By: Becca Badgett, Co-author of How to Grow an EMERGENCY Garden
Learning how to grow an orange tree is a worthwhile project for the home gardener, especially when your growing orange trees begin producing fruit. Orange tree care is not complicated. Following a few basic steps when taking care of an orange tree will keep your tree healthy and possibly increase fruit production.
How to Grow an Orange Tree
If you’ve not planted an orange tree yet, but are thinking of growing one, you may be thinking of starting one from orange tree seeds. Some orange varieties may come true from seeds, but most often commercial growers use trees that are grafted through a process called budding.
Seed grown trees often have a short lifespan, as they are susceptible to foot and root rot. If seed grown trees survive, they do not produce fruit until maturity, which can take up to 15 years.
Consequently, growing seedlings are best used as the scion of a graft union between them and a rootstock that tolerates adverse growing conditions. Fruit is produced from the scion and develops more quickly on grafted trees than on trees grown from orange tree seeds. In areas where oranges grow, local nurseries may be the best place to purchase a grafted tree.
Taking Care of an Orange Tree
If you are taking care of an orange tree that is already established, you may have questions about three important aspects of orange tree care: fertilizing, watering, and pruning.
- Water– Water needed for growing orange trees varies by climate and yearly rainfall totals, but as a rule of thumb, orange tree care involves regular watering in spring to prevent wilting and withholding of irrigation in fall. When taking care of an orange tree, remember that water lowers the solid content of the fruit. Depth of planting also affects how much water you provide during orange tree care. Growing orange trees usually need between 1 and 1 ½ inches (2.5-4 cm.) of water per week.
- Fertilization– Fertilization of growing orange trees depends on the use of the fruit. Extra nitrogen fertilizer results in more oil in the peel. Potassium fertilizer decreases oil in the peel. For high productivity of edible oranges, 1 to 2 pounds (0.5-1 kg.) of nitrogen should be applied yearly to each tree. Fertilizer should include potassium and phosphorus as well as a range of micro-nutrients. If your older orange tree does not produce fruit in abundance, take a soil test of the area where growing orange trees reside to determine what fertilizer ratio is needed. Additional fertilization is often applied by spraying the leaves of the tree once or twice a year.
- Pruning– Pruning the orange tree for shape is not necessary. However, you should remove any branches that are a foot (31 cm.) or less from the ground. In addition, remove damaged or dying branches once they are noticed.
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Basic Indoor Orange Tree Care
Imagine inhaling the scent of orange blossoms and gazing on colorful, home-grown oranges all year long, even if your outdoor space is limited to a patio or deck. With a bit of effort, you can grow oranges in your home. All it takes is the right tree, container and care. For the basics you need to grow an indoor orange tree, continue reading.
‘Trovita’ Navel Orange
While nearly any sweet orange tree will tolerate container life for a while, most are much happier in the ground. The cultivar best adapted to life indoors is the dwarf navel ‘Trovita’ (Citrus sinensis ‘Trovita’). It boasts fragrant spring flowers, glossy evergreen leaves and dainty, sweet winter fruit,
Hardy in USDA zones 8 to 11,’Trovita’ reaches just 7 to 10 feet high. To keep it smaller indoors, trim its roots periodically.
Start your indoor orange tree in a 24-inch pot or half whiskey barrel. Drill drainage holes in the base of pot if necessary. Place the pot on a heavy-duty plant trolley so you can move it as needed.
Planting the Tree
Things You’ll Need
- Plant saucer large enough to fit beneath your container
- Citrus potting mix
Set the container and its saucer on the plant trolley. Spread a layer of gravel over the container’s bottom, followed by a 4-inch layer of citrus potting mix. Gently spread the tree’s roots over the soil.
Add more soil, tamping lightly to eliminate air pockets, until it’s within 1/2 inch of the rim. Water to settle the soil, let the pot drain, empty the saucer and repeat.
Indoor Orange Tree Care
Sunlight and Temperature
An indoor orange tree needs eight to 12 hours of direct daily sun like it would get in a large, south-facing window. If you have a sunny outdoor spot, it can go outside when the nighttime temperature is consistently above 55°F. Indoors, it will do best at 65° (18.3°C) during the day and 55° to 60° (12.7° to 15.5°C) at night.
