Citrus have a reputation for being finicky and sensitive to cold which is why you don't typically see them in the South Carolina Midlands, but citrus trees can thrive outdoors all year long in the Palmetto State if you give them some extra love and care.
Ben Salley is the owner of Simply Citrus Nursery in Columbia, South Carolina where he's truly turned lemons into lemonade. Salley grows more than 50 types of citrus trees. He has unusual "fingered" Citron like Buddha hand citrons which are an ancient variety of the citrus we know today, and a Ponderosa Lemon which can grow fruit that weigh 3 pounds each. He also grows more common varieties like Blood Oranges and Washington Navel Oranges, which are sensitive to temperatures below 20 degrees.
When temperatures drop below 28 degrees, Ben Salley says he starts to apply covers to many of his citrus trees. That may sound discouraging for gardeners in South Carolina where winter mornings can occasionally drop well into the teens, but the results at Simply Citrus Nursery speak for themselves. Salley's blood orange tree is more than 15 feet tall and many of his trees have been in the ground for more than a decade.
There are some citrus varieties that are a good choice for the outdoors all year long in Columbia. Salley explains that choosing citrus varieties that ripen early and can handle cold are both important considerations for citrus growers in colder climates. Satsuma Mandarins and Kumquats have a reputation for being resilient to cold temperatures. Salley says his he has never covered his Satsuma Mandarin trees and they have survived temperatures into the teens with minimal die back.
Next spring, Alex Calamia will plant a Satsuma 'Owari' citrus in Gandy's Garden at News 19 which is known as one of the more cold tolerant of the "tasty" citrus varieties. Maroonie Kumquats are another great selection for cold tolerance and early ripening.
Before planting a citrus in the ground, carefully consider where to place it. Salley recommends planting citrus on the south side of a wall or dense tree so the plants get plenty of sunshine and are protected from north breezes. He mixes the soil with 50% peat moss before planting his citrus in the ground. Citrus like plenty of water that can drain away quickly. Citrus do not respond well to standing water, especially during the winter.
If you'd like to buy trees from Simply Citrus Nursery, you can find them in the fall and spring at Saturday's Soda City Market or at the annual state farmer's market. They also sell fresh fruit and marmalade grown fresh at the nursery. You can also visit the nursery if you call ahead.