The Farm Doctor Comes for a Visit

A couple weeks ago I hired The Farm Doctor, a UF plant pathologist who specializes in fruit trees, to come out to my house. I was feeling a bit overwhelmed with all the fruit trees so I decided to hire a professional to diagnose the various ailments around the property and help me come up with an organic treatment and fertilization plan. I had been pondering this for a while but the sudden death of one of my largest pomegranates motivated me to do it sooner rather then later.

orange tree

In two hours she inspected every single fruit tree on the property, took samples, and diagnosed a bunch of diseases and problems on the spot. We talked quite a bit about pruning (which I am not doing very well) and fertilizing (which I am also not doing very well). I was happy when she suggested Joe Floyd for pruning help, he’s the guy who came out and pruned the citrus trees two years ago and he did a great job. We just let his work go to hell because I didn’t know that when you *start* pruning fruit trees, you have to *continue* pruning them every year, sometimes even twice a year. You can’t prune citrus trees once and then stop. That’s why some trees produced too many fruit and some trees didn’t produce much fruit at all.

There’s a serious lesson here. Having fruit trees ain’t cheap. Most fruit trees, especially variety citrus, need to be thought of more like a delicate pet than a wild animal. They need to be fed, watered, and cared for. If they’re left outside with no care then they’re going to get sick and die. The fruit won’t taste good or will be diseased. We have to fertilize, control pests, and prune. Our landlady paid $800 for the initial pruning but I’m not sure if she’ll pay that again. The pruning really must be done once or even twice a year and I have something like 20 fruit trees now- and some of them are 20 ft tall. Do we try and do the pruning ourselves? Do we pay someone else to do it and budget it as a household expense? We have to choose, and soon.

chinese tangerine before tx

The trees in worst shape were both citrus trees- the Chinese tangerine and the navel orange. She gave me a real talking-to about that navel tree and frankly I deserved it. It’s in really crappy shape. Then she looked at the Chinese tangerine, which has been struggling for years and is one of the only trees I’ve been fertilizing, and she said the words that strike terror in the hearts of all orange growers- “I think you have citrus greening disease”. I actually started to cry. She told us to take samples and take them to the plant pathology lab at the Division of Plant Industry for a positive ID. My mom took the sample a few days later and thankfully it was NOT Huanglongbing (Citrus Greening) disease, but a severe mineral deficiency.

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Finally was the pomegranate tree that had very suddenly died. I mean VERY suddenly, like over the course of a week. We dug around in the ground for clues and then cut through the branches near the base. There were dark streaks running all through the middle of each branch- clear sign of a lethal fungal infection. We dug out the root ball and crown to also take to the plant pathology lab. She cautioned me to burn the rest of the tree and the rose bush next to it, which had also died on the same side as the tree like it was cut down the middle. Plant pathology lab came back and said it was armillaria- honey mushrooms. Now, this is a mixed blessing. Honey mushrooms are one of the few edible mushrooms around here that taste good. So it’s bad that they killed a pomegranate tree, but that pom had never even attempted to bloom so maybe I am trading a non-food-producing pom tree for edible mushrooms. We decided to re-bury the infected crown, dump wood chips over the whole thing, and see if we can get the fungus to fruit.

If you need help with your trees, especially if you think your trees have something going on other than just pest damage, I suggest hiring Joyce Merritt, The Farm Doctor. She taught me a huge amount in a small amount of time and her help getting me on a schedule to care for all of these trees was worth every penny.

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