Expert gardener’s tips:
- When you put it outdoors, gradually move the tree from filtered to direct sun so its new leaves can adjust.
- No outdoor space? Open a window during warm weather to improve the air circulation around your tree.
To meet your orange tree’s nutrient requirements without burning its roots, give it a slow-release organic, granular 2-1-1 fertilizer. It also needs the trace minerals:
- liquid potassium silicate
Fertilize at the labels’ recommended rates for container plants.
Water your tree slowly and deeply whenever the soil feels dry but the rootball remains slightly moist. To prevent root rot, empty the drainage saucer right away.
Oranges (Citrus sinensis)
Just imagine growing your own delicious oranges, picked straight from the tree and eaten as fresh as is imaginable. Is it possible in Britain? The answer is yes!
Oranges are a variety of Citrus, which grow on attractive, ornamental evergreen trees, usually reaching a height of up to 1.8m (6ft). They are not reliably cold hardy in Britain, so are best grown outside in containers from late spring/early summer to the beginning of autumn, and then brought inside for the winter.
Orange trees produce lovely, white, fragrant flowers that appear all year round, but more profusely during late winter. The fruit ripens around 12 months later, so they may be in flower and fruit at the same time. They are self-fertile, so you will only need to grow one tree to get fruit.
They don’t make great houseplants, as they need plenty of light and most rooms – apart from a conservatory – aren’t really light enough or suitable. They dislike central heating, as this makes rooms too hot and stuffy with a lack of essential humidity.
Other citrus you can grow at home include lemons and limes.
How to grow oranges
Orange trees need a warm, sunny, sheltered position outdoors in summer (mainly from early to mid-June until the end of August in most parts of Britain) and a well-lit position indoors for autumn, winter and spring – preferably a cool greenhouse or conservatory.
They ideally need a minimum temperature of 10-13°C (50-55°F) temperatures below 7°C (45°F) can severely damage or even kill the plants.
Keep some horticultural fleece to hand to protect plants if sudden cold nights below the minimum temperatures occur.
They are best grown in large, heavy containers using John Innes No.3 compost or a proprietary citrus compost.
Most suppliers just sell un-named ‘orange trees’, but you can buy specific varieties from specialist citrus nurseries, such as The Citrus Centre.
Calamondin oranges are widely available and can be grown as small, fruiting trees.
How to care for oranges
Oranges are best bought in spring or early summer, giving them time to acclimatise to your conditions before the onset of autumn.
Water plants freely in summer, but never allow the pot to stand in water. Water more moderately from autumn to spring, allowing the compost surface to partially dry out between watering. Overwatering in winter is one of the commonest problems. Citrus don’t like very alkaline conditions, so use rainwater or de-ionised water if your tap water is very limey (hard). And, as they don’t like cold conditions and cold shocks to the roots, always use tepid water.
Mist the leaves in early morning in summer. Indoors, stand pots on trays of moist hydroleca or Hortag to help increase humidity. Mist plants regularly in winter to help ensure good pollination and fruit set.
All citrus are hungry plants and need good feeding. Use a high-nitrogen liquid feed plus trace elements from March-July. Then change to a balanced feed with trace elements until October. Specialist citrus feeds are a good choice and are available from garden centres selling citrus plants.
Oranges don’t need much pruning, but can be reshaped if necessary in late winter by thinning out overcrowded branches. At the same time tall stems can be cut back to encourage more bushy growth lower down. Tall, leggy plants can be pruned back by up to two-thirds into strong, leafy growth.
Throughout summer, pinch back the tips of vigorous growth with thumb and forefinger to encourage bushy growth and more flowers.
When pruning, be careful to avoid their vicious thorns.
Small trees up to 90cm (3ft) high may need fruit thinning to reduce the number of fruit to no more than 20.
If plants need repotting into a larger container, this is best done in spring. But only repot when they outgrow their current container.
In years when repotting is not necessary, remove the top 2.5-5cm (1-2in) of compost and replace it with fresh John Innes No.3 compost or citrus compost.
The fruit develops a rich skin colour when fully grown and ready to pick, but it can also be left on the tree for longer if necessary.
Citrus can succumb to the following problems…
- Leaf yellowing: excessively wet or dry compost low temperatures draughts lack of nutrients.
- Leaf fall: low temperatures draughts, high temperatures in winter overwatering.
