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Lemon trees in Montana or anyplace normally too cold for citrus.

 
pollinator
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I know Paul has talked a lot about wanting to figure out how to grow lemons in Montana. I'm about the same climate as Missoula and this is something that really interests me and I'm thinking about putting it on next year's project list. Just curious, I searched but couldn't find anything but has anyone tried or worked on this?

So far, here is what I'm thinking.

Trifoliate orange is a super cold hardy citrus that will survive up to -10 degrees. I don't know much about grafting, but I DO know that rootstock matters when it comes to trees and hardiness. So here is my theory:

My city is technically zone 6b. If I was able to graft my lemon tree onto Trifoliate orange rootstock in the spring. Come fall, I'm thinking either build a crescent shaped sun scoop out of rocks or concrete blocks painted black. Or possibly build some kind of surround from strawbales, but then there's no thermal mass. Or maybe a combination of the two. Mulch like a madwoman, of course, either way.

I'm also thinking about figuring out a way to do an easy enclosure (I want this to be easy and doable for future sake) so that I can also house some bunnies around the tree, in the theory that their body heat + sun scoop + insulation + mulch will help keep the tree warm enough, and of course the poop on the ground would be a bonus.

I'm almost thinking this is how it would look: a black block sun scoop, with strawbales on the outside of the blocks. Build it up high/big enough so that I can stick my rabbit cages inside around the tree, and possibly stick a piece of clear roofing on top. Again, I don't want complex because this would need to be both easily disassembled in the spring AND be able to "grow" with the tree.

One problem I can see with it is that you'd have to prune aggressively even if you can get it to survive because you'd need it to be fairly short so it can be protected easier. Anybody see other holes? should I give it a try next year?
 
pollinator
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I've been thinking about trying a citrus in Missouri. I believe lemon is the least cold hardy. I think I'm going to try Citrandarin. I have you see this site http://mckenzie-farms.com/photo.htm ?
 
Ken W Wilson
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If it doesn't have to be Lemon and you just want something tropical, Hardy Chicago figs might survive there.
 
Bethany Dutch
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Actually I really want mandarins, lemons and limes 😂I do plan on building an attached greenhouse to my home at some point so I may do that but for years I've been thinking there's GOT to be a way to grow citrus out here.
 
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I would look for, or build a nice south facing brick wall, then plant the trees so you could espalier them as they grow.
By espaliering the trees, they will remain close to the thermal mass brick wall.
When winter comes all you need is some commercial, clear, green house cover and perhaps the matching frost blanket, sandwiched together (cover/blanket/cover) and covering the trees to the ground.
The materials do let light through and the combination will give you; heat sink for thermal mass, frost protection from the greenhouse cover and heat retention via the frost blanket.
If you were to use semi-dwarf trees (better longevity and still easy to pick the fruit from) then you can keep them low enough to not get over the brick wall they grow against.

If you made the wall something like four bricks thick (old world solid brick wall construction) then you would have enough heat sink thermal mass to keep the trees comfortable all winter long.

Redhawk
 
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Cob garden wall
 - possible option for retaining winter sunlight?

Ianto mentioned that he has citrus trees planted on the south side of their cob walls, which absorb the sunlight and radiate it back, and it can be 20-30 degrees warmer next to it. I would guess that if you made a heavy masonry wall that is concave to cup the tree, and added perhaps a wooden screen to limit the wind coming from your prevailing winter wind direction, you could create a much warmer micro-climate for the plant.

I don't know if keeping rabbits next to the tree would be wise if they might chew the bark off the trunk, but a heavy mesh around the trunk would prevent that. Would they dig into the roots?

You could espalier the tree to keep the growth near the wall, to maximize the above benefits. You could get 3-4 fruit bearing branches on each side and keep them at/below 6-7' so you can reach them all without a ladder. While espalier pruning is pretty intensive, for just a couple trees that are out of their normal environment it might help. Of course Sepp Holzer is growing citrus at his place which is similar conditions, but I believe those more vulnerable trees are planted after there is some existing protection and they aren't pruned. I think your wall could be a surrogate shelter, and perhaps you can plant other trees nearby that can help shelter the tender trees during winter.
 
