PIECES OF THE PAST: Young Tree Care of Yesterday

Tacy CalliesHistory, Pieces of the Past

By Brenda Eubanks Burnette

In 1921, citrus pomologist D.W. Hadsell wrote a Citrus Industry article titled “The Care of Young Citrus Trees.” Following is information from his article on how things were done “back in the day.” 


According to Hadsell, “successful tree planting requires special attention to at least four essentials.” He lists the necessary steps as follows:

  1. Keep the fibrous roots damp, and alive, during the transfer of trees from nursery to field.
  2. Make sure that the crown of the tree is as high, or a trifle higher above the soil, than it stood in the nursery row.
  3. In planting it, provide for good root distribution.
  4. Water the trees in the field frequently until their new root system becomes established and rains occur.

“If the fibrous roots of the nursery tree are allowed to dry out after removal from the nursery, they will rapidly die,” says Hadsell in his article. “Then if the trees are planted in the field they will make little or no growth until a new set of fibrous roots are grown.” He says this results in poor quality trees due to careless handling from nursery to field.

“Keep the roots of nursery trees wet, or very damp and cool, until they are planted or ‘heeled in,’” advises Hadsell. He recommends digging a large hole for tree planting and piling a cone of topsoil on the bottom of the excavation.

“Force the pruned tap-root down through the point of the cone, allowing the fibrous roots to spread out evenly on the sloping surface of the cone,” he continues. “Fill in the hole about four-fifths full and fill the hole with water. After the water has soaked down into the soil, fill the rest of the hole with dry soil, making a rimmed basin around each tree for later watering, about two or three feet across.


“On low, wet land, adapted to sour orange stock, where water is likely to stand for days or weeks during rainy periods, it is highly advisable to hill or ridge the plantation. Ridging provides for drainage, if the furrows run down slope, and this system makes it possible to grow fine groves on low, rich lands, and provides, moreover, a constant high-moisture content along with adequate drainage, resulting in startling rapidity of growth and heavy production.”

Hadsell reports in his article that “Mr. G. Ringdahl has grown a seven-year-old grove under these conditions to a size as large as a ‘seedling’ tree of 25 years of age, and from this grove at White City, in St. Lucie hammock belt, has picked 1,500 boxes of grapefruit per acre. Mr. Ringdahl, however, has been known to apply as much as 20 pounds of fertilizer per tree during the first year’s application and consequently gets very rapid growth, his trees coming into heavy bearing at an early age. He believes, however, that such heavy fertilization with the usual green and chemical fertilizers would seriously injure citrus trees.”

Brenda Eubanks Burnette is executive director of the Florida Citrus Hall of Fame. Pieces of the Past is presented in partnership with Florida Southern College’s McKay Archives Center in Lakeland.