Before you start ordering citrus trees and digging holes, do your due diligence. Grab your pencil, eraser, graph paper and calculator. Call a local extension agent or citrus expert for help. Careful planning is necessary to ensure that a new citrus grove or new plantings within an established grove lead to success rather than failure.
There are several questions citrus growers need to answer before they can start designing a grove. None should be considered separately from the whole. Bob Rouse, citrus specialist with the UF/IFAS Southwest Florida Research and Education Center in Immokalee, says growers need to enter into grove design with their eyes wide open.
"These are long-term decisions that require money and capital," he says. "You need to know what your challenges are now and what they could be."
Decide your purpose
When it comes to planting a citrus grove, the first thing to consider is the end result, says Steve Futch, extension agent multi-county for UF/IFAS.
What do you want to do with your citrus once it is grown and off the tree? Do you want to sell to the juice and processing market? Do you want to produce citrus for the fresh market? The answers to these questions will decide the type of rootstock you need to seek out. For example, Futch says growers intending to reach the juice market will find that hamlins, valencias, and early, mid- and late-season oranges are essential. If it is fresh fruit growers seek, Futch says they will have to decide whether they want a tangerine type, a mandarin, etc.
Rouse says the space you have available also plays a role in this decision. Juice and processing plants need a large volume, so you need to be able to plant thousands of acres to enter the juice market, he says. On the other hand, there are plenty specialty markets out there for fruit preferred by ethnic groups that might work well for growers with smaller acreage around 20 to 40 acres. Take pummelos, for instance, which are preferred by Asians, Rouse says.
"Growers could plant a thousand acres [of pummelos], overwhelm the market and go broke. Or they could plant a few acres, hit the market and do very well," he says.
Once you know what market you want to hit, that provides the foundation for selecting specific varieties, each of which need to be considered thoroughly based on the aspects of the trees. Futch says orange trees aren't as vigorous as grapefruit trees, and flying dragon rootstock tends to produce a smaller tree.