Taste and size of citrus fruits are important attributes that determine profit. Since, consumers prefer firm citrus fruit, packing houses only accept fruits of specific size without softness. Therefore, fruit that grow too large and don’t fill out properly are unmarketable and growers discard all these types of fruits. This condition is called puffiness. As fruit diameter becomes ever larger, fruit pith (the area between flesh and the peel of fruits) becomes thick and causes the fruit to shrink inward and lose its normal spherical shape. So far, this problem has been observed in both backyard and commercial Satsuma groves in North Florida, South Georgia, and Southeast Alabama. Citrus puffiness is a threat for all growers from an economic and overall yield point of view, because puffed fruits are unmarketable resulting reduced profit margins.
A few scientific reports suggest that low fruit loads on citrus trees can cause puffiness, but the actual mechanism of puffiness still need to be explored. Based on observations, the team from our lab (Fruit Physiology lab, NFREC, Quincy) and collaborators lead by Dr. Muhammad Shahid has concluded that there are three possible causes of puffiness in citrus i.e., genetic, environmental, or nutritional. In our next phase of research, we will dig deep into this issue and try to determine what is the actual cause of puffiness. Fruit puffiness is observed more in young (4-6 years) satsuma groves than in mature groves. Puffiness on old trees could be due to fruit setting on late blooms during hot conditions. Overall, fruit puffiness is less of a concern in sweet oranges, limes and lemons as compared to satsumas.
Puffiness study by Fruit Physiology Lab, NFREC, Quincy
In our preliminary study, we divided puffiness into five different grades based on fruit size. Grade one is marketable fruits (firm without puffiness). Fruit diameter and puffiness increase gradually in grades 2, 3, 4, and 5, respectively. We have collected fruits from different groves in north Florida and the common denominator among these fruit was decreased Brix value (a common measure of sweetness) with increased puffiness. Average fruit diameter with maximum puffiness was around 40cm and these puffy fruit weighed around 475g. With increasing puffiness, peel weight was increased while juice contents were reduced – not great!
Most satsuma groves in North Florida have some degree of puffiness. However, amount and grade of puffiness varies by grove. In our observations, citrus groves in South Georgia also have puffy fruit, which clearly indicates that puffiness is not geographically specific and can develop in any citrus growing region. After visiting a number of farms in North Florida, we concluded that puffiness is mostly an issue with the Satsuma cultivar ‘Owari’ regardless of different rootstocks. Having said this, we can’t say with confidence that puffiness couldn’t appear on other varieties of citrus without further study. We are carefully monitoring all our variety evaluation trials at the UF/IFAS North Florida Research and Education Center (NFREC), Quincy, in collaboration with citrus breeding and postharvest experts from Citrus Research and Education Center (CREC) and Indian River Research and Education Center (IRREC). We are working on different aspects of citrus production including nutrition, crop load, and pruning to identify the actual cause of puffiness and how to effectively mitigate it in Satsuma groves in north Florida.
Citrus is one of the most cherished fruit trees in the Panhandle. Citrus owners are well aware that every year the main damage to their trees come from citrus leafminer (CLM). CLM is a small moth and its larvae feeds between the tissue layers of new leaf growth, causing serpentine mines to form under the leaf cuticle (Fig. 1). The feeding damage results in leaf curling and distortion, and severe infestations of CLM on young trees can retard the growth of trees. Another threat concerning CLM in Florida is that the mines provide an open wound for citrus canker to enter, a bacterial disease that has been found recently in the Florida Panhandle, Georgia, and Alabama.
Most commercial growers deal with CLM in young trees by a soil application of systemic insecticide before the flush season, followed by a foliar insecticide when the systemic drench’s toxicity is declining. Homeowners, however, have limited access to these chemistries. Garden systemic insecticides that include imidacloprid (Bayer’s Tree & Shrub Insect Control™, Merit®, etc.) and dinotefuran (Greenlight Tree and Shrub Insect Control™, Safari®, etc.) are among the few options for CLM control. For the best efficacy, those insecticides should be applied two weeks before the start of the flushing season to allow time for the insecticide to move from the roots into the canopy. To avoid leaching of insecticide away from the root zone, soil applications should be made within a 24-hour period without rain. Citrus trees usually have several flushes per year, depending upon cultivar, climate, and crop load. However, in the Florida Panhandle, most citrus cultivars have two major flushes in May and September.
Importantly, systemic insecticides are only efficient against CLM for small immature trees; therefore, the only products labeled for use against CLM on mature trees are foliar sprays. Horticultural oils or insecticides with spinosad (such as Monterey® Garden Insect Spray) are some options available for homeowners. However, achieving leafminer control with foliar applications on mature trees is challenging due to unsynchronized flushing of trees. Foliar applications should be timed with the appearance of the first visible leaf mines. In any case, be sure to READ THE LABEL and follow all the label directions.
Cultural practices, and non-insecticidal methods.
