Growing Satsuma

Satsumas burst through chilly, gray days just when we need it most.
Satsuma Tree

Satsuma Tree

Satsumas, a type of mandarin, are the most cold hardy of citrus. The easy-to-peel fruits have fantastic flavor.

Photo by: Shutterstock/jajaladdawan

Shutterstock/jajaladdawan

Satsumas (Citrus reticulata) are a form of mandarins, known for loose skins, few seeds and sweet flavor. They grow much like other citrus cousins, needing temperate climates and lots of sun, though satsumas are slightly more cold hardy than others. Conversely, they are not well suited to desert climates. 

Commercially in the U.S., satsumas are grown in southern-kmost states bordering the Gulf of Mexico and parts of California, usually zones 9-11. If you don't live in these regions, you may succeed in growing satsuma mandarins indoors or overwintered in a heated greenhouse during the coldest months of the year. Add one to a container-grown citrus collection of 'Improved Meyer' lemon and 'Bearss' lime and you are well on your way to a fragrant orangery!

'Owari' is a very popular variety and 'LSU Early' is a recent introduction that shows promise. All taste fantastic. If growing in a large container, look for a dwarf satsuma that has been grafted on 'Flying Dragon' rootstock. Dwarf varieties can be maintained as evergreen shrubs, while others may top 15 feet. Whether shrub or tree form, the glossy leaves fill gently weeping branches. 

Plant satsuma in spring, after danger of freezing has passed. If planting the satsuma tree in the ground, site it on a south-facing sunny wall to absorb as much heat and sun in winter as possible. Citrus trees need well-drained soil, consistent and deep watering and a regular application of citrus fertilizer throughout the year. 

Container planting is often the best option for those willing and able to move the plant indoors during winter. For these plants, avoid fertilizing as much during winter months. Choose the largest pot you can manage—about 24 inches in diameter—and mulch the top of the soil with pea gravel. It's also helpful to place the pot on an oversized saucer of pea gravel, for the benefit of radiant heat. 

In winter, keep your tree or container shrub out of temps in the teens or below. Some gardeners have had success keeping landscape plants warm by wrapping the branches in non-LED Christmas lights and covering with frost cloth when the temperature drops below 25 degrees.

Small fruits will ripen in October through late November—and are best judged by taste-testing, as skins can stay deceivingly yellowish-green if grown in humid climates. The loose skins that make these so easy to peel do require gentle harvesting. Use a knife or clippers to cut the stem from the branch and avoid tearing the skin. Harvest the fruit when it's ripe. It stores well after picking, but taste is diminished if left on the tree too long.

It may sound like work to make a mummy of your new satsuma shrub or to wheel it indoors for the winter, but the prized fruits are worth it. Lucky gardeners from the coasts of Florida to Texas to California can easily add these fruit trees to the landscape. Gardeners who dare to test the boundaries can be rewarded with pounds of juicy, sweet satsumas. Sastumas are best for eating fresh, section by section, though candied satsuma peels and homemade satsumacello liqueur are treasures, too.

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