Days to germination: Started by seedling
Days to harvest: 3 years old
Light requirements: Full sun
Water requirements: Water regularly
Soil: Well-drained soil
Container: Suitable in dwarf varieties
The tangerine is just a variety of Mandarin orange, and is often confused with the clementine. While they are both very close in taste and appearance, they are not precisely the same fruit.
They are a tropical fruit, and can be grown in USA climate zones 8 to 11. Standard trees that are planted outdoors will reach a height between 10 and 15 feet, and there are some dwarfed trees that are much smaller.
Tangerines are smaller than regular oranges, are generally sweeter in taste and the peel comes off much easier. They are very popular eaten fresh, though they are sometimes juiced as well. Tangerines aren’t a fruit that is used in cooked or baked dishes very often. Though smaller than an orange, they are still very high in vitamins C and A, fiber and folic acid.
The similarly named “tangelo” is a cross between a tangerine and a grapefruit.
Starting Your Tree
One tangerine tree is enough to create a fruit crop, so you don’t need to buy extra trees for pollination purposes.
When shopping for a tangerine seedling or sapling, you will probably find that most are grafted trees. That means young tangerine branches were attached to a different kind of rootstock, but that doesn’t really have any effect on the tree other than to make it more hardy for its age.
Since the terms “tangerine” and “clementine” are so often interchanged, you may even end up with one tree or the other when shopping at the nursery. Some people consider the clementine to be a variety of tangerine, rather than a different fruit. If you do get a clementine tree, there is no worry as the information on growing is the same as a tangerine.
Trees should be planted in a sunny location with well-draining soil, though a large spot isn’t that necessary because tangerine trees don’t grow as large as other citrus, as mentioned above.
Dig a hole larger than the root ball, and carefully loosen the roots up before you plant. If it’s wrapped in canvas, slice it open so the roots are free (don’t slice any roots!). Keep the tree watered regularly for the first few months.
If you are growing other citrus, you don’t have to worry about them crossing and creating strange hybrid fruit. Any pollination crossings would only be evident if you were to save the seed from the fruit and grew new trees from that. You will still have tangerines regardless.
You will want to water your tangerine tree fairly regularly, whenever there has been a week or so without heavy rainfall. Though tangerines aren’t as heavy-feeders as standard oranges, you should give them a dose of citrus fertilizer each spring or even twice a year for the extra nutrients.
Small tangerine trees don’t need much pruning, so you can forgo that if you want to. A little clean-up of dead branches each spring can help with the look of the tree, and it will make it more productive.
If an unexpected cold snap hits, you should cover your trees to protect from frost damage. It’s usually not a viable option with big trees, but you should be able to cover up a tangerine tree with a few sheets or a tarp if necessary.
Because of their small size, dwarf tangerines are one of the better fruit trees for container gardening and they can even be kept indoors. A dwarf tangerine tree (usually a standard tree grafted to a dwarf rootstock) will stay small, usually no more than 4 or 5 feet tall. A pot between 10 and 15 gallons will usually suffice.
In a sunny enough room, it is even possible to keep a tangerine indoors all year round and still get fruit. But it is usually best for the tree (and your harvest) if you are able to keep the potted tree outside for the warmer weather as long as it won’t be subjected to any freezing temperatures.
To keep the roots from sitting in water, use a loose soil and add extra gravel at the bottom of the pot. It’s better to water frequently but lightly, rather than soak the whole thing.
Pests and Diseases
The biggest insect pests for tangerines are pretty small, so you will have to make it a habit to check your tree closely on a regular basis. Tiny aphids and black-shelled scale insects are what you need to look for, though neither one will be a huge problem even if you find them.
Aphids and scale are both sucking insects that feed off the trees juices, but seldom do severe damage to the tree unless you have really huge numbers of them. They will attract ants, due to their sweet excretions. The ants can be a pest in the garden, though they also pose little threat to your tangerine trees directly.
If you do want to get rid of the bugs, give your tree a good spray with the hose or a few spritzes with very soapy water. You can also use regular insecticides, if you wish though they are of little help with scale because of their tough shells.
Harvest and Storage
Most tangerine trees will be ready for picking during the winter and early spring, though that can vary by region and variety of tree. Fairchild tangerines are usually ready to pick by October, but the Honey types aren’t ready until January.
The fruit will be a good shade of orange, and start to soften up a bit. You should pick a few of them and see how juicy they are. Once the fruit has gotten juicy and sweet, they are ready for picking. When they are not ripe yet, they are hard and won’t have much juice.
Freshly picked tangerines will stay in good shape at room temperature for around 2 weeks, or even longer in the fridge. Don’t pack them in plastic bags though because they are prone to getting moldy with the moisture.