Days to germination: Seedlings are more typical
Days to harvest: 2 to 3 years
Light requirements: Full sun
Water requirements: Water frequently
Soil: Well-drained and fertile
Container: Many dwarf varieties available
Tropical citrus like oranges will only grow in warm areas, so you should be living in zones 9 to 11 in order to grow oranges in your garden. Southern United States, South America and various parts of Southeast Asia are ideal for growing oranges. Cool areas can still have fresh oranges if you grow a small tree in a container and keep it protected over winter.
There are many kinds of oranges to choose from, each with their own unique flavor. Navel oranges are good for fresh eating, and Valencia are usually grown for their sweet juice. Blood oranges are distinctly red inside and even produce a reddish juice.
Oranges are almost exclusively eaten fresh or juiced. The juice is used in cooking and baking, but the fruit itself seldom is. Oranges are famous for their vitamin C content, and they also have fiber, vitamin A and even calcium. Their fragrant peels can be used to freshen up a room in potpourri.
Starting Your Tree
While you can probably get a seed from a supermarket orange to sprout, you will not get a resulting tree that matches that type of orange. Not to mention you will have about 10 years to wait before getting any kind of harvest. Most people buy seedlings instead.
When you go to the nursery, you’ll probably find that most orange trees are grafted. The orange branches have been fused with the rootstock of another tree. Don’t let that deter you when buying. The oranges will produce true to form, depending on the top of the tree, not the bottom. Grafted trees usually start to produce fruit for you the quickest.
Depending on your variety, an orange tree can get between 12 and 30 feet tall and have branches that spread around 10 feet across. It’s important to remember the final size when you pick your tree location. Oranges will also need a sunny location with well-drained soil.
Dig the hole for your seedling large enough to hold the roots without having to bend or break any of them. Soak the roots before planting them and make sure the grafting union point is kept well above ground level. Keep your tree well watered through the first season.
Orange trees need a lot of water. If there isn’t regular rainfall in your region, prepare to give your trees a deep watering every week through the hot weather of the summer. Adding a thick layer of mulch around the tree will help keep moisture in the soil.
If you’ve grown other fruit trees, you’ll be happy to know that oranges are one of the few that you really shouldn’t prune. Let the tree grow naturally for the best fruit harvest. That also means that your tree will be much taller than a pruned tree. You’ll need a ladder to get the fruit from the upper branches.
Regular fertilizing is extremely helpful for heavy-feeding orange trees. Giving them a feeding with standard fertilizer mixes at least twice a year is typical. There are some fertilizer products available formulated specifically for citrus trees as well.
One of the great things about growing a miniature orange tree in a pot is that you can move it somewhere sheltered during the winter. That means you may be able to grow oranges in areas cooler than the usual zones. Your tree should be able to stay outside as long as the temperature (both daytime and nighttime) stays above 40F.
You can get just about any kind of orange in “dwarf” variety because they are usually just standard orange trees grafted onto dwarf rootstocks.
Use a large container that has very good drainage. They like water but not soggy roots. You will have to water your tree at least once a week if not twice. If the soil is dry for an inch on top, you should water again.
Pests and Diseases
Orange trees can be subject to a number of problems. One of the most common is scale, which is a brownish insect that looks like a round bump or scale on the branches of your orange tree. Some species of scale are almost transparent, making them nearly impossible to see. Not only do they slowly suck the juices out of your plant, they give off a sweet sticky substance themselves that attracts more insects and can cause mold growth too.
A spray of diluted rubbing alcohol can kill them, but most typical insecticide sprays won’t do much good because of their tough shell. A foliage cleaner spray is designed to help with scale. It makes your orange tree leaves slippery, and the scale tends to drop off.
Ants love the liquid they give off (its called honeydew), so if you see a lot of ants on your orange trees that is a good indication that you have a scale problem. The ants themselves don’t usually harm your tree.
Mites are another tiny insect that can cause big problems. Orange trees are susceptible to citrus rust mites as well as spider mites. They are very small, and look like fat little spiders. Mites can cause your leaves to curl and brown. You can spray your trees with dormant oil in the early spring to help kill them off, or use insecticide later in the growing season.
Harvest and Storage
Your harvest season will vary greatly depending on what variety of orange you are growing. Valencia oranges will ripen between March and June, but many navel oranges ripen after December. A new orange tree will usually start to produce a fruit harvest about 2 years after planting.
The fruit will turn completely orange and have lost their green when they are ripe. Taste one to make sure they are at their sweetest. Either clip the fruit from the stem or twist it off carefully so you don’t damage the rest of the branch.
You can store oranges at room temperature for up to 2 weeks with no problem. If you keep them in the fridge, don’t keep them in a plastic bag or they may mold.