By Clint Thompson
Trees in the Cold-Hardy Citrus Region weathered last week’s multiple nights of sub-freezing temperatures, according to one industry expert.
“I had somebody here at the house and they said, ‘Are you still running sprinklers?’ I was like, ‘Heavens no, but it’s all that ice thawing out and running out into the road.’ It’s a pond out there of melting ice running out of the field, but I think it worked,” said Lindy Savelle, president of the Georgia Citrus Association and member of the Georgia Citrus Commission. “The trees look weathered but alive. That’s what we want.”
The sub-freezing temperatures started early last week and concluded Sunday night-Monday morning. Savelle’s JoNina Farms is located in Ochlocknee, Georgia, near the Georgia-Florida state line. According to the UGA (University of Georgia) Weather Network, the number of hours when temperatures dropped below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, from Jan. 15 to Jan. 21, in nearby Camilla, Georgia, were 52.25. That is compared to 27.06 last year and 16.52 in 2022.
“The nights of the wind chill and everything, those kind of nights are where the trees take a beating with the wind and all of that. They look like they’ve been through a lot. Once all of this ice melts away, it looks pretty back to normal out there,” Savelle said. “They’re vulnerable (this time of year), but they are dormant. If you’re going to have a freeze that’s when you want it, when the trees are in dormancy, obviously.”
It is the second straight winter freeze event impacting citrus trees in the Southeast. Savelle and her fellow farmers only have to look to Christmas 2022 to recall when temperatures dropped below freezing for multiple days. She stresses that event was different than last week, as producers were also better prepared this time around.
“In 2022, we didn’t turn the water off for four days. We never turned the water off because it never got above freezing. This time, it was 28 one night, 22 (degrees),” Savelle said. “It was coming in and out of freezing. That’s very different because the ice would almost melt and then you’d have to start the water again the next evening. It was very different this year.
“I think another thing that happened was after last year’s event, I think people started working a little earlier to make sure their trees were protected properly whether it’s a tree wrap, microjet or tree defender or a tree T-Pee. People were making sure this time they did all they could to save a tree that survived last year.”