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What Are Oranges?
The sweet orange (citrus x sinensis) is a tender perennial fruit in the Citrus family that grows on trees both full size and smaller, dwarf trees. Oranges are a summer fruit that grow in warm weather, and are very sensitive to cold and frost.
Common orange varieties include:
- Valencia oranges: originally from Orange County, California, and commonly used for fresh-squeezed orange juice
- Trovita: a sturdy orange that fares well in colder climates
- Ruby (or Blood): smaller with fewer seeds, with jewel-toned flesh and a tart, tangy taste
- Washington Navel oranges: a large, seedless orange that is easy to peel, and thrives when planted in Southern California
There are also sour oranges, which include Willowleaf oranges and Seville oranges, which are ideal as a base for marmalade.
When to Plant Oranges
Oranges are a tender crop, and should be planted at least six weeks after the last frost date, when the air and soil temperatures are consistently warm.
Those who live in the commercial citrus belt, extending from Southern California to Florida, can plant orange trees at any time, due to the perennial warmth. Before planting, consult your plant hardiness map to determine if your area is suitable for year-round citrus plant growth.
How to Grow Orange Trees Outdoors
Locate a spot with plentiful sunlight and well-draining soil rich in loam. Since orange trees lay deep roots, measure a clearing of at least a 20-foot circumference from the base of full-sized trees, and 10-foot circumference from smaller varieties.
Mound the soil around the base of the fledgling tree, then make sure to water the roots with about an inch of water per week.
How to Grow Orange Trees From Seeds
You can extract seeded orange seeds straight from the fruit.
- Soak the seeds in water. The seeds will need to sit in water for at least 24 hours. After a day or two, discard any seeds that float to the top.
- Prepare your soil. To germinate orange tree seeds, you can use traditional potting mix. Place your soil in trays and plant the seeds in a hole about an inch deep. Cover with soil, and add any compost or mulch to add nutrients to the soil.
- Keep in a warm place. Once the seeds have been planted, place your seeds in a warm, moist spot with access to indirect sunlight. Keep the soil moist by placing moist paper towels or plastic bags over the trays for a few weeks. Once the seeds begin to sprout, you can remove the covers. Keep in a warm spot with lots of sunlight. Supplement with a grow light if natural light is scarce.
- Transfer to individual pots. Seeds should continue sprouting and growing. Keep the seedlings moist and warm until they are ready to transplant into individual containers. When transplanting, keep the rootball undisturbed. Plant in a pot big enough to accommodate the deep roots the tree lays in well-draining soil. Place in a warm spot indoors with access to direct sunlight and good air circulation. Ensure your planters have drainage holes.
How to Transplant Orange Trees
You can begin growing your orange trees in pots and eventually move them directly into the earth. Dwarf orange trees, like Valencia oranges, can stay indoors in smaller containers or planters. Indoor germination helps control the growth of the plants before transplanting them outdoors.
- Carefully uproot the young tree from its pot, leaving the root ball undisturbed.
- Dig a deep hole slightly larger than the size of the rootball and its root in well-drained soil.
- Place the tree in the hole and secure with soil.
- Water on a weekly basis.
How to Harvest Oranges
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To harvest oranges, you’ll need a sharp tool, like shears or a small knife, to remove the oranges from their stems. You can also use garden gloves to pick the fruit by hand. Once picked, oranges no longer ripen. Store in a refrigerator or in a cool place. Oranges typically last between two to three weeks.
How to Prune Orange Trees
Pruning your orange tree in between growing seasons is key to continuous fruit bearing and new growth. The ideal time to prune is in late winter or even early spring, before next year's harvest begins to bud.
In the first or second year, pruning helps you shape the plant. After the third year, you'll need to prune spent branches, or branches that produced fruit the year prior. You'll also want to eliminate any brown leaves, flowers, or dead/dying branches on an ongoing basis.
5 Tips for Growing the Best Oranges
Once you've planted seeds, your oranges need plenty of TLC before fruit production begins. These gardening tips below will help with a plentiful orange harvest.
- Water well. Orange plants need to be watered to grow well, especially in the beginning. It is recommended to add about one inch of water once a week, depending on the soil moisture. If it feels too dry, add an extra inch of water. The soil shouldn't be saturated with water. It should be moist, but not too wet.
- Invest in good soil. Orange trees can grow in a variety of soil. For optimal growth and health, you’ll want a soil with good drainage and a soil pH between 5.0 to 6.5. You'll also want a soil rich in loam, which is a combination of sand, silt, and clay. The ideal ratio for a good, loamy soil is approximately 40% sand, 40% silt, and 20% clay. Use the same soil outdoors as you would potting soil.
- Use a natural or organic deterrent. Like all fruits, orange plants are prone to pests like aphids, borers, and spider mites. Critters or insects snacking on your fruits are an inevitable part of maintaining your own garden. For bugs, use an organic or noninvasive pesticide, or try making your own natural pesticides at home. For critters or larger animals getting into your crops, net and/or fence the perimeter of your garden.
- Fertilize your soil. The organic and biological materials living in compost activate the soil's contents, which include healthy fungi, bacteria, and minerals. This promotes strong immunity in your plants, and expands the life of your crops as well. You can also fertilize your soil with other organic matter. Mulch is not advised for orange trees.
- Weed often. Weed control is an essential step for proper plant maintenance. Make weeding part of your everyday gardening routine. You'll want to do this in the morning, when the soil is damp and the weeds can easily be removed. Weeding often can prevent diseases like citrus cankers from infecting your plants.
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