Bloom is the most integral stage of the citrus life cycle. Long before the success of a fruit crop can be ensured, growers must be strategic about the care and protection of flowers in order to ensure a profitable season.

Some approaches to facilitating citrus bloom and yield happen long in advance of the actual season, requiring planning and log-keeping from the year (or years) prior. Other approaches can happen right in-season on the spot to help citrus bloom along. Though some approaches may seem small and ineffectual, all of them together— not overlooking any— can gear you up for the highest chances of the healthiest possible yields. The following are some approaches that any citrus grower can execute.

Irrigation approaches

During the course of any citrus tree’s lifetime, bloom is the most fragile and critical stage for economic success. The flowers themselves are incredibly fragile, vulnerable to high winds, cold, frost, disease, and even excessive water exposure –  from irregular irrigation.

Growers should be mindful of irrigation approaches during the citrus bloom season, especially if and when moisture contacts flowers. Excessive moisture can greatly increase disease risk to flowers and thus have impact on future yield loss, increasing the risk of fungal infections such as from Colletotrichum acutatum, known to be triggered or worsened by high humidity, moisture and temperature changes.

If overhead irrigation is the primary method— and moisture from these systems can contact citrus blooms— your irrigation professional might suggest keeping irrigation timed to mornings only on sunny, hot days to encourage natural evaporation off of citrus blossoms later in the day. This can greatly cut down on disease and loss. On a similar note, even during drought periods, avoid the temptation to over-irrigate to compensate. Excessive watering may also contribute to flower drop and loss.

While the negative effects aren’t severe, overhead irrigation systems in orchards could potentially have a stifling effect on bee activity during pollination as well, if implemented during the day. If droplet sizes are considerable— as found in larger setups— this may deter bees during their course of citrus pollination, potentially causing them to seek alternative food sources elsewhere. While the possible impact of discouraging bees won’t be critical, it is still something for growers to consider so they can optimize both yields and profits. 

Time overhead irrigation applications for periods when bees will not be present (typically before sunrise or after sunset.) Or, elect to rotate rounds of irrigation through pollinating orchards. That way, if bees seek alternative food sources, it is still within the confines of the citrus orchard and pollinating your crop. However, for many more reasons besides pollination, overhead systems are considered outdated and not the most efficient approach to irrigate orchard trees. To avoid these issues, amplify yields and keep water use efficient, elect for updated irrigation applications such as drip irrigation.

Fertilizer applications

Major plant nutrients are just as vital for citrus and blooms as they are for any other plant in any other growth stage. Nitrogen is always helpful, though the success of the flowering stage will lean more heavily on micronutrients— especially phosphorus, boron, potassium, and calcium. The latter is the most impactful on blossoms the closer they reach the fruiting stage.

A lack of these micros can lead to misshapen or diseased flowers, or even flower drop, fruiting issues and crop loss. Growers should be careful not to apply excess either, which can lead to the same issues. It’s recommended that growers keep track of fertilizer applications from year to year to avoid over-applying. For nutrition to reach the flowers in a direct way, foliar applications are absolutely necessary as any uptake of root fertilizers will not reach blossoms by the time they are ready to fruit.

Helping along pollination

Nothing else is more pivotal to the success of citrus bloom than bee pollination. While orchard growers tend to have no direct hand in the bee colonies, there are ways they can modify their operations and acreage in order to optimize apiary success, thus nudging up profits.

It goes without saying: greatly restrict pesticide applications during the height of bee pollination around citrus. Or, seek more bee-friendly alternatives to pest eradication. Even if utilizing organic-approved options, limit their application to times when bees are not active (before sunrise and after sunset.) This is not just limited to pesticide applications; some chemical fertilizer sprays — especially those to be applied directly to open blossoms — may negatively affect bees and interfere with their pollination attempts. Check any foliar spray for its potential effects on bees or spray during times of low bee activity when they have retreated to their hives.

A diversity of food sources as well as habitats for bees near orchards can also help support colony health and enhance the benefits of citrus pollination and thus yields further down the line. Avoid mowing nearby stands of flowers – both wild or cultivated — if they are also food sources for bees. These include but aren’t limited to dandelion, clover, aster, goldenrod and mustard. Also hold off on applying herbicides to these areas as well, which may not only eradicate wild food sources but also bring harm to the colonies.

Many small efforts on the part of citrus growers can add up to have greater impact, creating the best protections for your crop when in the middle of its most critical, vulnerable stage. These smaller decisions made along the way will add up, and give you the best chance at the best yields.

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