Johnny Morgan | 3/1/2019 8:49:12 PM
(03/01/19) NEW ORLEANS — Now that the citrus season is complete, growers are looking for answers to some of the problems they encountered with their most recent crop.
At a meeting hosted by the LSU AgCenter at Delgado Community College, backyard citrus growers were shown some of the tips and tricks that can be used to grow delicious citrus.
LSU AgCenter horticulture agents Joe Willis and Anna Timmerman said backyard producers are now growing more than 50 percent of the citrus in the state.
“Out of all the calls we get as horticulture agents, the majority of those calls are concerning citrus,” Timmerman said. “I tracked our calls for a year and found that citrus was the No. 1 issue people had questions about.”
When planting citrus, site selection is your most important consideration, she said.
Citrus trees don’t like wet feet. They prefer a well-drained soil that is slightly acidic and in full sun.
“Many tend to want their trees close to the house or the garage, but if it’s not getting full sun, it won’t do as well,” she said.
In low-lying backyards, it’s a good idea to berm the soil up to about 12 to 18 inches to aid drainage, she said. “That way you tend to raise that root system above the water level.”
Ricky Becnel, grower at Saxon Becnel and Sons Nursery in Belle Chase, talked about the work being done at his family’s 160-year-old business in Plaquemines Parish.
“A way for backyard growers to do this is to sit the tree right on top of the ground and to build a box around it to create a little mound to keep the tree out of the water,” Becnel said.
Another consideration when growing citrus is the proper time to plant the tree.
Willis said January and February are the optimal months to plant citrus, but trees can be planted up until the weather starts to get hot.
“If you have to plant during the warmer months, you need to make sure that you keep the tree well-watered, and it may make it,” Willis said. “But it’s a whole lot more work if you wait to plant the trees.”
Becnel said he generally agrees with the January and February planting dates, but he likes to plant his trees in March, when there’s less likelihood of a freeze killing the new trees.
“There was a time when I would have said different, but now that we have well insulated greenhouses, you don’t have to get started too early,” he said.
One thing growers should look out for is rootbound trees, Willis said. “If the tree has been in the container too long, the roots will grow in a circle in the container and this is not good.”
To correct this problem, the roots can be trimmed on all sides. The roots will start to put out new growth, as they recover quickly.
Becnel said proper watering of the trees are also an issue that some growers tend to not get right.
“Citrus has a very leather-like leaf, and it’s better to under-water than to over-water,” he said.
A common mistake people make is planting their trees in the yard where they will be watering the lawn and they think they are doing a great job, he said.
“But what they don’t realize is that this will cause the tree to become very lazy and it will not develop a deep root system,” he said.
Fertilization is another issue that some people tend to get wrong.
“What we’ve found that works best is in the first year, we put one big handful of fertilizer around the tree each month from March to September,” Becnel said.
During this period, if the tree tries to put on any fruit, pick it off, because you want the tree to put 100 percent of its energy into making tree, not fruit during that first year, he said.
Pruning was also a topic discussed at the meeting. Timmerman said it is best to wait until the threat of cold weather is gone before you start to cut the branches back.
Getting trees through the cold weather is another challenge for growers. Becnel said the sugar content of the fruit determines the freeze point of the trees.
“With kumquats and lemons, because of the size and sugar content respectively, they tend to be more susceptible to freeze damage,” Becnel said.
The meeting concluded with a list of insects and citrus diseases that cause the most problems in the state, such as the citrus psyllid that causes citrus greening and citrus canker.
Additional information on growing backyard citrus in Louisiana can be found on the AgCenter website at LSUAgCenter.com
Ricky Becnel, nursery grower at Saxon Becnel and Sons Nursery in Belle Chase, discusses the proper way to plant citrus trees at a backyard citrus grower’s meeting at Delgado Community College on Feb. 27. Photo by Johnny Morgan/LSU AgCenter
LSU AgCenter horticulture agent Joe Willis explains some of the tips and tricks to growing back citrus during a recent meeting at Delgado Community College. Photo by Johnny Morgan/LSU AgCenter