Trouble didn't find me, I found it.
We weren't supposed to play baseball in the backyard. It was only a matter of time before I took a swing. Unfortunately, that one swing put the ball through the dining room window. What was worse, my dad was in there when it happened. I blamed my brother.
In horticulture, you can find trouble by moving citrus out of Charleston, Beaufort and Colleton counties. Darren Sheriff, local Master Gardener and citrus-growing enthusiast, informed me that the quarantine, in effect since 2008, applies to every part of the plant to limit the spread of the citrus greening disease. If you grow citrus as a hobby, do not transport any part of the plant outside of the Lowcountry.
Citrus greening disease distorts the quantity and quality of fruit, making it green, misshapen and bitter. The bacterial disease is spread by a gnat-size insect called the Asian citrus psyllid.
The insect, found in the Lowcountry in 2008, can carry the infectious bacteria. However, it also can pick up the disease if it feeds on an infected host and begins spreading it.
Infected fruit cannot be sold and trees typically die in a few years. Currently, there is no cure and it 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.
The quarantine doesn't prevent you from growing citrus. Besides basic growing techniques, the only thing I know about citrus is to peel the fruit before eating. However, Sheriff has been kind enough to lend me his expertise.
--Temperature. Citrus plants are subtropical that have adapted to sandy soil. They will sustain damage when temperatures drop below 28 degrees. When grown in the ground, some growers wrap citrus trees in plastic to protect them from nighttime temperatures. Some also
use light bulbs or old-fashioned Christmas lights to help keep the tree warm. Cold frames wrapped in plastic are easy and quick to install. Be sure to open or uncover the tree during the day to avoid cooking it.
--Soil. Citrus trees are like Goldilocks, they like their soil just right: not too wet and not too dry. Well-drained soil is ideal. Planting in containers is an easy way to achieve this. Plus, containers can be wheeled inside for winter protection. Starting a tree in a 15-gallon container is a good start, but you should eventually move it up to a 30-gallon container to maximize root space.
--Fertilizer. A complete, slow-release fertilizer, such as 8-8-8, with micronutrients is ideal. During the summer, Sheriff recommends products such as Citrus Tone every six to eight weeks and foliar feeding with fish emulsion every couple of weeks. Be warned, fish emulsion fertilizer smells like fish.
--Light. Like vegetable plants, citrus trees prefer full sun. Plant them in an area that gets at least eight hours. If growing in containers, be aware that black plastic pots can get extremely hot and damage roots, so the pot should be shaded to control temperature. White pots stay cooler.
--Varieties. There are several citrus varieties you can grow in the Lowcountry, although most tend to be a bit more sour than sweet. Sheriff suggests satsuma tangerines, oranges (ambersweet, hamlin, parson) and grapefruit (duncan, pink marsh, ruby red). Also kumquats (meiwa and nagami) and meyer lemon (a cross between a lemon and sweet orange).
For more information on citrus disease, go to save ourcitrus.org. You also can contact the USDA State Plant Health Director's office at 864-624-9949.
Tony Bertauski is a horticulture instructor at Trident Technical College. To give feedback, email him at email@example.com.