photo by Holly Guenther

Anne with a pomelo tree.

If you live in USDA zones 8 and higher, you may be one of those lucky people who has a citrus tree in the landscape.  (USDA zone 7 gardeners can also grow citrus but need to take more precautions during winter to protect their trees). Citrus trees do best with protection from cold air and wind and are best planted near structures like buildings and fences.

As you know, citrus fruits are delicious fresh off the tree and are great for use in cooking and adding to drinks. But did you know they are a great source of citric acid which is Vitamin ‘C?’

One of my favorite parts about citrus fruit is the rind. I have a “zester” given to me by a friend that I use to zest the rind into ice cube trays and then freeze it and store the rind for later use for cooking, baking, and flavoring teas and curds.

When to Harvest

If you have a citrus tree you may be wondering how to know when to harvest. Unfortunately, rind color is not an indicator of ripeness. The only way to tell if fruit is ripe is to taste it. Once you decide the fruit is ready, pick as needed. Citrus fruit ripens on the tree and won’t get any sweeter once you pick it, unlike other fruits such as peaches which continue to ripen after they are picked.


Unknown orange variety. Photo by Holly Guenther.

How to Harvest

Harvest when the rind is dry. Putting the fruit away wet could lead to rot. Use a pair of pruning shears to cut the stem near the rind. Although the rinds appear durable, they are easily damaged by fingernails during handling. Once the rind is damaged, disease organisms can enter and cause the fruit to decay. Take care when harvesting any variety of citrus, especially if you plan to store it. Harvest wearing soft gloves and place the fruit gently into a basket or box. Never pull fruit off the tree as this can damage the tree branches.

Citrus Storage Times

The best way to store citrus is to leave it on the tree until you are ready to pick. However, the longer fruit is left on the tree, the less time it can be stored after harvest. If picked and kept indoors at warm temperatures (78F or higher) citrus fruit will keep for about a week.

Can I Save my Fruit if a Freeze is Predicted?

If a freeze is predicted and your citrus fruit is mature, you can pick and store the fruit. Handle carefully as instructed in the above paragraph as otherwise the fruit won’t last very long in storage. Citrus can be kept for 6-8 weeks at temperatures of 38°F, 4-6 weeks at 40°F and 3-4 weeks at 48°F. To store fruit for less time, it can be kept at 50-60°F. If you store citrus in the refrigerator, keep it away from other fruits which give off ripening gasses that will case the fruit to decay sooner.

Keep citrus in a clean container that allows air flow or store them on a counter. Keep in mind that one bad fruit can spoil the rest of the batch, so check on fruit often and discard decayed fruit.

Why is my Fruit Dry Instead of Juicy?

Citrus fruits can be damaged by a freeze while they are still green.  Later the rind changes color and the fruit appear to be ripe, but are actually dry and damaged inside. During a frost, ice crystals form inside the fruit. Once the weather begins to warm, the ice begins to melt and the cells burst. When this happens water is lost from the fruit causing it to dry out.