It's satsuma time in south Louisiana.
Some varieties began ripening in late September while others will continue to mature through November and into early December.
Satsumas are great to grow in your yard because they are one of the most cold-hardy citrus found in the South. And, boy, are they delicious!
Originally known as the satsuma mandarin (Citrus unshiu), the name has since been shortened to satsumas. The fruit is native to China and Japan, where they are heavily cultivated. They are the largest industry in Japan.
These trees, however, are grown in cool subtropical regions across the world.
The tree was named “satsuma” by the wife of Gen. Van Valkenberg, a U.S. minister to Japan, who sent the trees from Satsuma province on Kyushu Island of Japan. The first record of satsumas in the U.S. dates to 1876, when they were grown in Florida, according to Peter Anderson at the University of Florida.
A million “Owari” trees were imported in the early 1900s from Japan and planted throughout the Gulf coast, where they have become a major commercial citrus crop.
The small globe-shaped fruit is tart and sweet, easy to peel, has few seeds and its segments separate easily. Satsumas are high in vitamins A and C with a small amount of calcium and iron and 1 to 2 grams of fiber.
The trees are small- to medium-sized evergreens with low branches that should be pruned or supported to prevent fruit from touching the ground. The leaves are dark green and glossy, and the fragrant white blossoms appear in March and April. Flowers have both male and female parts and will self-pollinate to produce fruit.
There are 100 kinds of satsumas that vary slightly in maturity dates, color, shape, size and quality.
Some of the most popular cultivars for Louisiana (listed in order of earliest maturing to latest) are Armstrong, Louisiana Early and Early St. Ann, Brown’s Select, Owari and Kimbrough.
Growing varieties that bear fruit at different times allows you to enjoy those delicious fruits longer.
Trees grow best in well-drained, slightly acidic to neutral, loamy soils with lots of organic matter and lots of sun. Plant citrus trees in January and February.
Trees are typically grafted onto a hardier rootstock and require fertilizer annually. But do not immediately fertilize newly planted trees. Wait until spring to fertilize (March-April) with a half-pound of 8-8-8 or 13-13-13 fertilizer per tree. After the second year, fertilize in late January or early February with 1-1.5 pounds of fertilizer per tree up to 12 years old.
Helping trees, especially young ones, survive hard freezes is the most difficult part of growing satsumas. Heavily mulch the root zone in the winter or wrap trunks with blankets or burlap during hard freezes. You can also help by watering the ground underneath the trees a day or two before the cold because the moist soil helps radiate ground warmth. Or you can plant satsumas in large containers that can be moved to a warmer spot.
Some insect pests and devastating diseases, including citrus greening and citrus canker, can cause problems for satsumas. Citrus is currently quarantined in many portions of the state. For quarantine maps, visit ldaf.state.la.us. Another great resource for home growers is the Louisiana Home Citrus Production Extension publication No. 1234. For more information, visit lsuagcenter.com.