Zest for Living: Tips for Growing Oranges

Whether you like things tart and tangy or juicy and sweet, there’s an orange for just about every taste.

From sassy Sevilles (perhaps too bitter to eat out of hand but a delight in marmalades and sauces, where their acidity pairs well with sugar) to the easy-peeling mandarins packed in millions of lunch boxes each year, oranges are known for being versatile.

They also deliver a vitamin C punch and they contribute in no small part to the economies of places like Florida, California, and, especially, Brazil — the world’s largest producer with an annual output of more than 16 million metric tons as of 2020. 

Obviously, you don’t have to plant a São Paulo-size grove to get the benefits of oranges. A couple of trees in your backyard or even a single specimen in a patio container is all it takes to have a fruitful experience.

And because most oranges are self-pollinating, you don’t have to worry about planting a male-female pair, like you do with apple, pear, apricot, and other fruit trees. That said, pollinators like bees — or even a breeze — can transfer pollen between flowers on the same tree or even between different orange trees, potentially increasing fruit production.

Productive years ahead

Longevity is an orange-tree hallmark; most trees can live for decades, producing year after year. But that depends on how well they’re cared for.

Ready to try growing oranges? Here are some tips for juicing up your efforts.

Location, location, location

In orange-growing as in real estate, location is everything. Oranges thrive in warm, sunny climates; think USDA Zones 8 through 11. Whether they’re in the ground or container-grown, orange trees do their best when they get six to eight hours of sunshine. Keep them from wind or frost exposure, which is, of course, an argument for patio plants that can be moved when conditions warrant. Young trees are particularly vulnerable to lower temperatures.

If your climate requires bringing a container tree indoors during the winter, use a humidifier to keep the plant from drying out.

Soil sets you up for success

Well-draining, slightly acidic soil is a must. If you’re planting in clay soil, amend it with sand or organic matter for better drainage. You can improve other types of soil with a loamy mix of sand, clay, and silt.

For a container plant, purchase a potting soil formulated especially for citrus trees, which typically includes materials to improve moisture retention, drainage, and aeration such as peat moss, perlite, pumice, composted bark, or coconut coir.

The perfect pot is full of holes

If you’re going to plant your orange tree in a container, make sure the pot has several holes in it for drainage. Placing the pot on “feet” or a platform improves drainage even more and helps avoid root rot.

Orange trees don’t like wet feet. For trees in the ground, water deeply but infrequently — depending on your climate, once or twice a week should be enough.

Container trees need to be watered regularly during hot weather but avoid overwatering. Allow the top inch of soil to dry out before watering again.

Just a trim, please

Light pruning in late winter or early spring helps young trees develop a strong main trunk and well-spaced branches. For young and mature trees alike, strategic pruning stimulates the growth of new shoots on desirable branches and allows more light and air to get through. Ultimately this increases fruit production and prevents fungal diseases from taking hold.

Nutrients in, vitamin C out

Whether your orange tree is in a container or in the ground, adding fertilizer helps them access nutrients they can’t get from the soil. To help ensure healthy development and an abundant crop of larger, more flavorful oranges, use commercial fertilizer, compost, or manure.

Add fertilizer during the growing season and always read the instructions to avoid damaging the plant’s root system.

Final thoughts

With their sweet-smelling flowers and glossy green leaves, orange trees excite more than your taste buds. And, let’s face it, oranges aren’t zucchini: When your tree is overloaded with ripe, juicy fruit,  no one’s going to hide when you try to give it away. 


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