Ken W Wilson
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Rabbits might give it too much nitrogen.  New growth is usually less cold hardy.
 
gardener
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Some threads and things you might want to check out:
https://permies.com/t/8424/grow-citrus-trees-Brunswick-Canada
https://permies.com/t/32817/Holzer-Fruit-Tree-System

https://youtu.be/F4LPTcP_EHU
 
Bethany Dutch
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Thank you Thyri for posting those! I had searched last night but could not find hardly anything but I knew we had discussed this before on the forum.

ANd the rest of you - great idea on the cup shaped thick wall! I think that will be quite doable. Just need to build the wall, of course. I hadn't even thought about espaliering, but that makes a lot of sense! I had wanted to stick with dwarf varieties but the trifoliate orange is such a hardy rootstock I might try both regular dwarf and grafted onto the TFO just to see how it works. I know the TFO naturally grows really high so not sure about realistically trying to keep it small, but we will see.

As far as the rabbits go, they would be in cages so no worries about chewing bark. Since it does get quite cold here I wouldn't expect the trees to put on any new growth during the winter anyway.

However, I did think of one new challenge, and that is fruiting time. I forgot that most of the citrus fruits do their fruiting in the winter. Not sure if that would work, but I may try to see if I can find varieties that are super early or super late.
 
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Citrus in cold places is one of my hobbies.  Here is a thread I started about 4 years ago:

https://permies.com/t/20777/Cold-hardy-citrus-trees

So far the only thing I'm having luck with is trifoliate orange (growing and fruiting like crazy, jelly tastes like lemon and gin)  and Owari Satsuma mandarins. (best citrus I've ever tasted)

I have kumquat trees that come back every year, lightly protected.  They are still juvenile and grow very slow, but I think once they take off, they will do great here even unprotected.

I have one tree that I believe  is a lemon, planted in the ground inside of it's own tiny unheated greenhouse, every year it freezes to the ground
and grows to about 3 feet tall before it starts all over again.  That was just one of my seemingly unsucessful experiments with cold hardy citrus in the last 5-6 years.

Lemons are the LEAST cold hardy of all citrus, so you are pretty unlikely to get those to grow very well if at all.  My personal
solution to that is to occasionally pick unripe mandarins and use those, or use calamondins from a potted tree as substitutes for lemon.

My advice is TRY! Don't put all your eggs in one pot though, try different varieties of citrus with different types of protection, different places around your property,etc.
Let's face it, trees take years to grow, so diversifying your attempts will lead you to the best possibilities for your situation in the soonest time possible.




 
pollinator
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There is of course this famous grapefruit tree in London
http://www.homecitrusgrowers.co.uk/citrusplaces/chelsea.html
David
 
Ken W Wilson
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I'd sure like to have seeds of the London tree. I wonder if anyone is working on the next generation?
 
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I want Meyers Improved Lemons. And maybe Ponderosa. I am resigned to in-and-out trees kept pruned and somewhat even bonsai'ed to keep them about 7' tall (in 18-24" pots on casters) to have them here, at 6b plus altitude OR... build an in-ground greenhouse (walipini) and put an RMH in there for the worst nights. In which case I would probably get winter bloom and be able to grow fruit. I have thought about an earthmass arc plus being able to put a greenhouse/coldframe over it in winter and I'm  pushing it too hard for 6b growzone (at altitude too). I have a friend that kept a Meyer Lemon at 9b Mediterranean and brought it in for six weeks a year and wrapped it up at night in a protected place for about four weeks. She did get fruit. (SF bay area).

I will be pushing forward with growing PALM trees here, some trunk-less kind will make 4b with some extra care and about two trunkless and one trunked will make 6b (here) with some winter care and careful selection in planting location. I just WANT one. I know of an 8a growing a few hours south of here in a 7a zone (trunked and mature) because it is in a protected area. So, you can push your zone with being careful.

I am not sure how you could do an in-ground citrus and push it that far (Missoula plus altitude) from a roughly 10a in the ground (10a means the temps will visit 30f or below freezing for a bit, which mature citrus (lemons, oranges and limes) will tolerate for a few hours with some help) to 4a. IN ground if you can isolate the area (dig deep past the frost line and put in insulated walls) and be prepared to do a winter capping and earth insulative mass and maybe supplemental heating.