- Flower failure: poor/low light levels, lack of nutrients erratic watering low temperatures.
- Poor fruit set: dry compost low humidity.
Mandarin Orange Tree Maintenance
Mandarin orange trees are low-maintenance. You don't have to spend a lot of time pruning and caring for them. But they may need some help in those chilly winter months.
Follow these 3 simple tips and you can start growing mandarin oranges.
1. General Care for Mandarin Plants
At least three feet around the tree you need to make sure there are no weeds, grass or mulch. This is because mandarin trees are susceptible to tree rot.
You don't need to prune your mandarin tree until it's more than three years old. Only remove dead or diseased limbs. After a hard winter, you may need to cut back frost-damaged branches.
As the tree grows, you may also need to provide support for the branches. Because mandarin trees tend to grow in an erect shape, the branches may droop and even break. Prop them up with boards or poles to keep them upright.
2. Make Sure it's Fed and Watered
You need to water mandarin plants a few times a month. In dry climates, you should water the mandarin tree once or twice a week.
When your tree is in its early stages, build a "watering ring" around the tree to help keep it hydrated. This should be about 2 feet across and 3-4 inches deep. Slowly fill the water ring slowly and allow the young tree to soak up the water.
But, when building a water basin, do not remove the soil directly around the tree. This could cause foot rot and other diseases.
Use fertilizer three times year. February, May, and September.
For young mandarin trees, use one cup of fertilizer. In the second year, use two cups, then in the third year, use three cups. From the fourth year onwards use only one cup per year.
Keep Your Mandarin Tree Cozy
Mandarin trees are the most cold-tolerant of all the citrus trees. This means they can make it through harsh winters. But they may need a little help.
Make sure you plant your tree on the southeast or south side of a building. According to research, this is the best place for a citrus tree. The plant is more likely to survive and thrive.
Protect your mandarin tree from frost by wrapping a blanket or tarp around it overnight. If the weather is unusually harsh you could use a portable heater to give it some warmth. Or create a frame around three trees, drape a tarp and hang in a lightbulb.
If the weather warms up in the day take off the cover to let it breathe.
Clementine Tree Care Guide
Light and Temperature
Clementine trees require full sun to grow the best fruit. If growing indoors, place the pot in the brightest location or supplement the tree with a grow light. Clementine trees can tolerate partial shade, but they won’t produce fruit without full sun.
This citrus tree can handle temperatures as low as 20 degrees fahrenheit. Having said that, long exposure to frost can cause damage to the tree’s roots as these trees are accustomed to Mediterranean climate.
Temperatures above 50 degrees F are ideal for producing the best clementines. In extreme heat conditions, protect the tree from sunburn by misting it regularly.
Watering and Humidity
Keep the soil consistently moist but not waterlogged. To do this, water the top inch of the soil and wait until it dries out before watering again. As a rule of thumb, water the tree once a week. If you have just planted the clementine tree outdoors or in a pot, water it up to 3 times a year during its first year.
Clementine trees don’t tolerate soggy soil so keep an eye out on the pot’s drainage and empty the excess water from the container’s tray often.
Clementine trees are grown in Mediterranean and tropical climates so they can tolerate high humidity. If growing indoors, keep them away from radiators and other heating sources as they can dry out the plant. Use a humidifier or fill the tray with pebbles and water to create humidity around the citrus plant.
When grown outdoors, your clementine tree needs slightly acidic, sandy soil to thrive. The soil must be well-draining without any puddling. And if the soil needs improvement, mix in some perlite.
The best way to determine the soil’s nutrient deficiencies is by using a home-testing kit. This way, you’ll find out whether the soil’s acidity is balanced or not. Commercial soil acidifiers will bring your soil’s pH levels back to normal.
While neutral soils are also suitable for growing clementine trees, the fruit will often taste sweeter than if it were grown in a slightly acidic soil.
If grown indoors, use a specially formulated citrus soil that’s well-draining and loamy.
Feed your clementine tree every other month throughout the year. These citrus trees don’t go dormant during the cold season so you will need to fertilize them at least 3 times in spring and again in fall. Apply a slow-release fertilizer that’s specifically designed for citrus fruits.
You may be wondering how to grow a clementine plant from seed if the fruit is seedless? The good news is, clementines can be propagated by grafting. The process involves taking an existing tree’s bud and grafting it onto a rootstock.
