Battling Citrus Greening Disease: Prevention, Symptoms, and Treatment

Milosh Potikj | October 17, 2023 | 8 MIN READ

Citrus greening disease is among the most formidable problems facing citrus growers and agriculture professionals today. Also known as Huanglongbing (HLB), this disease has devastated producers of oranges, grapefruits, lemons, limes, tangerines—and more.

With its wide range of symptoms that can devastate entire crops in months and no cure on the horizon, it's essential to stay informed about preventing and treating this serious issue before it takes hold.

In this blog post, we'll take a deep dive into what citrus greening disease is all about: from identifying the signs and treatments available to effective methods for prevention.

Identifying Citrus Greening Disease

Identifying Citrus Greening Disease

Recognizing the signs of citrus greening disease early on is the first vital step toward effective management. Affected trees typically exhibit symptoms that differentiate them from healthy ones. Let's identify these symptoms to equip citrus growers and individuals better to combat this devastating disease.

What is Citrus Greening Disease?

Citrus greening disease, or Huanglongbing (HLB) or yellow dragon disease, is a devastating bacterial disease primarily affecting citrus trees. This disease is caused by the bacterium Candidatus Liberibacter, which is spread by an insect vector, the Asian Citrus Psyllid. The disease manifests in various symptoms, including yellowing of the leaves, stunted growth of the tree, and reduced yield of fruit.

The fruit from infected trees is often misshapen, has a bitter taste, and is green - hence the name "Citrus Greening." The disease is incredibly destructive; once a tree is infected, it is usually fatal. Unfortunately, there is no known cure for citrus greening disease, making prevention and early detection important in the citrus industry.

The Symptoms

The Symptoms

  1. Yellowing of Leaves: One of the first signs of citrus greening is the yellowing of leaves. This is not a uniform yellowing but rather an asymmetrical blotchy pattern that only affects certain parts of the leaf.
  2. Stunted Growth: Citrus trees typically affected by HLB show noticeable stunted growth. The treetops might appear sparse and underdeveloped, and the tree's overall growth is hindered.
  3. Reduced Yield: Infected trees often produce a significantly lower quantity of fruits than healthy ones. This reduced yield directly results from the disease's impact on the tree's health.
  4. Misshapen Fruits: The fruits of an infected tree can also serve as an indicator of citrus greening disease. They are often misshapen, smaller than regular fruits, and may look lopsided.
  5. Bitter Taste: Fruits from a tree infected with citrus greening have a bitter, unpleasant taste, making them unsuitable for consumption.
  6. Green Color: Despite the maturity of the fruit, infected citrus often retains a green color, especially at the end opposite the stem. This is a hallmark sign of citrus greening disease.

Remember, early detection is key in managing this disease, as currently, there's no known cure. If you notice any of these symptoms in your citrus trees, it's essential to contact a citrus disease professional immediately.

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Understanding the Asian Citrus Psyllid

The Asian Citrus Psyllid (Diaphorina citri) is a tiny, sap-sucking insect that plays a pivotal role in the spread of citrus greening disease. Originating from Asia, this pest is now found in all citrus-producing regions across the globe. The Asian Citrus Psyllid feeds on the sap of citrus tree leaves and stems and, in the process, transmits the bacterium Candidatus Liberibacter asiaticus, which is responsible for the citrus greening disease.

Adult psyllids are small, approximately 4 mm long, and have a brownish color. They are usually found at a distinctive 45-degree angle relative to the plant surface. The females lay tiny yellow-orange eggs in the newly growing tips of citrus trees. The nymphs or juvenile psyllids are yellowish and do not move much. They are often found on the undersides of new leaves, feeding and producing a white, waxy substance.

It's important to note that all stages of the Asian Citrus Psyllid, from nymph to adult, can spread the disease. Therefore, controlling the population of this pest plays a significant role in fighting citrus greening disease. Growers should be proactive in monitoring and managing Asian Citrus Psyllid populations to reduce the potential for disease spread.

Prevention and Treatment of Citrus Greening Disease

Prevention and Treatment of Citrus Greening Disease

Prevention and treatment of citrus greening disease may seem challenging, but it can be manageable with the right tools and strategies. Let us explore these methods to help save your citrus trees from this fatal disease.

Methods of Prevention

  1. Regular Inspections: Conduct routine inspections of your citrus trees to spot early signs of the disease or the presence of the Asian Citrus Psyllid. Early detection is crucial for controlling the spread of the disease.
  2. Use Resistant Varieties: Planting citrus varieties resistant to the disease can be an effective preventive measure. Research is ongoing to develop more resistant varieties, and it's recommended to consult with local nurseries or agricultural extension services to understand which varieties are best for your area.
  3. Insecticide Application: Regular application of insecticides can help control the population of the Asian Citrus Psyllid. However, using these chemicals judiciously is important, as overuse can lead to insecticide resistance.
  4. Biological Control: Encouraging natural predators of the Asian Citrus Psyllid, like ladybugs and lacewings, can be a sustainable way to control the pest. In some areas, parasitic wasps have been released as a biological control method.
  5. Proper Sanitation: Ensure proper sanitation in your orchard by removing and properly disposing of infected trees to prevent the spread of the disease to healthy trees.
  6. Quarantine Measures: If you're in an area where citrus greening has been detected, follow local quarantine rules diligently. This often includes restrictions on moving citrus plants, fruits, and equipment in contact with infected trees.

