Selecting a Citrus Tree
Florida gardeners have a number of citrus varieties to choose form when planning their home citrus garden. Varieties include the sweet oranges such as Hamlin and Valencia that are great for juice. Hybrids, such as the Sugar Belle® mandarin and other tangerines are delicious fresh fruit; and some of these also make excellent juice. Lemons and limes are very popular both for the yard and the patio.
One of the most important criteria for selecting a tree is its tolerance to Huanglongbing, or citrus greening disease. There is no citrus tree that is resistant to citrus greening, but UF/IFAS breeders have bred some varieties that are more tolerant to the disease. This means that they have been successful in growing trees that even when they contract HLB, are still able to produce good tasting fruit for a number of years.
Gardeners should pay attention to when a specific tree will bear fruit. Hamlin oranges typically fruit in the early season (December through January) with Valencia bearing fruit later into the spring, usually beginning around mid-February. The Sugar Belle® mandarin fruit matures in November through the end of December. The label should identify when a tree will produce fruit.
Another criterion is climate. Some citruses thrive in more tropical climate zones while others have been successful as far north as the Florida Panhandle. Again, the label will provide valuable information that impacts your decision.
In addition to the label, look for a tree that has deep green leaves, a full, dense canopy of leaves, and tagged from a certified USDA nursery. The trunk should be straight and firm. Inspect the leaves to be sure that they are no obvious pest or ants on the tree.
UF/IFAS has developed a few varieties that are recommended for the home landscape. These include:
Sugar Belle®- a rich-flavored, delicious mandarin with first harvest in mid-November to late December; HLB-tolerant
OLL-4 – a juicy sweet orange with excellent color and flavor, first harvest usually in mid-February
Marathon mandarin -- fruit matures early and is attractive; peels fairly easily; seedless, not messy and great flavor; HLB-tolerant
Where to buy a tree
There are a number of places where you can buy a citrus tree: local big box stores, nurseries, on-line nurseries and UF/IFAS Master Gardener Volunteer Program plant sales. It is best to secure a tree from a source that can provide you a “clean”, disease-free tree.
Below is a list of Florida nurseries that are willing to sell UF/IFAS bred HLB-tolerant Sugar Belle® to home gardeners.
A number of commercial nurseries in Florida are willing Sugar Belle® to sell to the home gardener. These are:
Quincy Nursery in Quincy, Florida.
Just Fruits and Exotics in Crawfordville, Florida.
Murphy Citrus Nursery in Perry, Florida.
Agromillora Florida in Wildwood.
Brite Leaf Citrus Nursery in Lake Panasoffkee.
BHG Nursery in Frostproof, Florida.
Rasnake Citrus Nursery in Winter Haven.
Phillip Rucks Citrus Nursery in Frostproof, Florida.