For isolated trees in a backyard, cultural practices and control through mass trapping are usually sufficient to control CLM and insecticide use is not recommended, especially for mature trees. One of the basic cultural practices is to remove any stems that grow below the bud union or from the rootstock, also called ‘suckers’ (Fig. 2). Those rootstock shoots compete with the scion shoots and are great reservoirs for CLM; removing them will help reducing CLM population. On isolated trees, mass trapping using CLM pheromone provide good results (Fig. 3). The mass trapping method is constituted of a delta trap baited with a lure that emits a large quantity of CLM sex pheromone. CLM males are attracted by the odor and are captured in the delta trap’s sticky liner. Those traps are commonly used by growers to monitor CLM populations, but for homeowners they are sufficient to control CLM on a single tree. This trap and a lure method should protect a single tree for approximately 3 months. Finally, the last option is the use of biological control. Several natural enemies are predators or parasitize CLM. In some case, biological control can reduce CLM populations by 90%. Primary predators of CLM include ants, lacewings, and spiders, as well as a parasitic wasp, Ageniaspis citricola that was introduced into Florida and has become established (Fig. 4).
You’ve likely seen them in the grocery stores, and you’ll see them now through April. A large, lumpy (some may say ugly) piece of orange fruit with a bump near the stem. But what exactly is this special looking fruit? It’s a Shiranui mandarin!
The name ‘Shiranui’ is the generic term for this variety of citrus. You may have seen the same variety of mandarin marketed in grocery stores as ‘Sumo Citrus’ which is a trademarked name for the variety. In Japan, they are widely known as ‘Dekopons’. No matter what you call them, they are easily recognized by their distinctive appearance.
The Shiranui mandarin is a hybrid between a Ponkan tangerine and a Kiyomi Tangor (sweet orange x satsuma mandarin). They are easy to peel, sweet, and seedless. Shiranuis are considered to be one of the sweetest and most flavorful varieties of citrus on the market. The fruit are large and have a large protruding bump near the stem that resembles the top knot hairstyle of a Japanese sumo wrestler (hence the trademarked name ‘Sumo Citrus’).
While the majority of Shiranui mandarins on the market are grown in California, the variety can be grown here in Florida and several citrus growers in North Florida and South Georgia have began to experiment with plantings in the region. Homeowners, too, can try their hand at growing the variety as many Florida certified citrus nurseries carry the variety. For more information on different citrus varieties, contact your local UF/IFAS Extension Agent.
From time to time we get questions from clients who are unsatisfied with the flavor of the fruit from their citrus trees. Usually the complaints are because of dry or fibrous fruit. This is usually due to irregular irrigation and/or excessive rains during fruit development. However, we sometimes get asked about fruit that is too sour. There are three common reasons why fruit may taste more sour than expected: 1) The fruit came from the rootstock portion of the tree; 2) The fruit wasn’t fully mature when picked; or 3) the tree is infected with Huanglongbing (HLB) a.k.a. citrus greening or yellow dragon disease.
The majority of citrus trees are grafted onto a rootstock. Grafting is the practice of conjoining a plant with desirable fruiting characteristics onto a plant with specific disease resistance, stress tolerance (such as cold tolerance), and/or growth characteristics (such as rooting depth characteristics or dwarfing characteristics). Citrus trees are usually true to seed, but the majority of trees available at nurseries and garden centers are grafted onto a completely different citrus species. Some of the commonly available rootstocks produce sweet fruit, but most produce sour or poor tasting fruit. Common citrus rootstocks include: Swingle orange; sour orange; and trifoliate orange. For a comprehensive list of citrus rootstocks, please visit the Florida Citrus Rootstock Selection Guide. A rootstock will still produce viable shoots, which can become dominant leaders on a tree. In the picture below, a sour orange rootstock is producing a portion of the fruit on the left hand side of this tangerine tree. The trunk coming from the sour orange rootstock has many more spines than the tangerine producing trunks.
A tangerine tree on a sour orange rootstock that is producing fruit on the left hand side of the tree. Photo Credit: Matt Lollar, University of Florida/IFAS Extension
Florida grown citrus generally matures from the months of October through May depending on species and variety. Satsumas mature in October and taste best after nighttime temperatures drop into the 50s. Most tangerines are mature in late November and December. Oranges and grapefruit are mature December through April depending on variety. The interesting thing about citrus fruit is that they can be stored on the tree after becoming ripe. So when in doubt, harvest only a few fruit at a time to determine the maturity window for your particular tree. A table with Florida citrus ripeness dates can be found at this Florida Citrus Harvest Calendar.
Citrus Greening (HLB) is a plant disease caused by the bacterium Candidatus Liberibacter asiaticus, which is vectored by the Asian citrus psyllid. The disease causes the fruit to be misshapen and discolored. The fruit from infected trees does not ripen properly and rarely sweetens up. A list of publications about citrus greening can be found at the link Citrus Greening (Huanglongbing, HLB).
