New Hardy Satsuma Adds Asian Flair to Texas Gardens

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If you like the idea of growing citrus in your landscape, you’ll love the new, hardy Satsuma.

Adding a little more Asian influence in your corner of the world is easy with the new Satsuma Arctic Frost.  According to state Extension specialists, this represents a breakthrough in home citrus production. It’s the first citrus ever recommended virtually statewide. Arctic Frost is the most cold-hardy satsuma hybrid tested so far, having survived temperatures as low as 9 degrees at the A&M Research and Extension Center test site near Overton.

First introduced into the US 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.

Arctic Frost grows to become a relatively tall tree with white flowers that give off a heady orange fragrance.  Come late fall or early winter, Arctic frost produces fruit that is juicy, nearly seedless and easy to peel. It will grow 8 to 12 feet tall in the ground or 6 feet tall as a patio container plant in about five to six year.  When planting in the ground, protection from cold by wrapping with frost cloth for the first year or two is recommended.  A site protected from the north wind will also help with winter survival.

It should be noted that, as opposed to other satsumas which are grafted to another variety rootstock, Arctic Frost is grown from its own rootstock. That is meaningful because if they get froze back from a hard winter, they do not produce shoots from below the graft.

If you decide to add this to your landscape, remember that 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.

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 watering.
Be careful, for every satsuma that dies from drought, you’ll kill 200 from overwatering.

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.

The more adapted varieties of this Japanese transplant have an interesting history.  All the early satsuma crosses are the work of Dr. Ying Doon Moy, who was born in a small village in south China but immigrated to the U.S. in 1978.

Moy found a position as a plant breeder with the San Antonio Botanical Garden in 1980, where until he retired in 1999, he collaborated on the development of more than 150 new varieties of papaya, ginger, esperanza, rose, hibiscus and citrus.

In 1997, Moy and an AgriLife Extension horticulture specialist began collaborating to hybridize various satsuma mandarins with winter hardy Changsha tangerines, a citrus variety long cultivated in China. Changsha is one of the most cold-hardy citruses grown there. It produces edible but extremely seedy fruit.

The goal was to produce a satsuma hybrid with enhanced cold hardiness, as well as a high-quality fruit with a low seed count, and they succeeded. From the most successful cold-hardy crosses, Orange Frost and Arctic Frost were selected and propagated.

Texas Superstar is a registered trademark owned by AgriLife Research, a state agency that is part of the Texas A&M University System. More information about the Texas Superstar program, including retail outlets where Superstar varieties may be purchased, can be found at http://texassuperstar.com.

Educational programs of the Texas AgriLife Extension Service are open to all people without regard to race, color, sex, disability, religion, age, or national origin.

Cary Sims is the County Extension Agent for agriculture and natural resources for Angelina County. His email address is cw-sims@tamu.edu.