Central Florida's Agri-Leader
If you have fruit trees in your yard, you may have noticed the arrival of new growth in late spring. As we move into the warm summer months, fruit will begin to size up and develop a nice flavor.
However, summer is prime time for damaging pests, diseases and weather-related issues in central Florida. Regular monitoring is the key to keeping your fruit trees in the best condition to produce delicious fruit. Experts recommend checking your fruit trees weekly for signs of insect damage.
In central Florida, there are a variety of insects that feed on the fruit and foliage of fruit trees. Aphids are tiny, soft-bodied insects that typically affix themselves to the undersides of plant leaves where they extract plant juices. These pests are especially damaging to citrus trees, according to the University of Florida, IFAS Extension.
Most aphids are green, gray, reddish-brown or black. Aphids damage fruit trees by feeding on tender, young growth and causing leaf distortion. Fruit trees infested with aphids may also develop sooty mold, which comes from the excretion of a sticky substance known as honeydew. This substance can cause diminished crop quality and reduces leaf production.
Whiteflies are another type of insect often found on fruit trees that also cause sooty mold. These winged insects are very small and have a powdery appearance. Both aphids and whiteflies are especially damaging to citrus trees such as lemon, tangerine and orange.
In addition to aphids and whiteflies, you must also be on the look out for scales. Fruit trees infested with scales may have sooty mold, reduced vigor, dieback and poor quality fruit. In central Florida, the soft brown scale, the Florida wax scale and the purple scale, are most common.
If you find signs of damaging insects, it is important to treat trees quickly to avoid extensive damage. By monitoring your trees weekly, you can provide treatment before insect populations grow out of control.
Diseases can also affect the growth and production of your fruit trees. It is important to watch for signs of disease, as many can spread quickly to other trees in your yard. Citrus greening is a bacterial disease that experts fear will be a real problem this year. According to experts at the University of Florida, citrus greening has caused over $3 billion in losses to citrus growers since 2006.
This disease is spread by Asian citrus psyllids which can kill citrus and other types of fruit trees. Citrus greening symptoms include yellow leaves, leaf drop that eventually spread throughout the entire tree. It also ruins the taste of the fruit, making it inedible.
There is no known cure for this disease and infected trees should be removed to avoid spreading. During the rainy season, soil-borne diseases such as foot rot can be problematic. This disease is most common in areas with poor drainage and causes feeder roots near the soil surface to decompose. Fungicides are available to control foot rot and many other fungal diseases that occur in central Florida.
Weeds must be controlled during the late spring and summer months, as they provide damaging insects with the shelter they need to survive. Placing a three-inch layer of mulch around the base of fruit trees will keep help keep weeds at bay.
Two of the best mulches in the home landscape setting are bark mulch or pine straw. In addition to insect control, mulch will keep the soil moist for longer periods of time and provide important organic nutrients to the soil. Avoid injuring your tree while mowing, as trunk wounds give pests and bacteria access to the tree, making it susceptible to damage.
Summer time is a great time to thin the fruit on your trees. A healthy fruit tree often produces more fruit than it can support. Thinning fruit will reduce insect infestations and prevent branch breakage that comes with a heavy fruit load. It is best to thin your trees after the early summer fruit drop. Thin the smallest fruits on the upper portions of the tree, leaving the largest fruits. Your fruit trees can also benefit from a bit of summer pruning. While most pruning is done during the dormant winter months, you can lightly prune in the early summer to eliminate dead or diseased branches.