A graphic of various citrus greening symptoms. Photo Credit: University of Florida/IFAS Extension
In recent years, not a summer has gone by in which I did not see citrus rust mite (CRM) damage in a garden. I thought this year would be the first. Unfortunately, recently I saw my first rust mite damage of the year.
Unlike the myriad of pests that have been recently introduced into Florida from abroad, the citrus rust mite (Phyllocoptruta oleivora) has been documented as present in Florida since the late 1800s. Along with its companion, pink citrus rust mite (Aculops pelekassi) It can be a major summer pest for satsuma mandarins grown in the Florida Panhandle gardens.
Citrus Rust Mite (CRM) damage manifests itself on fruit in two ways, “sharkskin” and “bronzing“. Sharkskin is caused when mites have fed on developing fruit, and destroyed the top epidermal layer. As the fruit grows, the epidermal layer breaks and as the fruit heals, the brown “sharkskin” look develops. Bronzing occurs when rust mites feed on fruit that’s nearer to mature size. Since the skin is not fractured by growth, the fruits develop a polished bronze look. In both cases, the interior of the fruit may remain undamaged. However, extreme damage can cases cause fruit drop and reduced fruit size. Regardless of the condition of the interior, damaged fruit is not aesthetically pleasing, but fine for slicing or juicing.
“Sharkskin Damage” to fruit caused by past feeding by the Citrus Rust Mite. Image Credit, Matthew Orwat
If a CRM population is present, they will begin increasing on fresh spring new growth in late April, and usually reach peak levels in June and July. By August the damage has often already been done, but is first noticed due to the increased growth of the fruit. Depending upon weather conditions, CRM can have a resurgence in October and November, just as Satsuma and other citrus is getting ready to be harvested, so careful monitoring is necessary. For more information, check out this publication: Guide to Citrus Rust Mite Identification.
Sun spot resulting from where citrus rust mite avoids feeding on most sun exposed portion of the fruit. Image and Caption courtesy of EDIs publication HS-806
If control of CRM is warranted, there are several miticides available for use, but it is not advisable for home gardeners to use these on their citrus plants since they will also kill beneficial insects. Horticultural oil is an alternative to miticide, which is less damaging to beneficial insects. Several brands of horticultural oil are formulated to smother CRM, but care must be taken to not apply horticultural oil when daytime temperatures will reach 94 degrees Fahrenheit. Application of oils at times when temperatures are at this level or higher will result in leaf and fruit damage.
Although Citrus Rust Mite (CRM) has the potential to be aesthetically unsightly on citrus fruit in the Florida Panhandle, strategies of monitoring and treatment in homeowner citrus production have been successful in mitigating their damage.
One of the things to do while stuck at home due to COVID-19 restrictions, is to look for caterpillars and butterflies in your landscape. I’ve noticed giant swallowtail butterflies (Papilio cresphontes) a little early this year. The giant swallowtail is one of the largest and most beautiful butterflies in our area. Its larval stage is known as the orangedog caterpillar. This unusual name comes from the fact that it feeds on young foliage of citrus trees.
Orangedog caterpillar. Photo credit: Donald Hall, University of Florida
The orangedog caterpillar is mostly brown with some white blotches, resembling bird droppings more than a caterpillar. When disturbed, it may try to scare you off by extruding two orange horns that produce a pungent odor hard to wash off.
I’ve had some minor feeding on citrus trees in my landscape from orangedog caterpillars. But I tolerate them. I’m not growing the citrus to sell. Sure the caterpillars eat a few leaves but my citrus trees have thousands of leaves. New leaves eventually replace the eaten ones. I leave the caterpillars alone. They eat a few leaves, develop into chrysalises and then emerge as beautiful giant swallowtail butterflies. The whole experience is a great life lesson for my two teenagers. And, we get to enjoy beautiful giant swallowtail butterflies flying around in our landscape and still get plenty of fruit from the citrus trees. It is a win, win, win.
In some cases, the caterpillars can cause widespread defoliation of citrus. A few orangedog caterpillars can defoliate small, potted citrus trees. Where you cannot tolerate their feeding habits, remove them from the plant. But consider relocating the caterpillars to another area. In addition to citrus, the orangedog caterpillars will use the herb fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) and rue (Ruta graveolens) as a food source. Some butterfly gardens plant citrus trees to provide food for orangedog caterpillars so that they will have giant swallowtail butterflies. So you could plan ahead and grow some fennel, rue or find a butterfly garden in your area for the purpose of relocating the larvae.
Yellow giant swallowtail butterfly on pink garden phlox flowers. Photo credit: Larry Williams
The adult butterflies feed on nectar from many flowers, including azalea, bougainvillea, Japanese honeysuckle, goldenrod, dame’s rocket, bouncing Bet and swamp milkweed. Some plants in this list might be invasive.
Keep in mind that mature citrus trees can easily withstand the loss of a few leaves. If you find and allow a few orangedog caterpillars to feed on a few leaves of a mature citrus tree in your landscape, you and your neighbors might get to enjoy the spectacular giant swallowtail butterfly.