lijit

Citrus in Florida

     Back when people first started moving to Florida in the late 1800's (No AC, what were they thinking?), they tried planting groves of the different trees over the entire state. I'm pretty sure Swingle and Dancy cultivars were created here. Since then, years with freezes have slowly been driving the industry to the areas south of Tampa and Orlando. It's still a multi-billion dollar a year industry, employing thousands of workers.
     Pest pressures, like fungi and insects, make our oranges unsightly, so bland eating oranges usually come from California or Arizona, while Florida's tasty oranges usually go to make juice.
     Here in west central Florida, just north of Tampa, I have been having a lot of success with loquat (sort of a citrus). The other varieties of less cold sensitive citrus are Meyer lemon and tangerine/mandarin. Key limes can't handle the cold. Ugli fruits are even more tender, Americans sometimes import them from Puerto Rico and further south.

     Over the years I have watched my father struggle with trying to grow citrus here. He's tried every variety, all different kinds of planting situations. He's tried planting on slopes. He's tried planting near a pool (heat sink). He's tried planting near a south-facing wall. We've agreed to give up on oranges, particularly since the price of trees has gone up over the last few years to usually at least $35 per tree. Could it have something to do with this?
     The state was found to be at fault for the forced removal of 865,000 residential, dooryard citrus across the southern counties. They have been paying approximate $30 million in damages, to replace the removed trees.
"[Judge Robin Rosenberg] wrote that “exposed citrus trees, which were not determined to be infected with citrus canker but were located within 1,900 feet of another citrus tree determined to be infected with citrus canker, do not present an imminent threat to the public health, safety or welfare, or constitute a public nuisance.”
    There is something to be said for planting the trees in the appropriate microclimate. Sepp Holzer, farming genius, can supposedly grow them in snow. If you use blankets and Christmas lights to keep your tree warm, do be sure they are the old fashioned incandescent type, as LEDs won't make heat for you. My father has used the blankets and lights trick successfully, but in my not-so-humble opinion, it's really not worth the effort. There are so many other kinds of good fruit trees to plant, why try to baby one to keep it alive? Spend electricity on plants? What?
     Always beware that due to pest pressures a lot of citrus are grafted onto root stocks, and a particularly tough freeze cycle may kill your citrus but the root stock may survive to provide you a less than desirable fruit. One of the most common is sour orange, which is actually a pretty nice fruit. Tart like a lemon, but orange flavored. I made sour orange meringue pie one year with it.


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