1. Q. What do you know about the citrus called "satsuma"? Will it freeze in this area?

A. Texas plant lovers, even those living in apartments and condominiums, now can grow their own edible citrus. The trick is to select the right plant and use the right techniques.

The satsuma mandarin (Citrus reticulata) has shown the highest quality and most cold tolerance in field research by the Texas Cooperative Extension, according to Extension horticulturist Dr. Steve George of Dallas.

"The satsuma represents a breakthrough in home citrus production," George said. "It's the first citrus ever recommended virtually statewide by the Extension Service."

First introduced from Japan in 1878, satsumas produce fragrant white blossoms in March and April. These trees are also green the year round. The fruit turns bright orange as it ripens in late October. "The colorful orange fruit against the dark green, glossy foliage truly makes a striking display," George said.

"Satsumas's cold tolerance extends to the mid-20s. When temperatures of 26 degrees or colder are forecast, you must bring in the plant. By growing satsumas in containers that can be brought inside, as needed, -- an unheated garage will do -- they can be grown successfully even in northern areas. In the Dallas area, field-tested satsumas were grown outdoors in full sun over 350 days of the year.

Citrus thrives in full sun. This plant needs eight to ten hours each day, even during the summer months. It tolerates some shade, but less sun means less fruit. In warm areas along the coast, satsumas may be grown in the ground against the sunny, southern wall of a home, if they are covered and heated during severe freezes.

"The fruit is juicy and very sweet, low in acid, and almost seedless, with an average of only 1.5 seeds per orange," said George. "Contrast this to the 30 seeds of Changsha tangerine, satsuma's closest competitor. Children often prefer satsumas because of the milder flavor. For maximum sweetness at harvest, leave fruit on the tree for about one week after it has completely assumed its orange color."

The fruit from a young tree averages 1.8 inches in diameter, approximately three-quarters the size of a tennis ball. With its smooth, thin, lightly attached skin, satsumas have become known as the "kid-glove or zipper-skin citrus" due to the ease with which the skin can be removed and internal segments separated.

Satsumas grow and produce fruit for many years but may remain at a height of only 4 to 6 feet even after several years in a container. Young satsuma trees are sold primarily in 5-gallon containers. If they are to be grown as container plants, they should be shifted to a container of at least 20-gallon capacity soon after purchase. Black plastic containers are relatively inexpensive and easiest to move when you have to protect plants during a cold snap. Use a loose, open potting mix featuring sphagnum peat moss. Soil or sand is not recommended. Add a quality slow-release fertilizer formulated for container use. Follow label directions and repeat as needed for deep green foliage.

Satsumas are easy to grow if they aren't watered too often. Water only when the mix is dry an inch below the surface. During a hot, dry summer, you may need to water every three or four days. In a wet winter, the plant may go weeks between waterings. George cautioned, "For every satsuma that dies from drought, you'll kill 200 from overwatering."

For a showy patio display, George suggests planting one satsuma in the middle of the 20-gallon container, then lining the container rim with transplants of trailing lantana or annuals like pansies and petunias.

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