Taking Care of a Tree for 54 years!

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Granby resident takes care of a tree for 54 years

By John R. Neib

For 54 years, Granby resident Dale Usko has nurtured a grapefruit tree, and that’s longer than she’s known her husband, James. “I’ve known my husband for 44 years,” she said, “the tree’s part of the package that came with me that he had to accept.”

When Usko was 12 years old, she planted a seed from the grapefruit she had for breakfast one morning, because she and fellow students were growing trees in science class. “My father also inspired me a little bit, he did a lot of gardening when I was younger,” said Usko. She was also a member of the 4-H Club in Bristol.

The tree has thrived wherever Usko has lived in Connecticut, and it currently resides happily on Dara Lane in North Granby. As a child, she sometimes neglected the tree. She would forget to water it, and it would dry out from being left in the hot sun for long periods of time. Even after an infestation of mealy bugs treated with pesticides, the tree flourished. Usko uses alcohol and water to spray the plant and houseplant fertilizer to keep it healthy. It is fed once a month, and receives two cups of water every two to three days. “It likes to be dry,” Usko said. Last year, tropical plant fertilizer was added to its care to help it survive for years to come.

Humidity, moisture and rain are good for the tree when it is outside. However, it is difficult for the tree to transition between inside and outside with the seasons. Outside temperatures must be over 40 degrees, and it must be placed in spots where it isn’t overly sunny during spring and summer. The tree stays inside during the autumn and winter months. In the winter, the tree doesn’t get as much direct sunlight. “I have this beautiful sunny exposure in my house with patio doors and skylight to provide the light that it needs especially in the winter months,” Usko said. Since the tree is in a small pot, it can be placed in front of a window when it is inside. “It really needs to be in Florida, where it would be happier,” Usko said.

The tree began producing fruit seven years ago, and this year was the first year that a grapefruit grew to a substantial size, about the size of an orange. When the grapefruits fall off the tree, they are mature. Currently, there are five mature grapefruits on the tree, which appear ready to be picked and enjoyed by the Uskos and their grandchildren.

The tree stands six feet tall, weighs about 85 pounds, and is a few inches in diameter around the trunk; small for a grapefruit tree meant to be 20 feet tall. When the tree blossoms, it produces fruit and “the blossoms are very fragrant,” Usko said. “It’s become kind of like a family member,” said Usko of her tree.