were not freeze protected and they survived the past season’s cold temperatures.

“If we can hone down which rootstocks we use and match those up with the varieties that seem to be the most cold-hardy, we may be even more prepared the next time we have a freeze,” Price concluded.

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