Growing fruit in your backyard is as old as our Country. George Washington would not have had a cherry tree to cut down if there had not been fruit trees in the yard. Although it may be a myth, I still wonder why he cut the tree down. I think it could only have been to reach all the cherries just out of reach in the top.
Growing fruit trees in Florida backyards has become more difficult with citrus greening disease. A backyard orange, lemon, grapefruit, or “fruit cocktail” tree was iconic for Florida yards. Now homeowners are taking out most backyard citrus trees because they look so bad and are slowly dying from one disease or another. Does that mean you cannot grow citrus any longer? No.
‘Sugar Belle’ and ‘Page’
Although UF researchers are working hard at it, we still do not have a citrus tree variety resistant to citrus greening. But, we have a few that will continue to grow with good care and slow release fertilizer. ‘Sugar Belle’ is a mandarin hybrid developed by UF/IFAS that seems to grow even with citrus greening disease. ‘Sugar Belle’ fruit look similar to ‘Minneola’ tangelo, but the color and flavor are better, and there are higher levels of vitamin C than most other fresh fruit citrus varieties. The vigor of ‘Sugar Belle’ is one of the ways it seems to tolerate citrus greening, and why it may require extra pruning to control growth. ‘Page’ is another promising tangelo with similar tolerance. ‘Page’ fruit size is small, but the flavor is great. Finding a supplier for these cultivars may be difficult, so plan on ordering and waiting to get plants.
Lemons are another option that are vigorous enough that they can tolerate greening somewhat. Citrus canker is still a problem with lemon, and may cause defoliation and decline however. Lemons are not cold hardy, and may be killed to the ground in some years in our area. Get the lemon on its own roots (rather than a rootstock), and it can grow back from the roots in the spring if it is killed back by the cold. Be forewarned that lemons are very thorny although there is some variation with cultivar. ‘Bearrs’ and ‘Eureka’ are two cultivars with fewer thorns and good quality fruit. ‘Meyer’ lemon is thought to be a cross of lemon and sweet orange, with thinner peel and sweeter fruit than the true lemon. More information on care of lemons in the landscape.
Fruit cocktail trees
‘Fruit cocktail’ trees are several types of citrus grafted onto one rootstock. Although it is tempting to have several different types of citrus on one tree, without attention the more vigorous varieties will outgrow the weaker ones, usually resulting in one or two varieties on the tree instead of four. Citrus greening will probably make this issue worse because the bacteria clogs the vascular system, starving the roots and causing decline of the top.
Consider planting some other type of fruit in your yard. We now have peaches and blueberries adapted to our low chill environment (make sure you get the ones adapted to central Florida). Loquat is another alternative, although only seedlings are usually found in landscapes here. Named cultivars produce better fruit quality. Kaki persimmons make a lovely backyard tree. Pomegranates produce ornamental flowers as well as fruit. Muscadine grapes and mulberry are generally low maintenance as well. Find out more about alternative fruit and watch for the “Edible Landscape” garden at our Discovery Gardens as we fill it this summer with a wide variety of fruiting plants.