An Alternative Approach to Citrus Greening

Josh McGillCitrus Greening, Florida, HLB Management

“Life as a citrus grower is a perilous journey,” says Chip Henry.

Among the toughest perils the third-generation Florida grower has endured are the freezes of the 1980s, the threat of losing his land to highway construction, and the scourge of citrus greening.

Citrus Greening
Chip Henry

Henry’s story begins with the founding of O.E. McGuire Groves in Apopka by his maternal grandparents in the late 1940s. The couple, who came to Central Florida from Georgia, also started Evergreen Gardens of Apopka, a foliage plant nursery, in 1962.

Citrus Greening

“My summer job was working in the orange grove from age 16. Before that, I worked with my dad at the nursery,” recalls Henry.

After graduating from the University of Florida (UF) in 1978, Henry came home to manage the family businesses. In 1980, O.E McGuire Groves became McGuire Groves as ownership transferred to Henry, his mother and aunt. The grove was 120 acres at the time. Henry also became a co-owner of the family’s nursery business in 1980.

“My school education came from UF and influential professors like Larry Jackson and Al Krezdorn, but my field education came from Ernest Williams, long-time grove manager at McGuire Groves.”

While the nursery business dissolved in 1992, mainly due to foreign competition, Henry has been managing the family grove for over 40 years.

It hasn’t been easy. “It seems there were never two good years in a row,” Henry says.


After the freezes of 1983 and 1985 destroyed McGuire Groves, Orange County took the grove’s ag exemption away. A seed company rep advised Henry to plant a cover crop to get his ag exemption back. He decided to plant hairy indigo, a nitrogen-fixing legume, and then replanted the grove in fall of 1989.

Just months later, in December of 1989, another freeze hit. However, due to the freeze-protection technique of banking young trees with soil (piling dirt up around trunks), they survived. With the exception of a few resets, what is left of McGuire Groves today are the trees that were planted in 1989.

Henry reports minimal damage from this year’s January freeze. He says some resets were damaged, but most will recover.


Henry first found psyllids in his grove in 2011. By the next year, the grove crashed due to citrus greening. In 2014, he began researching microbial-based fertilizers and made the decision to transition the grove to organic production.

“Conventional practices were failing, and I needed to adapt,” says Henry.

In 2015, he made the first application of microbial fertilizer, which he applies approximately five times per year.

“From 2014 to 2016, I saw a sharp decline in yield,” recalls Henry. “But a year after the first microbial-based fertilizer application, the trees began to rejuvenate. By and large, they have done this on their own. I just pointed them in the right direction.”

As part of his organic strategy, Henry began growing cover crops again. He plants iron clay cowpeas in summer and wild mustard in winter. The overhead irrigation in his grove works well for the cover crops, as it reaches out into the row middles, unlike microirrigation.

For pest control, Henry is using horticultural spray oil and microbial diatomaceous earth (DE). (See Henry’s January 2020 Citrus Industry article on DE.)


Now in his seventh year of growing organically, Henry says, “I don’t have the prettiest grove in the state, but I’m proud of my trees.”

As of early March, Henry’s Valencias were yielding up to 3 boxes per tree with virtually no fruit drop due to citrus greening.

“In a time of massive industry decline, this is the best crop I’ve had in five years,” he says. “For the past three seasons, my Valencias have scored over 13 Brix and yielded nearly 7 pounds solids per box, well above the statewide average.”

Jim Garceau, owner of Orlando Citrus, has been purchasing fruit from Henry since before HLB hit Florida. “Since McGuire Groves has gone organic, pound solids have been very high,” says Garceau. “I had a real ‘wow’ moment last season at the grove when I bit into an outstanding oversized orange. It was the best Valencia I’ve eaten in five years.”

Life-long Apopka citrus grower Roy Lester says he has benefitted immensely from Henry’s experience.

“Chip is extremely knowledgeable and an outstanding gentleman,” says Lester. “At first, I was quite skeptical at what he was doing in his grove. But now that I see the results, I am very impressed with what he has done organically, and I am going more in that direction. In fact, I would have called it quits in citrus by now had it not been for the microbial products. And I would not have replanted the 100 resets I lost in the recent freeze without microbes.”

Citrus Greening

Henry says, “HLB is a biological issue with a biological solution. I refuse to give in to a single-cell bacterium.” Based on what he has achieved with minimal inputs, he believes the “more-on” approach (putting more and more products on the trees) is not the best course of action for citrus greening.

“The biggest challenge in Florida citrus is to find a way to improve the quality of the fruit while managing HLB,” asserts Henry. “Note, I said quality, not quantity. My solution has simply been to work with nature to try to manage the disease in a way that allows the trees to produce the high-quality fruit Florida has been famous for. My hope is that Florida citrus growers will make a concerted effort to move in a direction growing citrus organically. My recent experience has proven to me that this is a viable approach to take.”

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About the Author

Tacy Callies

Editor of Citrus Industry magazine

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