I am behind in putting in two large walipini's (in ground greenhouses dug to below frostline) that would allow me to have citrus year-round in large pots. I think that for 4a that might be the viable option...growing them in a walipini.
http://opensourceecology.org/w/images/1/1c/Walipini.pdf
 
Cris Bessette
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Deb Rebel wrote:

I will be pushing forward with growing PALM trees here, some trunk-less kind will make 4b with some extra care and about two trunkless and one trunked will make 6b (here) with some winter care and careful selection in planting location. I just WANT one. I know of an 8a growing a few hours south of here in a 7a zone (trunked and mature) because it is in a protected area. So, you can push your zone with being careful.



Needle palm (rhapidophyllum hystrix) and Sabal minor palms do great here in 7B, I also have one windmill palm (Trachycarpus Fortunei) That is over 7 feet tall now.   I've had two windmill palms die over the years when they were very small, but once they get 3 years old or so they seem to get a lot hardier.  One thing I do that seems to help is to spray the growing spear point area with copper fungicide after any hard freeze, keeps any rot from spreading and killing the spear.

 
Deb Rebel
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Cris, I will try to remember that. Yes I was looking at Windmill Palms and I'd have to find a really warm microclime spot in my yard, and wrap up and mulch for the first so many years to help it establish. And protect it from our prevailing winter winds. I am 6b with some altitude so it takes care to think of a trunked palm. And though they rate us as 6b, we are right on the edge.
 
pollinator
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Deb Rebel - It seems odd that your friend would have to bring a Meyer lemon indoor in the SF Bay Area. I've never heard of such a thing. Meyers grow amazingly here. Much better than a lot of other citrus.

In general - I was surprised to hear that oranges are more cold hardy. I'm in zone 9b and while we can grown oranges, the rinds tend to be very thick, and the oranges never taste very good.

One of the things that I love about citrus, is that the best way to keep a regular supply is just leave them on the tree. My Meyer lemons keep on the tree so well, that I have fresh lemons for at least 6 months, sometimes as much as 9 months of the year. I still have ripe lemons from last years growth, and now the new lemons are forming.
 
Deb Rebel
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I visited her in 2013, seen the tree, and the tree was several years old and yes, it did best by being brought in for that short period, and had some nights of being wrapped up at night while it was outside. I think it was the microclime. She was near Concord on the east side of the Bay.
 
Stacy Witscher
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Concord does get colder than where I am, it's further from the bay. The bay area has lots of microclimates.
 
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I was super tickled to find meyer lemon trees growing well, outside in my new community on the south Oregon coast.  Come to find out lots grows here that does not even grow well in many places in northern California...

They call it the "banana belt" of Oregon and it's something like climate zone 9b in a little sliver on the south coast...

We also have olive and almond trees doing well in the front yard here...
 
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Aside from selecting your plant species wisely, I suggest looking into growing in sand or natural gravel instead of soil for the plants that wouldn't normally make it in your climate zones... first off, there's a difference between crushed gravel (done by machines) and natural gravel (done by the ice age, contains lots of microbiota which plants need to survive).

While I haven't tried it myself yet, there are three growers here in Sweden who use this system with outstanding results. One is Peter Korn, who's developed a beautiful park about a half hour east of Gothenburg, with plants from all over the world, including countries like South Africa. The plants thrive and bloom here in the cold, too, and taking a tour of the place is well worth the cost, as you learn a ton about even small shifts and differences in micro climates, for example how one species survived within two feet from a trickle in the rock, but not four feet from it.

Another is Roland, also on the west coast, and he grows cacti outdoors year round. He buys what he calls nature gravel (not the crush), and plants in that, then piles just any old gravel on top to quench weeds.

And finally, there's Sven Lindholm, who has grown all sorts of crops in sand for decades. He uses raised sand beds, and covers them with cut grass for nourishment. Never has to change the soil, keeps growing the same crops in the same place year after year, and claims it's a problem free system that works for him! I have been in touch with many who do the same at his recommendation, and they're growing roses in the north of Sweden with this technique.

While none of these ideas are citrus-specific, I thought someone might want to give them a try.
Myself, well, I love soil, but I will try some areas of the garden with sand and gravel beds for more demanding plants when I've got that far.
 
