Researchers at the Texas A&M Citrus Research Center in Weslaco are warning that the Texas citrus industry will not be able to stop the spread of Huanglongbing (HLB), or citrus greening disease, unless homeowners across the Rio Grande Valley are made aware of the risks to citrus trees and citrus ornamentals in their yards and gardens.

Heidi Arteaga, the Texas AgriLife Citrus Greening Project Coordinator for the Valley and Citrus Greening Project Director at Texas A&M Kingsville Citrus Research Center, says while Valley citrus growers have done and continue to do a lot to curb the spread of the disease in commercial groves, infected trees recently discovered in the backyards of residential homes could pose a problem to curb the spread of the disease.

Emergency quarantine for citrus greening

"A lot of homeowners aren’t aware of the risk involved in having citrus trees on their properties, which is why we need a lot of community meetings to get the word out, in particular during the ‘Winter Texan’ season, to educate people about citrus greening and control," says Arteaga. "We provide the public with a list of treatment methods and advice on which pesticides are recommended by the Extension service. We also work with homeowners to introduce a colony of predator wasps that can help to manage the psyllids that spread the disease."

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HLB is a bacterial plant disease that is not harmful to humans or animals but is fatal for citrus trees. The disease destroys the production, appearance and economic value of citrus trees. Diseased trees produce bitter, hard, misshapen fruit over time and the tree will die within a few years of being infected if not removed immediately. Each female psyllid, the insect that carries the disease, can lay up to 800 eggs and some trees have been found infested with over 40,000 psyllid.

Because it may take years before there are visible signs of the bacterial infection on the tree, the disease has ample time to spread. Infected trees die within 3 to 5 years in most cases. Because it takes several years before newly planted replacement trees can produce the volume of fruit needed to be profitable, the disease could devastate Texas groves and jeopardize the $200 million plus positive economic impact created by the industry.