Considerations for High-Density Citrus Plantings

Josh McGillplanting, Tip of the Week

By Amir Rezazadeh

Among all the factors that will affect the productivity and profitability of a citrus grove, choosing the optimal tree spacing is crucial. Florida citrus growers are planting trees at significantly higher densities than in the past. Due to negative impacts on plant health following the emergence of huanglongbing (HLB or citrus greening) in Florida, canopy growth substantially decreased, requiring new plant-spacing recommendations for increased production.

high density

To maximize the average net return, citrus production in the future will need to make more effective use of the limited land and offer a faster return on investment. To maximize production per acre; improve water, fertilizer and light efficiency; and convert biomass into fruit in a more efficient manner, high-density plantings have been tested in Florida.

Before the spread of citrus greening, the typical density of a citrus grove was around 100 trees per acre. Today, however, high-density groves typically have between 200 and 400 trees. In super high-density groves, growers often plant as many as 900 plants per acre. Dwarf rootstocks are used in high-density plantings because of their manageability. In the early fruit-bearing years, the higher planting density enhances yield and net income.

Higher-density planting, however, can be challenging for various reasons. Trees need to be trimmed because of the crowding. Pickers cannot move between rows of trees when the space between them is filled.

As a result of shadowing, light penetration into the lower canopy decreases as trees increase in height. Compared to conventional spacing, the initial investment, regular tree maintenance and potential future tree removal expenses are all higher.

When a grove reaches maturity, a high planting density could show harmful effects of HLB just as a low planting density could. If the higher planting density can compensate for most of the projected loss of canopy growth due to HLB, then it will likely work and not cause problems as the grove ages.

Amir Rezazadeh is a multi-county fruit and field crops Extension agent at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences St. Lucie County Extension office in Fort Pierce.

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