Follow these steps to successfully propagate a clementine tree:
Step 1. Begin by using a sterilized shear to cut through the rootstock’s bark in the shape of an upside down T. Take care so as not to cut in a crooked angle. It should be in a straight part of the trunk, around 4-6 inches from the base. Next, make an additional cut in a vertical shape and a horizontal cut about 1 inch in length. The idea is to cut through the tree’s bark without going further into the wood’s surface.
Step 2. Now cut a green stem from the tree you want to propagate measuring about 1 diameter.
Step 3. Slice the bud from the clementine stem using a sterilized budding knife. Make sure the cut is straight and from the back of the bark. The knife’s blade should be placed flat against the stem so you can take a thin slice of the bark from the above and below the bud.
Step 4. Now slice up the bud in a T shape cut. Place the tip of the bud in the up position just like it was on the original tree. The sliced bud should rest inside the bark on the rootstock with its tip pointing out.
Step 5. Wrap the grafted area with budding tape starting from below the incision. Continue wrapping the area around the trunk to cover the entire incision. This helps keep the bud firmly in place.
Step 6. After two weeks, remove the budding tape. If the bud is still green, your graft has been successful.
Step 7. To encourage the bud to grow, bend the top of the rootstock and tie it to the base of its trunk. If it doesn’t bend, cut halfway through the stem several inches above the graft. The new bud will be stimulated to grow on the rootstock while further buds will also begin to sprout.
Step 8. When planting your propagated rootstock in the ground or in a pot, insert a wooden stick loosely in the soil adjacent to the trunk and tie the bud to the stick as it grows. The wooden stick should be about 2 feet taller above the soil.
Step 9. After the new, grafted trunk has grown to the same height as the wooden stick, cut the rootstock’s trunk just above the grafted bud to ensure optimal growth. Within 2-3 years, your propagated plant will mature into a full-size clementine tree that produces fruit.
By following the above propagation tips, and with some patience, you will soon reap into the rewards of your hard work with tasty, sweet clementines!
Planting in the Ground
Dig a hole in the sunniest part of your garden. Make sure the depth is 20-40% more than the current root ball of your tree. Add some organic matter in the hole, including dried leaves and hummus before mixing it with garden soil. Loosely place the tree inside the hole and cover it with more soil. Add a layer of mulch around the tree to keep the soil moist and make sure you water it deeply for the next two weeks.
Tip: if the newly planted clementine tree isn’t very stable, it may eventually fall. Add support using a stick or bamboo so that the tree can grow upwards.
Pruning a citrus tree is just as important as a regular haircut in order to keep it healthy and in shape. You can prune your tree any time of the year, but it is generally recommended to trim the overgrown branches during the end of winter or early spring.
You will need a clean shear to prune your tree. Look for overgrown branches that are obstructing walkways, dying twigs or any crossing ones in the center of the tree.
When pruning, don’t cut any more than one third of the plant at any one time. Additionally, don’t remove any flowering or fruiting branches. Otherwise your tree won’t produce fruit the following year.
Clementine trees produce white blossoms in the spring before their fruit starts growing. The clementines will ripen towards mid-November when the skin turns orange. If you notice the skin or the stem is still green, wait a little longer before harvesting.
Yellow leaves: this is a common yet solvable problem that is usually caused by lack of sunlight. To solve, move the tree’s location and thin out the yellowing leaves so the sun can reach the canopy.
Cold temperatures: when clementine trees are exposed to cold temperatures for long periods, they may not produce fruit. This can be prevented by moving them indoors and placing the potted plant in a sunny location.
Leaf drop: overwatering can lead to leaf drop. Check the soil to see if it’s draining water adequately and reduce your watering schedule to once per week only.
Pests and Diseases
Fruit flies: these are the most common pests you’re likely to encounter on your clementines. Fruit flies don’t just sit on the fruit they will also lay eggs and carry bacteria. The best way to prevent fruit flies from sitting on your tree is by removing the fallen fruit from the ground and keeping the tree’s surroundings free of debris. Make sure you harvest the fruit on time to prevent these pests from attacking the tree. For severe infestation, use horticultural oil to keep them at bay. Sticky traps will also work effectively. Place the traps on the tree’s longest branches.