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Goes up in fall,  comes down in spring.  Trees are in ground Cincinnati micro zone 6b in 6a area'  Ist picture late spring exposing 2 Fukushu and 1 Meiwa kumquat tree to more sunlight 5-15-2017.  2nd picture seed grown in ground Fukushu kumquat. 11-15-2017.  3rd picture same as 1st picture but take around 4-15-2017
IMG_0065.JPG
Late Spring
Late Spring
IMG_0054.JPG
seed grown in ground Fukushu kumquat
seed grown in ground Fukushu kumquat
IMG_0036.JPG
Goes up in fall, comes down in spring
Goes up in fall, comes down in spring
 
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Not the perfect answer, by a long shot, but...
In many rural communities where the origins date back to the late 1880s to the end of that century, display-style store fronts were complete witih 10-15' tall picture windows for displays to be placed in.  

Sometime between when my dad graduated in 1966 and my childhood in the early 1970s, my grandmother purchased the local Sundries Store (read Convenience Store sans gasoline before such a thing existed) which came, among other things, with a front door recessed in such a display.  Call it 2x12' wide by 15' tall windows that curved into a recessed doorway.  Grandma had always loved plants, and so the display windows began to fill up over time, starting with the classic houseplants like Swedish Ivy, Dephenbachia, Schiffrella, etc.  The running family joke was that everybody got Grandma a new potted plant for Mothers Day, birthday, etc., with a sort of impromptu and unofficial score board tallying the most unusual plants, as well as those that continued to thrive the most.  Somewhere around 1978, my Aunt & Uncle decided to shoot the moon and somehow found a lemon tree in NW OK, about 350 miles south of where Grandma et al lived.  That was her Mothers Day present/gag gift.  

But the joke was on her kids.  The next year (and somewhere my folks have the newspaper clipping) she posed next to this 3 1/2' tall lemon tree, and even in the 40 year old B&W newsprint, you can tell that there are about a dozen lemons growing on it.  

It isn't exactly a permie answer to the problem, BUT it occurs to me that just like converting vacant lots in rural/distressed communities into food gardens benefits everyone, taking some of these abandoned but (generally) structurally sound storefronts which, if they face any direction but North, are effectively crude greenhouses, the potential for impossible plant propogation is probably limited to the imaginations.  
 
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That's a great story!
 
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An interesting article on what the "citrologists" of Soviet Russia did to develop citrus production in northern climates:

https://solar.lowtechmagazine.com/2020/04/fruit-trenches-cultivating-subtropical-plants-in-freezing-temperatures.html

The Russians managed to grow citrus outdoors, where temperatures drop as low as minus 30 degrees Celsius, and without the use of glass or fossil fuels. By 1950, the Soviet Union boasted 30,000 hectares of citrus plantations, producing 200,000 tonnes of fruits per year.



Interesting strategy involving growing fruit trees from seed:

To better prepare citrus fruits for cold, Soviet citrologists followed a method called “progressive cold-hardening”. It allowed them to create new varieties which were adapted to local ecological conditions, a cultivation strategy which had originally been developed for apricot trees and grapes.

The method consists of planting a seed of a highly valued tree a bit further north of its original location, and then waiting for it to give seeds. Those seeds are then planted a bit further north, and with the process repeated further, slowly but steadily pushing the citrus variety towards less hospitable climates. Using this method, apricot trees from Rostov could eventually be grown in Mitchurinsk, 650 km further up north, where they developed apricot seeds that were adapted to the local climate. On the other hand, directly planting the seed of the Rostov apricot tree in Mitchurinsk proved unsuccessful.



To get citrus going even further north, they used the earth:

None of the above mentioned cultivation methods were sufficient to grow citrus fruits in regions where the ground froze and where winter temperatures dropped below -15 degrees. Here, citrus plants were cultivated in trenches. Obviously, growing citrus fruits in trenches was only practical with dwarf and – most often – creeping plants. In this method, soil heat protects citrus fruits from frost.

The depth of the trenches varied from 0.8 to 2 metres depending on the winter temperature, the depth to which the ground froze, and the water table. The trees could be planted in single or double rows. Trenches were generally trapezoidal in section to improve light conditions. They were roughly 2.5 metres wide at the bottom and 3 metres wide at the top



And I learned something about citrus - they can tolerate low light at low temperatures:

When winter came, the trenches were covered with 2 cm thick wooden boards and single or double straw mats, depending on the climate. This kept the soil heat in the trench, while keeping precipitation out. If a layer of snow covered the boards, it was left in place for extra insulation. The boards were sloped at an angle of 30-35 degrees. When in winter the temperature rose above zero degrees Celsius, the cover was raised on the south side or completely removed during the day.

