image of sugar belle mandarin

Sugar Belle mandarin cultivar. Mix of sweet Clementine and Minneola varieties. UF/IFAS File Photo.

Florida is known for citrus and many homeowners love to grow and enjoy it. However, a devastating disease known as citrus greening or HLB has taken a toll on commercial and residential citrus since it first was discovered in Florida in 2005.

Sugar Belle is a cultivar of mandarin citrus developed by the University of Florida citrus geniuses and is tolerant of citrus greening disease if it is properly planted and cared for. Tolerance of the disease does not mean that it doesn’t get citrus greening, rather it means that this cultivar can get infected but still be healthy and productive. The fruit of infected trees is safe to eat as the bacterium that causes it does no harm to humans.

Our chilly winters can be detrimental to many kinds of citrus, but Sugar Belle can withstand temperatures down to 14°F once the tree is well established. That is good news for us in the panhandle. Even so, it is best to choose a spot in your landscape with a southern exposure, preferably with a wind block from northwest winds. Avoid low areas as cooler air falls into those areas.

Symptoms of citrus greening on leaves show a blotchy mottled pattern. UF/IFAS photo.

Make your purchase from a certified nursery to make sure you are getting the right cultivar and a disease-free tree. Spring and fall are the best seasons of the year to plant citrus. When planting, make sure to make slices in the rootball if it is rootbound or if circling roots are present. The rootball should be slightly above the ground level after planting. All weeds and grass should be removed under the canopy of the tree to as they compete for water and nutrients with your newly planted tree. Never place mulch against the trunk as it can hold moisture there and promote disease. Water often the first year until well-established; after establishment citrus has some drought tolerance and may only need supplemental irrigation in times of heat and drought.

A good quality citrus fertilizer with micronutrients is crucial for a healthy tree with good quality fruit. The first fertilization should be about 3 weeks after planting and then follow the label directions for subsequent fertilizations. Newly planted trees should be fertilized 6 times in the first year and the fertilizer should be evenly broadcast under the tree canopy.

The only pruning in the first 3 years should be the removal of suckers that grow from the base, water shoots that grow quickly and straight up, and dead wood. Be sure to clean your pruning tools before and after each tree to avoid spreading any possible disease. First rinse off any dirt or other organic matter and then use a 3% bleach solution or alcohol for sterilization.

Happy Gardening!

For more information:

UF/IFAS Research on Development of Sugar Belle YouTube

Citrus Culture in the Home Landscape

Citrus Greening


Mary Salinas
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