Dealing With The Dooryard Citrus Dilemma

Dooryard citrus tree in Florida
Dooryard citrus trees are still treasured by many homeowners in Florida.
Photo by Peter Chaires

Sales of dooryard trees are a profitable market channel for some Florida citrus nurseries. A portion of sales are direct to the public, while others are generated through websites/catalogs, with trees shipped in protective packaging. For many seasonal and year-round residents, life in Florida should include a citrus tree in the yard. To some, it’s part of Florida’s heritage and culture.

While some varieties are unsuitable for commercial use, they might be highly desirable for dooryard applications. Homeowners who are not as dependent on productivity, are more forgiving of seeds, thorns, postharvest issues, etc. Fruit clubs and rare fruit groups are passionate about dooryard citrus trees and maintain extensive private collections and represent a loyal customer base for nurseries.

Meanwhile, Florida’s commercial citrus industry, and the state and federal agencies that support it, are embroiled in a struggle against expansive Asian citrus psyllid (ACP) populations and the harborage of inoculum.

The term “bad neighbor effect” references commercial operations doing what they can to control the ACP populations, while neighboring properties do little or nothing. Such circumstances result in the loss or degradation of commercial citrus operations and cause an escalation in production costs. Sources of inoculum have been identified as: uncooperative commercial producers, wild citrus, abandoned groves, and residential citrus trees.

Commercial operations in close proximity to any of the aforementioned face an uphill battle to remain viable.

Such is the quandary of dooryard citrus sales. There is no debate that a healthy nursery segment is essential to the recovery of Florida’s citrus industry. In many ways, nurseries are the lifeblood of this industry. Dooryard sales contribute significantly to the bottom line of some primary citrus nurseries and are certainly important for retail nurseries. However, some have raised the question of whether homeowners can be expected to take the steps necessary to control ACP and avoid the harborage of HLB.

Fielding Tough Questions

While commercial citrus growers implement programs to control ACP and replace unproductive or declining trees with clean resets, the rate of infection of dooryard trees is essentially 100%. The two sides of this issue remain miles apart, and the hard questions remain unanswered:

  • Will an increase in the number of residential citrus trees in Florida diminish the effectiveness of CHMAs and Florida’s battle against ACP and HLB?
  • Does it make any difference to focus on dooryard properties when the other known sources of ACP and HLB harborage are so prevalent?
  • Do homeowners purchasing citrus trees understand the risk? Do they understand that their new tree, absent of enhanced/commercial care, will likely succumb to HLB?
  • Considering the property rights of the homeowner, the low likelihood of expending political capital on this issue, and the profit channel that dooryard sales represent for citrus nurseries, nothing can or would/should ever be done to eliminate dooryard trees. Is an education outreach program needed to help homeowners understand how they can better control ACP and the spread of HLB?

These are questions that have yet to be answered or seriously discussed. There is no easy answer, but it is worthy of continued dialogue.

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