The importance of soil health for HLB

The importance of soil health for citrus trees facing citrus greening cannot be denied. Prior to citrus greening’s arrival in the Sunshine State in 2005, citrus growers were one with Florida’s sandy  soils and three-a-year fertilizer applications. Then, citrus greening, or HLB, hit.

Growers soon found that citrus greening has huge negative impacts on the root health of a citrus tree, causing a massive reduction in root mass. Because of this, the tree is unable to adequately take up water and nutrients, fruit production suffers, and the weakened tree eventually succumbs to the disease. Today, most growers remove infected trees once production starts to falter.

In all the research efforts being conducted to and a cure or treatment that will combat the negative effect of citrus greening focus on soil health, and precision fertilization has shown to have many benefits. For instance, a UF/IFAS Extension-organized citrus soil health field day in December 2019 focused on the efforts of two Central Florida growers who found success in rejuvenating groves that were “almost dead” when the growers paid attention to soil health. One grower found success with “spoon feeding” nutrients, focusing on soil health, and utilizing cover crops, and he reported 300 boxes per acre growing Hamlins. The second grower had success using compost to amend the soil with organic matter.

A UF/IFAS researcher is currently conducting research on cover crops and compost to get to the root of the growers/ successes and to formulate recommendations for growers. Similarly, an Ohio-based agricultural company, Locus Agricultural Solutions, which focuses on science-based solutions for productivity—including soil microbial health—conducted field trials in Florida on 700 acres of citrus trees using the patented highly concentrated soil amendment made of a microbial blend. Their trials concluded that the soil amendment led to an 80% increase in feeder root mass, an increased canopy density, and larger fruit size. In the era of growing citrus infected by citrus greening, paying attention to soil health is a must.

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