Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences
Hendry County Horticulture News
Citrus - A Natural Addition to the Florida Landscape
Nearly everyone who makes their home here, especially those coming from more temperate climates are interested in establishing a few citrus trees. Perhaps this springs from a desire to be able to boast to friends back home about how they are picking oranges and enjoying fresh squeezed juice on their patio while their northern friends are scrapping ice from their windshields. There is a more practical aspect to this wish, citrus trees are sub-tropical in nature and do extremely well in our area. Citrus trees can be an important part of the landscape for homeowners. They are useful ornamental trees and can provide an abundance of delicious fruit. Like most other plants in the landscape, regular maintenance such as irrigation, fertilization, weeding and pest and disease control must be performed for best growth and production of fruit.
Citrus was introduced to Florida by early Spanish settlers and was spread across the state by Indians and pioneers. As the citrus industry developed, selections were made and other improvements made to the original seedling varieties bought by the Spaniards. Today, there are many types and cultivars suitable for the homeowner. Selecting a cultivar is largely a matter of personal choice. Most people grow what they prefer to eat. There are many factors which need to be considered before the final choice is made. Perhaps the most important is sensitivity to cold. Sites which are historically cold during winter should not be planted with tender citrus types. Some cultivars are susceptible to certain insects and diseases and frequent spraying may be necessary. Some cultivars are often shy bearers while others require nearby pollinator trees of another cultivar to ensure good yields. Time spent researching the pros and cons of the desired cultivar will pay off life of the citrus tree.
Citrus is generally divided into broad classes such as sweet orange, grapefruit, mandarins, specialty hybrids, and acid fruit. They are further designated according to the season of bearing into early, mid-season and late varieties. By selecting a number of citrus varieties it is possible to have citrus fruit nearly year round.
There are many sweet orange cultivars suitable for home cultivation. The harvest season for early season cultivars is October through January. Early season cultivars include the Hamlin, Parson Brown, Ambersweet, and Navel varieties. Navel oranges are seedless and are best used for fresh consumption while the others can be used for juice or fresh consumption. Hamlin is the least seedy of the early season types.
The most popular mid-season variety is Pineapple which bears from December through February Pineapple is rather seedy and prone to alternate bearing. It is also the most cold sensitive of the sweet oranges. The main late season variety is Valencia which is normally harvested from March to June. Valencia is one of the most vigorous and cold resistant oranges for home use. It has few seeds and excellent juice quality. Valencia also tend towards alternate bearing and may re-green late in the season.
There are two basic types of grapefruit in Florida, white fleshed and pink fleshed. White fleshed types include: Duncan, which is rather seedy and Marsh, which produces seeds. Redblush, Thompson, Star Ruby and Ray Ruby are pink fleshed cultivars. These typically have very few seeds.
Mandarins or tangerines are so-called zipper skinned fruits which are easy to peel and excellent for fresh consumption. The Satsuma mandarin is the earliest of these producing medium sized fruit from September to October. Dancy is a popular tangerine which produces excellent quality fruit in December and January. The peel tears easy at harvest. This variety bears profusely and limb breakage may occur with heavy crops. The murcott or honey tangerine has superior eating qualities and is generally harvested from January to March. This tree is a heavy bearer in alternate years.
Specialty hybrids include a number of varieties which generally require cross pollination for optimal production. The Robinson is an excellent early season tangerine hybrid. Orlando is an early season tangelo which produces a large robust tree. Production is from November to January. Minneola tangelos have a characteristic flavor and shape and are often referred to as honey-bells.
The acid citrus group includes lemons, limes and citrons. The Tahiti or Persian and Key limes are very cold sensitive and can only be grown successfully in the warm parts of our area. The Persian lime bears it's main crop from June until September while Key limes bear year round. The Meyers lemon is a very cold hardy variety and has a high juice content.
There are literally hundreds of citrus cultivars available and only a few of the more popular have been presented here. Contact the Hendry County Extension Office for assistance with citrus cultivar selection and care. By thoughtful selection, it is possible to enjoy homegrown citrus from the "Florida sunshine tree" nearly year round. Good luck and good gardening.
Gene McAvoy is the horticulture agent with the Hendry County Extension Service. Direct your horticulture questions to PO Box 68, LaBelle, FL 33975, e-mail - firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 863-674-4092 or 863-983-1598. You are also welcome to visit the Hendry County Extension Office at 225 Pratt Blvd., LaBelle. Office hours are from 8:00 - 5:00.
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