Sore spot for citrus | FLORIDA TODAY


Call it canker on steroids.

Citing ineffective quarantines and other stopgap measures, a new warning from agriculture officials tells homeowners to get rid of backyard citrus trees and stop planting them.

The goal: Stop "citrus greening," which experts say could devastate the state’s $9.3 billion citrus industry.

"It’s the enemy at the doorstep," said Bud Crisafulli of Crisafulli Enterprises, which operates groves on Merritt Island. "If you’re a citrus grower, you’ve got to be concerned about this."

The Asian citrus psyllid spreads the bacteria that causes greening to citrus stems and leaves. While growers stay on the lookout and immediately destroy infected trees, backyard trees often are left to deteriorate and continue the spread of the incurable disease.

Officials acknowledge that convincing people to abandon their orange, grapefruit, lemon and lime trees may be going out on a limb in the Sunshine State, given citrus’ deep roots in Florida culture.

"People are attached to their trees. People love their trees. But citrus greening is a disease that many people have yet faced," said Nolan Lemon, a spokesman with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. "Trees that would normally thrive 50 to 100 years, you’re looking at them dying within five to 12 years of infection."