This method cannot be applied to any plant. Citrus plants tolerate very low light levels for 3-4 months per year, provided that the temperature of the air in contact with the crown is maintained between 1 and 4 degrees Celsius. At this temperature, the metabolism of the plants weakens, which improves their resistance to cold.



They used some glass on the trenches, but only over about 1/4 of the top, and it would be covered with straw mats.  Perhaps some of this will help the "lemon tree in Montana" project!  (Although, this article also said that lemons are the least frost resistant of all the citrus plants.)
 
master gardener
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Maybe you could try something like Fredrick the Great did in Germany with figs.  He had a terraced garden that had recesses with figs growing in them and glass doors that could be opened and closed.  It does, of course, help to be rich :)

You can save some money by not bothering to build the palace....that's the unimportant part anyway!
 
Greg Martin
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Another thing to consider with Poncirus rootstock providing some freeze resistance....high graft!  The more of the overall body of the tree that is Poncirus, the more hardiness it will provide, so make the whole trunk of the tree Poncirus by high grafting.  It's said to provide several additional degrees of hardiness and having the whole trunk be Poncirus is said to help drag the tree into dormancy.  Also, cold air will settle in the enclosure, so keep the citrus portions up high and away from the cold air.

Having said that, another approach might be to keep it low so it can be easily covered.  Train the tree as a step over espalier!


I'm going to build a terraced patio and at the base of the wall I'm hoping to train Poncirus low to the ground and up against the wall.  The horizontal cordons will be Poncirus and I'm planning to graft things like hardy mandarins, Yuzu and Sudachi onto the cordons.  Nothing too late ripening.

Finally I'm really hoping for my hardy citrus breeding project to work out.  I've planted 1000s of Poncirus x Citrus second generation seedlings out in my zone 5 Maine landscape.  I currently have a few seedlings that have survived two winters now with minimal damage.  But they are quite small and they hide buried in the snow.  Surviving contact with the snow and frozen ground is great, but we'll see when they are finally tall enough to be up in the winter air.  Fingers crossed.  Each year I keep putting more new seedlings out there.  We'll see if I ever get trees of our dreams!
 
master steward
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Greg Martin wrote: I currently have a few seedlings that have survived two winters now with minimal damage.  But they are quite small and they hide buried in the snow.  Surviving contact with the snow and frozen ground is great, but we'll see when they are finally tall enough to be up in the winter air.


Why not train them to be "creeping" as in the document Julia linked above?  The Russians had citrus that sprawled just above the ground.  If you could keep the whole tree under 1', it would never have to survive the coldest winter air.

If you had a snow fence or snow bush to guide extra snow on it, it might gain snow earlier and hold onto it through spring cold snaps.
 
Greg Martin
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Mike Haasl wrote:

Greg Martin wrote: I currently have a few seedlings that have survived two winters now with minimal damage.  But they are quite small and they hide buried in the snow.  Surviving contact with the snow and frozen ground is great, but we'll see when they are finally tall enough to be up in the winter air.


Why not train them to be "creeping" as in the document Julia linked above?  The Russians had citrus that sprawled just above the ground.  If you could keep the whole tree under 1', it would never have to survive the coldest winter air.

If you had a snow fence or snow bush to guide extra snow on it, it might gain snow earlier and hold onto it through spring cold snaps.



Mike, I like the way you think!  I was thinking I'd root some cuttings when they get bigger to maintain backups for further breeding work, but I like this idea a lot as well.  Thank you sir :)
 
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Funny to see this thread today, because I just read the article about when Russia grew citrus  [like Julia posted above].  Amazing it could be done in trenches - like sunken greenhouses except without a solid cover or glass.  Here are pictures to see what it looked like:

Low Tech Magazine - Fruit Trenches: Cultivating Subtropical Plants in Freezing Temperatures





There are a lot more pictures and drawings.  Interesting stuff!
 
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I have been growing citrus outside in zone 8 for about 3 years (winters) now.

Here are some pics and a video of how i did it.




 
Just the other day, I was thinking ... about this tiny ad:
Rocket Mass Heater Plans - now free for a while
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