Dealing With The Dooryard Citrus Dilemma

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.

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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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Tim says:

With the exception of the mentioned lemons, limes and tangerine varieties, homeowners who buy and plant the “classic” orange and grapefruit varieties are essentially “throwing them to the wolves”. Every tree that I looked at in St. Augustine was infected, and any dooryard tree south of there (coast to coast) is infected or will be within a year or two. Dooryard growers don’t have the pesticide tools available to them for ACP control that commercial growers have, and even the best growers are having limited success. Nobody connected to a governmental agency in Florida is going to recommend not planting citrus in dooryards, so the dilemma will persist.

Tim Whelan says:

Peter Chaires’ “Dealing with the Dooryard Citrus Dilemma” followed by Tim’s reply, unpeeled a vexing issue for me. As a garden center owner, my staff and I regularly re-direct tradesmen and the public away from the purchase of dooryard citrus. We can’t with a clear conscious recommend citrus when our observation matches Mr. Chaires’ that too quickly “the rate of infection of dooryard trees is essentially 100%.”
We also think it is accurate that homeowners can’t be expected to take the steps necessary to control ACP and avoid the harborage of HLB no matter how many scripts we write. Tim has it right that homeowners are wasting their money on the classic orange and grapefruit varieties.
And we see another consequence to failed dooryard citrus. Whenever horticulture in its broadest definition presents a product destined to fail, the reservoir of public goodwill drains from the green industry.
And the negatives are piling up according to FNGLA’s new report, “What do Floridians Think about Growing Citrus at Home?” Some takeaways from that report: most current owners are dissatisfied with their citrus tree’s performance; growing citrus is more unpleasant than enjoyable; dooryard citrus is not worth the effort. In our favor, survey respondents feel that dooryard citrus remains iconic to Florida.
Mr. Chaires wonders, “Is an educational outreach program needed to help homeowners understand how they can better control ACP and the spread of HLB?” Yes, a practical educational effort is needed to promote HLB-tolerant varieties which promise much needed homeowner success and reduced inoculum compared with any other citrus reset. ‘Sugar Belle’ could be promoted as the first designated release in the (Florida) Citrus Success Series.
Directing dooryard growers to HLB tolerant varieties reinstates citrus growing as worthwhile to the public, values research successes, and gives us resellers a product we can support.
Tim Whelan
Art By Nature Garden Center
Palm Beach Gardens, FL