Citrus has been making its way north in recent years. So far, growers in North Florida and Georgia have had success producing the crop, with only minor incursions of HLB, the disease that has been devastating in Florida’s traditional citrus production areas.
The Southeast Regional Fruit & Vegetable Conference, held in Savannah earlier this month, included a citrus program for growers interested in trying the crop in these new areas. The event was soon after the Christmas freeze, so much of the discussion focused on the cold’s impact on trees planted further north.
Juan Carlos Melgar, an associate professor of pomology with Clemson University, spoke during the conference. He said there’s been interest in citrus cultivation in South Carolina, but it’s very early days for the crop in the state. There are no commercial citrus enterprises at this point. He said HLB and the potential for freeze damage are the two big limiting factors.
“We do have HLB in all counties where citrus grows. It is very little, but it is there. And the second one, which we just experienced, is freeze injury,” Melgar said. “We are at the very limit (north) of where we can grow citrus.”
But, he added, there are opportunities for direct sales to consumers.
“There is strong potential for niche markets. We can think of the tourism magnet we have in South Carolina and how there would be a high demand for locally grown citrus from high-end restaurants and/or directly to consumers,” he said.
Clemson has established a trial to evaluate potential cultivars at the Coastal Research and Education Center in Charleston, South Carolina.
“About three years ago, we received a grant from the South Carolina Department of Agriculture to evaluate cold-hardy species in the state to see how they handle the cold and how well they hold up to HLB,” Melgar said. “We planted in spring 2021. The trees grew fast, and the field looked great until the cold came. We have 32 varieties on two rootstocks that we are looking at. The rootstocks are Carrizo and Rubidoux, and some are on their own roots.”
As expected, Satsuma seems to be most cold hardy, but Yuzu and Ichang lemon tolerate colder temperatures as well. However, Melgar said that when temperatures get as cold (teens and low 20s) as they did during the Christmas weekend freeze, damage is to be expected.
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