SUN CITY CENTER — Hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne in 2004 completely changed the State of Florida’s procedure for handling citrus canker.
Where once eradication of trees in areas neighboring a known cankerous tree was standard policy, it is no longer done that way.
“The hurricanes that year spread the bacteria that causes the disease all over the place so fast we have no idea where it might show up,” said Denise Feiber, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Agriculture’s Department of Plant Industry in Gainesville in a telephone interview last week. “Homeowners need to keep an eye on their own trees, and if they see something suspicious, report it themselves and have it checked.”
That’s what happened to Sun City Center resident Jeff Landis a few weeks ago.
Landis has owned his home for 10 years and planted three citrus trees six years ago.
Recently he noticed the knotty black spots associated with canker on his grapefruit. Yet his orange and lemon trees did not show any signs of a problem.
“I’ve been spraying with the copper (based solution) they recommend to prevent disease,” Landis said. “I don’t know why my other trees don’t have it. But they don’t.”
When he saw the markings on the grapefruit and that the fruit had hardened, he suspected canker and contacted JoAnn Hoffman at the Residential Horticulture Program of the Hillsborough County Extension Office in Seffner.
He sent photographs of his grapefruit with his note.
Hoffman wrote Landis back almost immediately saying she thought he was right in his diagnosis but to be sure, a canker specialist would need to confirm it and a Florida Department of Agriculture specialist would contact him soon.
“The 2004-2005 hurricanes spread the disease beyond any hope of containment, so there is no longer any eradication program in effect,” the letter said.
The eradication program that was in effect prior to that meant that every tree in the area surrounding a known canker case had to be removed.
The letter went on to say that an official inspection would be done soon.
“Any contact with the tree can spread the bacteria,” Hoffman told me. “But it is the homeowner’s decision now whether to remove it.”
Feiber said lawsuits arouse from a forced eradication of many trees and that was another reason for the change.
“The wind spreads it so we can’t tell where it is anyway,” Feiber said. “So we just don’t take out trees anymore.” Landis decided to remove his sick tree.
Some sources for help with this problem that Feiber suggested were the 2011 Florida Citrus Pest Management Guide for Citrus Canker found at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/cg040; www.freshfromflorida.com/pi, the Division of Plant Industry’s Web site; or the Helpline at (888) 397-1517. People may also go to http://solutionsforyourlife.ufl.edu/map/ which is the Extension Office’s Web site.