Help for citrus growers

Meyer lemons in Charleston are a popular fruit.

Fruitmania is coming! The Fruitmania Garden School is coming Feb. 22 to Cypress Gardens. This event can answer all your citrus questions, in addition to questions about other locally grown fruit and honeybees.

Everybody loves fruit. This past year, we started getting our fruit from a Meyer lemon tree growing in a 5-gallon container. It's short and easy to move, and in November, it produced almost a dozen lemons. Picking them off a branch is so much more satisfying than dropping them in a thin, plastic produce bag.

Citrus isn't hard to grow in the Lowcountry, but there are some guidelines that will make your attempts more successful:

Citrus are subtropical plants adapted to sandy soil. They will sustain damage when temperatures drop below 28 degrees. The recent cold snap of 20 degrees damaged unprotected citrus.

We wheeled our lemon tree into the garage, which was enough to avoid injury. If yours was in the ground, you weren't so lucky. If your citrus sustained cold damage, wait until spring to fully assess the extent before pruning.

When citrus can't be brought indoors, citrus trees can be wrapped in plastic and protected with an incandescent light bulb. Cold frames can be temporarily constructed around a small tree. Just be sure to open or uncover the tree during the day to avoid cooking it.

Citrus trees like their soil just right: not too wet and not too dry. Container-grown citrus makes it easy to achieve well-drained soil. Containers also make it possible to avoid winter damage.

Our lemon is in a 5-gallon container and will stay small until we move it up to a 15-gallon container. Thirty-gallon containers can maximize root space, but you'll need a dolly to cart it around.

A complete, slow-release fertilizer, such as 8-8-8, with micronutrients is ideal. During the summer, Citrus Tone can be used every 6 to 8 weeks. You can also foliar feed with fish emulsion every couple of weeks. But guess what fish emulsion smells like?

Like vegetable plants, citrus prefers full sun. Locate in an area that gets a minimum of eight hours. If growing in containers, be aware that black plastic pots can get extremely hot and damage roots. White pots stay cooler.

Whiteflies are commonly found on citrus. They do not cause serious damage, but they do give rise to sooty mold, a black fungus that covers the leaves and looks bad. Whiteflies can be controlled with horticultural soaps and oils. Occasionally, leafminers damage foliage by tunneling inside the tissue. The damage is harmless to the plant's health.

A more serious disease is citrus greening that distorts the shape and taste of fruit. It's caused by a bacterium that is spread by a gnat-size insect called the Asian citrus psyllid.

In 2008, a quarantine was implemented to reduce the spread of the disease. If you grow citrus as a hobby, do not transport any part of the plant outside of the Lowcountry.

Infected fruit cannot be sold and trees typically die in a few years. Currently, there is no cure and the disease is considered a serious threat to the citrus industry.

Quarantines are an attempt to keep the disease from reaching citrus-producing states such as Arizona and California. Texas has recently identified the disease. It has already cost the Florida economy billions of dollars.

For more information on citrus disease, go to You can also contact the USDA State Plant Health Director's office at 864-624-9949.

There are several citrus varieties you can grow in the Lowcountry, although most tend to be a bit more sour than sweet. Satsuma tangerines, oranges (Ambersweet, Hamlin, Parson), grapefruit (Duncan, Pink Marsh, Ruby Red), kumquats (Meiwa and Nagami) and Meyer lemon are all possibilities.

To really get your fruit fix, attend Fruitmania Garden School on Feb. 22 where there will be lectures, giveaways and citrus for sale.

For more information, call Cypress Gardens at 553-0515, or email

You can find information at

Tony Bertauski is a horticulture instructor at Trident Technical College. To give feedback, email him at