As we move through Thanksgiving and into Christmas, the holiday season brings with it a desire to share the bounty that is American agriculture, and what's more exciting than showing up for a holiday meal with a bag of fresh citrus you just picked from the back-yard tree.
For California residents that's not only strongly discouraged but can violate state and federal quarantine laws as Huanglongbing, or citrus greening disease, continues to spread throughout southern California.
Citrus has a long history in California. It's fascinating to look at some of the old automobile club photographs taken between Los Angeles and Pasadena in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, for instance, and see citrus trees everywhere. Orange County, Calif. is aptly named for its fruitful roots. Even today a tree that grows oranges, limes, lemons or kumquats is as much a cultural icon as it is a source of tasty, healthy fruit.
We now know that the spread of HLB and the Asian citrus psyllid, the tiny insect that caries the disease, has spread along California's major transportation corridors from San Diego to San Francisco because people have done just that – transport fresh fruit with their leaves and stems to locations hundreds of miles away and inadvertently transporting the tiny insect now found in just about every California county south of Sacramento.
A homeowner in the suburban Sacramento town of Lincoln was cited a couple years ago by local agricultural officials after a potted citrus tree she brought with her from southern California still had the quarantine tag on it, along with a breeding population of ACP.
While our local grocery store bins are the best place to get clean, disease-free fruit, those wishing to grow their own citrus at home to enjoy in season can still do so. Just be sure to buy your citrus trees from a reputable, licensed nursery and don’t fall for the potentially cheaper prices at the local flea market or neighborhood vendor.
Perhaps a good practice for those wishing to plant a citrus tree or two at home (or any agricultural commodity for that matter) would also be to do a little research on what grows well where you live and combine that with what you know you'll consume at home. Local Cooperative Extension offices can be a good source of information for homeowners planting pretty much anything in their yard, especially fruits and vegetables.
Nevertheless, in this time of year when it might be nice to grab a bag of fresh lemons or oranges from the back-yard tree to take to grandmother's house, unless she lives next door, your best bet is to leave it at home and enjoy it there.