Remember, prevention is the best form of defense against citrus greening disease. These practices allow growers to safeguard their citrus crops and ensure healthy and productive trees.

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Current Treatment Methods and the Role of Care

While there is currently no cure for citrus greening disease, there are treatment methods aimed at managing the disease and prolonging the productive lifespan of the infected trees. Here are some of the current treatment methods:

  1. Nutritional Supplements: Regular application of nutritional supplements can boost the tree's overall health, helping it withstand the disease for a longer period. These supplements typically contain essential macro and micronutrients that enhance the tree's vigor.
  2. Antibiotics: Certain antibiotics have shown promise in treating citrus greening disease in the laboratory. However, their field use is scrutinized due to potential public health and environmental concerns.
  3. Thermotherapy: This involves heating the entire tree or parts of the tree to a high temperature, which can kill the bacteria causing citrus greening disease. However, this method is labor-intensive, costly, and impractical for large commercial orchards.

The Role of Care in Treatment

Attentive care plays a significant role in managing citrus greening disease. Growers should frequently monitor their trees, looking for signs of the disease or the presence of the Asian Citrus Psyllid. Infected trees should be removed promptly to prevent disease spreading to healthy trees.

Proper watering and fertilization are also crucial. Trees must be watered according to the local climate and soil conditions to prevent water stress, while balanced fertilization can enhance tree health and immunity. Lastly, growers should regularly seek professional advice from local agricultural extension services to stay updated about the latest disease management strategies and treatments.

Impact on the Citrus Industry

Citrus greening disease has had a profound impact on the citrus industry worldwide. The disease, first reported in the United States in 2005, has since spread to all major citrus-producing areas, causing a significant decline in citrus production and affecting the livelihoods of thousands of growers. Losses in Florida alone, one of the key citrus-growing states, are estimated to be in the billions of dollars, with a significant decrease in citrus yields and high costs associated with disease management.

The disease also threatens the industry's future, limiting the availability of high-quality citrus fruits for consumers and putting pressure on juice industries that rely heavily on citrus produce. The impact extends beyond growers, affecting ancillary sectors like transport and export, causing a ripple effect on the broader economic landscape.

Efforts to combat citrus greening disease continue to be a top priority in the industry, with significant investment in research to develop disease-resistant citrus varieties, innovative treatment methods, and more effective prevention strategies. Despite the challenges posed by this disease, the citrus industry remains resilient, committed to overcoming this threat and ensuring the sustainability of citrus cultivation for future generations.

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Recommendations for Citrus Growers

Recommendations for Citrus Growers

In the face of citrus greening disease, it’s essential to adopt a comprehensive approach involving the management of infected trees, strategies for minimizing disease spread, and staying abreast of the latest research and developments. Let's delve deeper into these aspects:

  1. Dealing with Infected Trees: Once a tree is infected, its removal and proper disposal are crucial to prevent the disease from spreading to healthy trees. The tree should be uprooted entirely, ensuring no root remnants are left behind as these can potentially harbor the bacteria. The removed tree should be safely disposed of, following local agricultural guidelines, to avoid any risk of disease transmission.
  2. Strategies for Minimizing Disease Spread: Implementing strategic measures to minimize disease spread is paramount. These include regular inspections and early detection, the use of insecticides to control the Asian Citrus Psyllid, fostering natural predators, and adhering to local quarantine regulations. Growers should also consider diversifying plantings to reduce the reliance on susceptible citrus varieties.
  3. Research and Future Directions in Combating the Disease: Keeping up-to-date with the latest research and innovations in disease management can provide new avenues for combating citrus greening. This includes genetically modified citrus varieties that show resistance to the disease, the use of beneficial microbes to enhance tree health, and advanced techniques for early disease detection. Active participation in grower meetings, workshops, and seminars can also provide valuable insights into new developments and effective strategies for disease management.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you fight citrus greening?

Fighting citrus greening involves a multifaceted approach that includes proactive monitoring, application of nutritional supplements and possible use of antibiotics, and implementing strategies to prevent the spread of the disease. Maintaining good tree health, removing infected trees, and staying updated with the latest research developments in disease management are also crucial.

How can greening disease be prevented?

Preventing greening disease primarily involves strategies to limit the spread of the Asian Citrus Psyllid, the disease's primary vector. Regular tree inspections, targeted use of insecticides, fostering natural predators of the psyllid, and adhering to local quarantine regulations are all key aspects of prevention. It's also beneficial for growers to diversify their plantings with varieties that show resistance to the disease.

What are the symptoms of citrus greening?

Symptoms of citrus greening disease typically include yellowing of leaves, fruit drop, stunted growth, and lopsided, bitter-tasting fruit. It's important to note that symptoms might not appear until years after infection, making early detection challenging.

What antibiotics treat citrus greening?

Currently, two antibiotics, streptomycin and oxytetracycline, are being investigated for their potential effectiveness in treating citrus greening. While both have shown some promise in early studies, further research is needed to understand their long-term efficacy and full impact on the environment.


Citrus greening disease poses a considerable threat to the global citrus industry, impacting growers and a range of related sectors. With billions in revenue at stake and livelihoods on the line, we must continue to explore innovative solutions to combat this disease.

A multi-faceted approach, combining early detection, strategic prevention, diligent management of infected trees, and keeping abreast of the latest research developments, can help mitigate the impact of this disease.

Through resilience and continual investment in research and development, the industry can overcome this challenge and ensure the sustainable cultivation of citrus for generations to come.


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