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February 25, 2020

Growing Healthy Citrus in Florida

by Amanda Rose Newton

If you were to ask someone what fruit comes to mind when they think Florida, chances are, it would be a type of citrus. Throughout the 1900s, the citrus industry was booming, and the result could be seen by sprawling orchards of beautiful tees producing oranges, grapefruits, and tangerines. Many beloved varieties, such as the tangelos, developed right here in Florida.

Citrus we stock:

  • Oranges: Naval, Valencia, Hamlin
  • Tangerines: Satsuma, Clementine
  • Tangelo: Honeybell, Sugar bell, Dancy
  • Limes: Key, Persian
  • Lemon: Variegated Pink, Ponderosa, Bearsis, Meyer
  • Grapefruit: Marsh white, ruby red
  • Kumquat

Years and many pest outbreaks and cold snaps later, citrus is proving more difficult to get started for the novice and expert alike.

If your heart is set on growing a citrus tree, don’t despair! It is still possible and armed with the information below, you can increase your chances for success.

Citrus Greening Disease

Before getting started, let’s talk about the biggest threat to citrus presently and why so many retail operations have had to close their doors in recent years. If you are serious about growing a citrus tree in Florida, knowing the signs and symptoms of Greening will help you manage your plant. While there is not a cure for Greening now, you can still maintain a consistently fruiting tree with success if caught early and preventative and continued monitoring carry on. Also known as Huanglonging (HLB), it is spread by a tiny insect, called an Asian citrus psyllid that feeds on the stems and leaves. With its piercing-sucking mouthparts, this little bug vectors a bacterium that impairs the ability for the tree to take in nourishment, resulting in little fruit production. Fruit that is produced is much smaller and usually does not taste good. Once these bacteria are in the tree, there is no cure.

Learn more about citrus greening in our YouTube video here

Symptoms:

  • Leaves with yellow venation and spots in irregular patches
  • Shriveled leaves
  • Misshapen, bitter fruit

Think you may have greening? Feel free to send us a picture to info@rockledgegardens.com or bring in a sample to the info desk. Just make sure you bag it up!

Planting Your Tree

The first and most important step is making sure your plant is coming from a reputable source and is registered with the state. All trees, by law, must be treated with insecticide due to the various issues and diseases commonly plaguing the industry.

When selecting a variety, do your research! Certain fruits are better for juicing and others and others take to peeling much easier. Here are Rockledge gardens we LOVE to talk about the pros and cons of different varieties and can help you make the best decision for your own preferences. It’s your tree- make sure you get something you want!

The Perfect Spot

Citrus trees are most productive grown in full sun. If you are going to plant more than one, make sure they are at least 15 feet apart and not too close to buildings.

Prepare your site by using 1-part Rockledge Gardens planting mix and 1-part existing soil to backfill the hole. Add a cup of organic fertilizer, such as Epsoma citrus tone to the whole to give it a boost.

Watch our Proper Planting Installation video here

Ensure that you follow our instructions for watering new plantings and keep to the schedule. One thing to be aware of- no citrus likes salt, and that goes for salt spray! If you live beachside, you might want to rethink your decision to plant.

Pests and Disease

Your best defense is to be prepared! Following the recommended practices for planting, watering, and fertilizing keeps your plants healthy and makes them less inviting to pests.

Another way you can increase vigor is by following our bi-monthly regime of spraying the following concoction, known as the “witches’ brew” by our resident citrus expert. It consists of three products:

  • Captain Jack’s Dead Bug Brew for the bugs
  • Citrus Nutritional Spray for health
  • Genysis for mobility inside the leaf and for the power to rainproof the above in 30 minutes

*Mixing ratio: 4 tbs Captain Jacks, 2 tbs Nutritional, and 1 tbs Genysis per gallon of Water

These three combined offers continuous protection against harmful pests like leaf miners, or worse, the citrus psyllid, as well as provide an extra dose of quality nutrients biweekly.

To prevent fungal issues, provide liquid copper fungicide 3 times a year, prior to blossom production (or right after).

Feeding Your Tree

 Citrus love to eat and generally take readily to monthly fertilization with a non-organic product, such as Sunniland citrus, or once every 3 months with an organic. These decreases to roughly 3 times a year once the tree becomes established. Liquid seaweed, applied 4 times a year, helps boost the immune system of the tree and is especially good practice before the cooler months.

Growing citrus successfully can be done, but preventative and ongoing steps are required to meet that goal.