Citrus cheer: Experts offer tips to homegrown fruit lovers in Destin

Laura Hall, Gardens with Annie
Peggy Deboever thinks this will be a good start for her orange marmalade.

My visit with Ray and Peggy Deboever of Destin begins with a look at their collection of fruit trees. Thirty years ago, the Deboevers moved here from Minnesota. Ray had farmed soybeans, wheat and corn on 2,400 acres so their small plot of ground here had to produce plenty to make Ray happy. 

Starting about 25 years ago, they began growing fruit trees in the backyard including Bartlett pears, peaches, satsumas, oranges, Meyer lemons, three loquat trees, Bruce plums and grape vines.  They chose trees with fruit that ripens over a wide range of months. Peggy happily reports they receive fresh fruit and orange juice eight months out of the year and usually have such an abundant crop they are able to share their fruits with neighbors.

The Deboevers have 18 or so fruit trees.  One of the most prolific bearers is the Hamlin which is an early juice orange, maturing fall into winter.  Ray states, “One of my favorites is the red navel orange which is characterized by a red blush in the flesh and is sugar sweet.”

I ask Peggy what she likes about such an abundant orange crop and she says, “Orange marmalade is Ray’s favorite so I try to make plenty of it for him and Christmas gifts.” 

Peggy’s marmalade recipe starts with fresh fruit from the tree and Sure Jell fruit pectin.

“I follow the directions in the package but always add a bit more orange than the directions calls for.” 

After my visit with the Deboevers, I decide to contact Larry Williams, the Okaloosa County Extension Director at 689-5850. 

I have several worrisome questions, and his reply rewards me with lots of citrus cheer. 

Larry eases my fears of the citrus canker, an infection causing lesions on leaves, stems and fruits of lime, orange or grapefruit. He also tells me I don’t need to lose any sleep over the problem called citrus greening.  Not yet anyway.  This citrus greening is a bacterial disease that causes fruit to drop from the tree before ripening. To date, Okaloosa County has never had a confirmed case of either.

I ask Larry what would be his advice for people wanting to plant citrus trees in Destin. 

“First of all, I suggest you do your homework. We have many cold hardy fruits that do well here. For cold hardiness I rate the kumquat the best, followed by Meyer’s Lemon, grapefruit and then the sweet oranges.  Most of the citrus you see growing above the ground here have been grafted onto the very bitter, but cold hardy root stock of the Trifoliate orange.”

Year after year, under my own citrus, I question to mulch or not; so, I ask Larry for his guidance.

 He said, “It’s OK to use mulch around your citrus tree; but, do not let it touch the trunk, which could cause the bark to rot.  After all, if you think about the dark, damp conditions mulch causes, it eventually will suffocate the vascular system of the trunk.” 

After this you can kiss your tree goodbye. 

Mulch depth should be no more than 2 to 3 feet deep, after settling, as deeper mulching could reduce the amount of oxygen going to the roots of your tree, meaning it will be desperately gasping for the air of life.

I thought a long time before putting this in print so please read carefully. 

Larry assures me that if you have weeds that continue to sprout under your citrus trees, you can, with care, give these weeds a medium spray of good ole Roundup as this causes no activity in the soil.  However, do NOT allow any of this spray to drift onto any green tissue of non-target.  The best idea is to spray early morning or late afternoon when it is less windy.

If I’m not on Peggy’s Christmas marmalade list you might see me on the Sure Jell aisle at Publix.  Merry citrus to all and to all good cooking. May your new year bear much fruit!

Laura Hall is a longtime gardener and Destin resident.  She explores area gardens and other local topics with her cavalier spaniel Annie.  If you would like to show off your garden or be profiled on a future column, contact Laura at

Citrus and the cold

As temps approach the upper teens in Destin late Monday, Master Gardener Larry Williams advises residents to put a citrus protection plan in place, adding that Destin citrus and fruit trees should fare better than other points in Northwest Florida.

“You are fortunate there. You got two bodies of water, the bay and the Gulf, that help moderate colder temperatures,” he said, adding that generally the fruit won’t be damaged until temps dip below the lower 20s for sustained periods of time.

Williams advises that young citrus trees are more vulnerable, but are easier to cover. He recommends using cloth and removing it after the cold snap since plastic sheeting traps the heat of the sun, which could damage the plant more long-term than the freeze.

For more tips on how to protect your fruit trees, click here.

- William Hatfield