Edible Gardening

The History of Amateur Citrus Growing in America

By Darren Sherriff

Citrus Follows the Gold Rush to California
Citrus plantings were first being done in California by the Spanish missionaries; but the commercial industry didn’t really begin to grow until the 1849 Gold Rush boom. Those efforts to supply the miners from San Francisco with citrus fruit were extremely successful. However, because of the devastating freezes in 1894 and 1899, Satsuma trees were virtually wiped out in the Gulf States. Thousands of acres of Satsuma orange trees were wiped out in Alabama, Texas, and Louisiana in the hard freeze of 1916. This too, helped the California industry thrive as growers moved their planting westward.

Gardeners Take to Growing Their Own Citrus
There is not a lot of information on when people started growing citrus trees themselves in private gardens or landscapes. Like all other produce, it is better when you grow it and pick it yourself. People have been gardening for themselves for centuries, so why not citrus? Many seasonal and year-round residents figure life in Florida should include a citrus tree in the yard. To some, it’s part of Florida’s heritage and culture. They want citrus trees in the home landscape to enjoy their dark, evergreen foliage, fragrant blossoms and colorful, delicious fruit.

Citrus Greening Travels North
Outside of the citrus belt, there are many, many stories of people growing their own grapefruit and limes, in containers. This author has even written a book on that very subject. There are folks in Canada growing Meyer Lemons, people in Virginia growing all kinds of tangerines; there are even a few people in Michigan giving it a go and having some success. Charleston, SC has endured a few extremely cold winters; there are records of it dropping down to 1 degree Fahrenheit. Yet, back in 2009 when citrus greening reared its ugly head and USDA started inspecting trees for the disease by literally going door to door, they found 3,033 citrus trees in Charleston County alone! Growing both in ground and in containers.

State of Florida Rankles Amatuers Growers Over Citrus Canker Disease
The Florida amateur growers have had some issues to contend with recently. Back in 2000, Florida state agriculture inspectors sent crews out with chainsaws to cut down hundreds, if not thousands, of orange, tangerine, grapefruit and key lime trees on private property— even if they didn’t show any signs of Citrus Canker. State officials continue to say that the private property takings served a greater public interest, and that those who lost their citrus trees were already compensated under statewide settlements. That debate is still being argued in court. Richard Gaskalla, former director of the state Division of Plant Industry, has said that the orange was featured on the Florida license plate. “It’s the iconic crop,” he said. “It’s an important part of our life-support system.” He was talking about both the dooryard citrus as well as the state’s leading economic industry.

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