After HLB disease was first found in Florida in 2005, many people were discouraged from growing citrus in their home landscapes. There were no citrus recommendations tailored for home gardeners in the HLB era.
Now, the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) has responded to home gardeners who want to plant citrus trees again. Researchers 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.
“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. He said the Citrus in the Home Landscape initiative is providing updated how-to guides, videos and training to educate home gardeners about the new challenges of growing an orange, mandarin, lemon or lime tree.
A major component of the initiative is developing new growing guidelines for home gardeners. Lauren Diepenbrock, assistant professor of entomology, and a team of UF/IFAS researchers are taking the knowledge they are discovering in field and laboratory research and translating it for a home audience. Working with UF/IFAS Extension Master Gardeners, the researchers have provided trees along with a variety of growing support strategies.
The initiative includes a new website specifically designed for the home citrus grower and a direct email link to the research and Extension team. Home gardeners can ask their questions and expect a timely response from a UF/IFAS scientist.
The initiative has other components, too. 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 HLB and suitable for home gardens. These include traditional sweet oranges, mandarins, lemons and limes. Right now, breeders recommend growing the Sugar Belle mandarin and the OLL-4 or OLL-8 sweet oranges. UF/IFAS has identified commercial nurseries willing to sell these varieties directly to home gardeners.
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 here.