LAKE ALFRED, Fla. — Citrus is an iconic part of the Florida experience. Many residents and visitors have fond memories of driving past acres of lush citrus trees whose annual blossoms filled the air with a distinctive and lovely aroma.
Today, a tiny insect called the Asian citrus psyllid is responsible for transmitting a bacterium deadly to citrus trees resulting in citrus greening disease (Huanglongbing or HLB).
The result? Thousands of acres of dead citrus trees never to return to their former glory.
After the disease was first found in Florida in 2005, many homeowners were discouraged from growing citrus in their home landscapes. At the time, there were no UF/IFAS recommendations tailored for home gardeners to support them successfully growing citrus in the HLB era.
Now, the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Science (UF/IFAS) has responded to home gardeners who have long wanted to plant a citrus tree again in their home landscape. And they are working to develop new growing guidelines, a new website, and even new trees to support homeowners in that effort.
The initiative, Citrus in the Home Landscape, takes a public step forward this spring.
“Over the last 15 years in learning about the disease and developing strategies to manage it, UF/IFAS researchers now believe that Florida homeowners who want to grow citrus can do so – with some help,” said Michael Rogers, director of the UF/IFAS Citrus Research and Education Center in Lake Alfred.
“The UF/IFAS Citrus in the Home Landscape initiative is a multi-faceted program that supports home gardeners who want to grow a citrus tree in their backyard. It is providing updated how to guides, videos and training to educate home gardeners about the new challenges of growing a favorite orange, mandarin, lemon, or lime tree,” Rogers said.
A major component of the initiative is developing new growing guidelines for home gardeners.
Supported by a USDA NIFA grant, Lauren Diepenbrock, assistant professor of entomology and a team of UF/IFAS researchers are taking the knowledge that they are discovering in their field and laboratory research and translating it for a home audience.
Working with UF/IFAS Extension Master Gardeners, they have provided trees along with a variety of growing support strategies and are asking these volunteers to track the growth and success of these trees over a 24-month period. The information gathered will update existing how-to guides and support recommendations for the home gardener.
The grant has also created a new website specifically designed for the home citrus grower, homecitrus.ifas.ufl.edu. The team also created a direct email link to the research and Extension team at email@example.com. Home gardeners can ask their questions and expect a timely response from a UF/IFAS scientist.
The initiative has other components. The UF/IFAS Plant Improvement Team of Jude Grosser, professor of plant cell genetics, and Fred Gmitter professor of horticultural sciences, have identified a number of UF/ IFAS bred varieties that are tolerant to the disease and suitable for home gardens. These include traditional sweet oranges (great for juicing), mandarins, lemons, and limes. Right now, breeders recommend growing the UF/IFAS-bred Sugar Belle® mandarin and the OLL-4 or OLL-8 sweet oranges. More recommendations are planned for release every year as more varieties become available to the home market.
Working with nurseries across the state, UF/IFAS has identified commercial nurseries willing to sell these varieties directly to home gardeners.
This initiative works closely with UF/IFAS Extension residential horticulture agents and the statewide UF/IFAS Extension Master Gardener Volunteer Program.
A number of trees were provided to and planted at UF/IFAS Extension demonstration gardens so that Extension agents and Master Gardener volunteers can learn how to grow them and be prepared to answer questions through their horticultural outreach programs. Faculty will continue to provide in-service training to UF/IFAS Extension agents on the latest research to successfully grow citrus trees in the HLB era.
A newsletter dedicated to home gardeners wanting to grow citrus will be launched this spring. Gardeners can sign up for the newsletter at homecitrus.ifas.ufl.edu.
As more information — and HLB-tolerant trees – become available, UF/IFAS will continue to communicate to the public about how to enjoy growing citrus once again in Florida’s home landscapes. Learn more at homecitrus.ifas.ufl.edu.
The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) is to develop knowledge relevant to agricultural, human, and natural resources and to make that knowledge available to sustain and enhance the quality of human life. With more than a dozen research facilities, sixty-seven county Extension offices, and award-winning students and faculty in the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF/IFAS brings science-based solutions to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries, and all Florida residents.
ifas.ufl.edu | @UF_IFAS