Copyright © Sheryl Williams - Yardfanatic 2016. All rights reserved.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Overly Optimistic in Zone 8

I pulled the plastic off my citrus trees and raised beds today. Devastation.

The salad greens are gone, the pineapples are mush, and even the kohlrabi is flat. But what sent me sobbing into the garage were my poor citrus trees.

I love those trees. To be able to pick a lemon, lime, orange or kumquat from a tree I have grown is the pinnacle of gardening. Never mind that it is a completely iffy proposition in Zone 8 Austin Texas. But somehow my love of citrus has crossed the line.

As I folded up the plastic covers and unwound the lights from the branches, my heart just broke. What I discovered is that I didn’t cry from disappointment, my tears came because I felt like I let my friends down. My trees barely weathered through last winter and I vowed that this year would be different. They would be safe from the cold because I HAD IT FIGURED OUT. But I didn’t. Our cold weather was unusual this year because it didn’t warm up during the day. Sadly, they were doing great until last week, but two days of not getting above freezing did them in.

What could I have done differently? Should I have added more lights? Doubled the plastic? Placed jugs of water around them? Or just move to Florida?

I live in Zone 8; the same climate as Portland, Oregon. What I am trying to do here in Austin would make the Oregon-resident Sheryl scoff. After all, I am the same gardener who stopped raising roses because they couldn’t fend for themselves. And now I’m stringing lights, creating plastic domes, and sobbing in the garage over some trees?

The rest of the yard is just fine. My native plants are already in bud-break stage and it’s only been a few days since the last hard freeze. The sedge even sat up today and waved in the sunshine. Green shoots are already appearing in the heart of the clumps of bamboo and gulf muhly grass. I tidied up the rest of the front by pruning back the salvias, copper canyon daisies and turk’s cap hibiscus. I cut back the mutabilis roses to ensure that they don’t take over the house. I planted potatoes in the vegetable garden and got my new Venus grape and some asparagus into the new planter Ed helped me build.

But my trees, my trees. What I really should do is cut them down and add them to the compost. They aren’t native, they are always iron deficient, they need a lot of water, they're heavy feeders, and I am doomed to be disappointed. I know better. This is zone 8. Be satisfied with the apples, pears, peaches and plums that I planted. Eat grapes and blackberries. Forget the citrus.

Not a chance.


  1. Oh, I'm so sorry for your heartbreak. I know what you mean about the idea of growing a lemon or orange in my backyard and picking it when I want one - heaven! I gave up the notion after last year. I'm going to buy a Moy Grande native hibiscus this year to replace my lemons with gorgeousness. Don't be too hard on yourself.

  2. Thanks Robin. The challenges, glories, and heartbreak are why we garden! It's also why we buy greenhouses!! LOL

  3. While it's a slim chance, they might come back. If a sprout emerges above the root graft, then they will re-grow. Of course there are no guarantees. I feel for you!

    It's so difficult growing stuff here. I've read that many people who were avid gardeners in other states give up when they find out how difficult gardening in this part of Texas can be.

    You tried your best! Think of your other successes and the fact that you aren't giving up. Laura

  4. Bummer about the citrus. These past two winters have been the coldest that I've known since moving here in 1994. Maybe we'll have a warm stretch again after this one. At least that's what I keep telling myself.

  5. I feel your pain. The same thing happened to my lime trees. I used floating row cover and heat lamps. They are still alive (green branches when scratched) but the leaves are all brown and the tips of the branches are dead. This means they'll spend all year recovering and will set no fruit. Unfortunately zone 9 and 10 plants simply can not tolerate 48 hours of subfreezing temperatures, even covered/heated. The only other option is to plant them in huge pots and haul them into heated green houses for the winter, but they eventually get too big to haul around. Sigh.

  6. It's frustrating, isn't it, Sheryl? 4 or 5 years ago Austin people talked about growing citrus without too much fuss but I haven't heard that after the last couple of winters!

    For the 2009-10 winter I used a thermal cover & lights for my Meyer's Lemon & Mexican lime. That wasn't enough because my neighborhood experienced 13ºF. The trees got moldy under the covers & defoliated. They eventually recovered their leaves, grew larger, and even made flowers but set no fruit. So this year I brought the small Meyer's Lemon inside and didn't even cover the outside trees. If they live, I'll be glad, but will think of them as ornamentals.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  7. my Meyer lemons and satsumas made it through that blast with only a little leaf damage, but they are located either near protected south/west facing walls, under a tall cedar or oak tree, PLUS I covered the younger trees with sheets/blankets. Don't give up-try again! My Meyer lemon trees are 15 feet high and full of lemons this year(December 2015)

    1. Thanks for your note. Microclimates are a tricky thing so be glad that you've found a little niche of success. The great delight is finding them and celebrating when they work just right. My citrus adventure continues with limited success. This year I have a bumper crop of oranges, a few lemons, but no satsumas. I wish you continued luck and hope that your lemon survives future arctic blasts!