Soft scale: these pests feed on the tree’s sap and cause considerable damage over time. Soft scale leaves a sticky substance on the branches of the citrus tree that invites ants and sooty mold. As a result, the leaves will wilt or drop. To treat, apply neem oil or insecticidal soap to the affected areas of the tree. If treated early on, you can control this pest problem much easier.
Citrus canker: clusters of raised, brown lesions on the leaves, twigs or even on the fruit itself are signs of citrus canker. This pest problem can be prevented by keeping the tree dry and clean. Copper fungicide should be applied to control the existing outbreak.
Greasy spot: this is a fungal disease that plagues most citrus trees. The obvious signs of greasy spots include brownish-yellow blisters on the leaves, often underneath away from sight. As the disease progresses, the blisters turn oily, hence the name. This disease can cause significant damage to the tree, particularly in winter. It can infest the fruit and cause leaf loss. To treat and control greasy spots, remove any fallen leaves and spray the tree with a liquid copper fungicide in summer. A second spray application will be necessary in early fall to protect the tree’s growth.
Root rot: also referred to as brown rot, this common citrus tree disease is caused by a specific fungus from the phyto-phthora species. The symptoms are brownish patches on the tree’s bark or trunk. You will commonly see dark brown sap oozing from the infected area. If left neglected, the root rot disease can advance through the trunk and kill the tree. This disease can also cause the fruit to decay and the foliage to turn yellow. To prevent the fungus from attacking the fruit, make sure the soil is well-draining and prevent puddling.
Did you find our clementine tree care tips useful? If so, share the article now and let us know how you progress with your citrus plant by leaving your comments below!
How Do I Care for a Navel Orange Tree?
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Gardeners love to grow navel orange trees because they produce really juicy fruit that's quite delicious. To care for a navel orange tree, plant the tree in a location that receives a lot of direct sunlight daily, and protect it from temperature fluctuations. Plant trees in well-drained soil that contains mixed organic matter, and water them frequently when they are young. Choose a good location that gives the roots room to grow, fertilize them well, and allow the fruits to ripen naturally on the tree.
A navel orange tree is relatively hardy but still quite sensitive to temperature. Known to grow well in subtropical conditions, they can be severely affected by frost and even die. If the temperature gets too hot, spray the tree with water to keep it cool. Some gardeners prefer to put damp peat moss or pebbles at the base of the tree to help it stay cool. Frost can arrest plant growth and kill off the blossoms and fruit, so when facing very low temperatures, take special care of the navel orange tree.
To protect the tree from being affected by frost, place a fan near the tree to ensure good air circulation. This can help in preventing the frost from forming on the blossoms or oranges. Some gardeners prefer to cover their orange navel trees with blankets. If the temperature falls drastically for long periods, it can result in ice forming within the fruit, so it's a good idea to take proper precautions if the tree is grown outside of a tropical or subtropical region. Some gardeners prefer to plant the tree near a fence or building for added protection.
These trees require direct sunlight for good growth and optimum yield, so plant them in a location that receives abundant sunlight for a couple of hours a day. It's also important to plant the tree in a location that allows the roots to grow unhampered. Plant the tree at a site that is around 12 feet (3.6 meters) away from any structure. An orange navel tree is known to thrive when planted near a south-facing wall or near the south side of any type of structure.
Growing a navel orange tree in the soil type that is right for it also helps it produce an abundant crop. An orange navel tree grows well in well-drained soil into which organic matter has been added. Gardeners like to add bark chips, manure, and peat moss to the soil. Avoid soil that has a lot of clay in it or is too heavy. If planted in heavy soil or soil that lets water stand, the tree will not produce fruit well and may even die at an early age.
Caring for a navel orange tree also involves watering the tree well. Young trees need frequent watering. If they aren't watered in a timely fashion, it will adversely affect the fruit production. A few gardeners get around the need to personally water the plant if it's grown in a pot by placing a large, plastic bottle filled with water upside down near the navel orange tree. The soil absorbs the water whenever it needs it, and gardeners can easily refill the bottle when the water is low.
Water a mature navel orange tree around every other week. Fertilize it well with a cup of ammonium sulphate if it is under a year old. Older trees do well with one or two cups of fertilizer once a year that's spread out over multiple applications. Picking the fruit at the right time is also important as the fruit is sweeter if left to ripen longer on the tree.