I've always liked citrus fruit, pomegranates and figs, but normally my climate is way too cold to grow them properly. I'm in Belgium, which is kinda like zone 8, but with less warm summers and longer, wetter winters. Thing is, I really, REALLY like these fruits so I went down a few rabbit holes to see if there's a way to grow them here.
Enter: cold hardy citrus, pomegranate and fig trees.
This is by no means a comprehensive guide, but not much of this info is easy to find or in one place, so if you don't know where to start I hope this can help you.
Finding good cold hardy citrus isn't an easy task, ideally they are:
- cold hardy;
The standard for very cold hardy citrus is the wild lemon aka Poncirus Trifoliata. Most specialty citrus nurseries carry both the regular Poncirus and the 'Flying Dragon' type, which is more ornamental because the branches twist and turn. The problem: they taste like turpentine, and most of the crosses made with other citrus types inherit some of this taste. They are very good rootstocks though. Besides some Poncirus crosses, Ichang Papeda and the numbered Yuzu cultivars (Yuzu n°2 and 3 being the most readily available near me) complete the top 3.
- ripens early (ideally before first frost).
This is something that I initially overlooked, because there are some citrus types that are pretty hardy and I got all excited about them, but I found out that their fruits ripen in april in my area and the fruit can generally take less frost than the trees themselves!
Finding varieties that ticked all these boxes wasn't easy, but here's what came out:
- Ichang Lemon for something sour;
- Yuzu (ideally the numbered cultivars), because they're supposed to be the peak of citrus flavor and I can use them green. They won't fully ripen in my area unless grown in a heated greenhouse, which I don't have;
- Kumquat (I went with Meiwa) for snacking and making preserves;
- Satsuma for something sweet.
The satsumas I picked were:
They ripen pretty early and are supposed to be fairly cold hardy.
For pomegranates I came across the work of dr. Gregory Levin and went from there (he's a fascinating man with a fascinating story, look him up!)
I discovered that the hardiest varieties have hard seeds, but personally I don't mind a little crunch. I went with:
- Al Sirin Nar;
- Kaj Acik Anor;
- Suhr Anor;
- Entekhabi Saveh;
- Alak Parande Saveh;
- Alk Pust Ghermez Saveh;
- Kaim Anor;
- Russian 26 (Afghanski);
And some of the Bulgarian cultivars that are rumored to be VERY cold hardy:
- Bulgarian 1;
- Bulgarian 2;
- Bulgarian 3.
Because I saw that the Bulgarian nursery that sold the last 3 cultivars also carried figs, I thought why not buy some fig trees aswell?
So now I have Michurinska-10 (Florea) and Michurinska White. Figs are fascinating, and I've been reading the forum at ourfigs.com
a bunch to see which cultivars would do well in my climate.
So far I've discovered that some of the LSU (Louisiana State University) cultivars in general, and apparently Improved Celeste in particular, are must haves for colder climates. They're not easy to find in Europe though, so my quest continues...
The Black Fig Fly
has been found in a few locations in Southern California. The female fly lays eggs in unripe fruit via the eye. The larva grow within the fig and will eventually chew a hole in the side of the fig and fall to the ground to finish their life cycle. The infected fruit will become soft prematurely. The softening fruit and exit holes are easy ways to detect the BFF, unfortunately if you see holes, the larva have already escaped. While considered rare, at least seven infestations in SoCal from Santa Barbara to San Diego. Infected fruit should be destroyed and not composted. If cutting open a fig to inspect it, this should be done indoors as the larva have been known to 'jump' several feet. While gross to have one on your kitchen floor, at least it will not be able to continue it's lifecycle. The fly itself looks like a standard black fly with red eyes. To help stop the spread of this pest, any fig material shared or traded should have all immature figs removed prior to the trade.
If you see signs of an infestation, it should be reported immediately to your local CalAg or online: https://www.cdfa.ca.gov/plant/reportapest/
Here's a good link describing the BFF: https://givingtrees.co.za/specialist-tree-growers/fig-tree-problems?fbclid=IwAR0VsKUpEf3Z7yP6poFK8WSqj0wx67YK1DV6Qx4NHjhaJWPFq_nrlTlwtxA
PSA from OurFigs: https://www.ourfigs.com/forum/figs-home/1002499-urgent-psa-for-all-california-growers
Editorial: This is why it can be dangerous to share plants around the country. I'm guilty of it, but I do try to take some precautions. I clean all cuttings by bathing them in a bleach solution for about 15 minutes. A quick rinse, let them dry and then they can be packaged. I never accept a rooted plant with soil as this is how a lot of pathogens are moved around - particularly root knot nemotodes. The exception is from local growers who do not have any issues. Now off to inspect my figs.....