If the name Bergamot sounds familiar to you, think back to your tea cabinet. This orange variety has gained popularity around the world for its use in flavoring Earl Grey tea.
However, that’s far from its only use. When you first see this small, yellow fruit, you might not know exactly what it is. Its greenish-yellow skin gives it the appearance of a lemon. In reality, we don’t exactly know what they are.
The leading theory is that the Bergamot orange was cross-bred from a sour orange and citron or lemon. Regardless, they’re prized around the world for their use in perfumes, marmalade, and more.
History of the Bergamot Orange Tree
We don’t exactly know when or where the Bergamot orange tree began — or even what fruits were crossed to make it. In general, it is thought that they are the result of sour orange and citron or lemon.
Though we don’t know where it began, we do know that it has been grown extensively throughout southern Italy since at least the 1700s. This is still where 95 percent of Bergamot oranges are grown to this day.
But the orange variety is not usually grown to be eaten. Instead, it has made huge inroads in the worlds of perfume, essential oil, tea, soap, and marmalade. This is thanks to its high oil concentration, which gives the fruit, flowers, and foliage a distinct aroma.
Tree / Fruit Characteristics
The Bergamot orange tree is a small tree, perfect for growing in a pot or greenhouse. At full maturity, it will reach between 10 and 16 feet. With beautiful evergreen foliage, it is known for its strong aroma produced not only by the flowers but also by the leaves and fruit.
The tree blooms with white flowers between November and January, making it a striking sight during the winter months. It is thornless.
The Bergamot orange itself is a medium-sized fruit with rough skin. This has prominent oil reserves. Inside, the flesh is light yellow with a medium amount of juice and a small number of seeds.
The Bergamot orange tree flourishes in USDA zones 9 through 11. They are cold hardy to about 28-30 degrees for short periods of time. However, frosts can damage any flowers.
If you live in a region where temperatures drop during the winter, you will need to move your Bergamot orange tree into your home or greenhouse.
In general, this tree is a hardy citrus variety. However, it can be somewhat weather-sensitive. It needs a moderate amount of moisture, becoming stunted by either very dry or very wet conditions.
Although they need plenty of space to get enough sunlight, Bergamot orange trees should be planted where they are sheltered from strong winds, which can cause distress.
For more information about how to grow the Bergamot orange tree, check out this link.
Size and Spacing
Bergamot orange trees are fairly small citrus trees. You can expect them to grow to between 10 and 16 feet. This makes them easy to keep in a greenhouse or even in your home. You can also control their height and spread by pruning more extensively.
If you plant your Bergamot orange tree outside in your yard, make sure it is at least 12 to 15 feet away from any other trees or structures. This will let the canopy and plants spread properly to get the most nutrients from the sun and soil.
The Bergamot orange tree is self-fertile, so you do not need to plant a cross-pollinator. You can expect a good yield of fruit — between 40 and 50 units — from a single tree. They are also likely to attract pollinators like bees, thanks to their vibrant and sweet-smelling flowers.
Bergamot Tree Care
The Bergamot orange tree is a fairly hardy tree and does not need a huge amount of care. With regular pruning, moderate pest care, and protection against frost, it is bound to thrive.
One of the most important parts of caring for a Bergamot orange tree is keeping it safe during the winter. Because of this need — and because of its small size — Bergamot orange trees are often planted in pots. This lets you move them into your home or greenhouse during the winter.
When should you do this? The basic rule of thumb is that once temperatures start consistently falling below freezing — more specifically, below 28 degrees Fahrenheit — it’s time for your Bergamot orange tree to come inside.
Place it in a room that has lots of access to sunlight. Ideally, the room should be warm and protected from any strong drafts. You may want to run a humidifier or spray the tree daily since citrus trees prefer humid environments and can become dry indoors.
Make sure to keep your tree away from anything that could cause it to dry out indoors.
The Bergamot orange tree needs full sunlight, which is defined as a minimum of six to eight hours a day. More sunlight is fine and might even be beneficial. After all, citrus trees are used in tropical or subtropical regions, so they need a lot of sun.
When choosing a spot for your Bergamot orange tree, make sure it is spaced far enough away from other structures and plants. This will ensure that it is not blocked from the sun. It will also let the tree spread its branches enough to soak up as much sun as possible.
Watering is one of the ways that the Bergamot orange tree is a bit more finicky. To make sure you neither water too much or too little, check the soil around the roots every few days.
Generally, if your tree is planted outside, you won’t need to water at all. The exception is if it has been extremely dry or hot outside. If the tree is in a pot, feel the soil with your fingers. If it is dry, add enough water to moisten the roots.
Do not water too much, as this can drown the roots and cause fungus or bacteria to grow.
Unlike most citrus trees, the Bergamot orange tree does not require significant pruning. However, it can help improve the tree’s health and increase the amount of fruit it produces.
The goal is to help it keep a compact shape by removing unproductive branches.
You can prune once a year right after harvesting the fruit. Once the tree is bare, trim each new shoot. You can do this by fully shortening those branches by half. Make sure you make the cut right above a leaf.
Focus on taking out any dead or diseased branches. You can also remove branches growing close to the center of the tree. This will allow sunlight to penetrate into the main branches.
Diseases And Care
The Bergamot orange tree does not attract many pests. But like most citrus trees, it can be vulnerable to a few distinct ones, as well as at least one type of fungus.
The biggest ones to watch out for are scale, aphids, and European brown rot. If you notice signs of any of these, take action immediately to protect your tree. Infestations can be addressed with a commercial insecticide formulated specifically for citrus trees.
Brown rot can be controlled with a copper-based fungicide. If your garden or area is prone to the issue, you can spray this preventatively before your tree begins to bear fruit.
Common Uses For The Fruit
As we’ve seen, Bergamot oranges are not usually grown for eating. The biggest exception is marmalade, thanks to the fruit’s good juice and acid content. However, there are many non-culinary uses for the fruit, most particularly in soap, essential oils, and perfume.
However, if you are growing Bergamot oranges at home, you’ll probably be looking for ways to use them in your kitchen! Here are some of the best ways to juice them, preserve them, or enjoy them raw.
What Do Bergamot Oranges Taste Like?
Bergamot oranges have a distinct, floral flavor. It is sweeter than a lemon but more tart than an orange. The fruit and juice are tangy but delicious and extremely aromatic.
Although there aren’t many ways that the Bergamot orange is used in cooking, you can find it featured in certain sauces. Essentially, the best way to use these oranges in your kitchen is through experimentation!
The fruit and juice are sweet and tangy, making it great as a base for sauce or glaze. Try pairing it with meat dishes like orange chicken or duck with orange sauce.
The Bergamot orange is not usually eaten raw. Instead, it’s more widely used in marmalade, jam, and other preserves, or for its oils. However, just because most people don’t eat it raw doesn’t mean that you can’t.
Although the Bergamot orange is cross-bred from a lemon, it is much sweeter. If you enjoy tart fruit, there is no reason why you can’t eat a Bergamot orange right off the tree.
Read more about growing a lemon tree here.
There are other ways to incorporate the raw fruit into recipes, usually in the form of juice. This one-of-a-kind juice is perfect for beverages, salad dressing, sauce, or as a much-needed splash of acid in meat dishes. It’s the perfect way to add a unique floral taste to your dishes.
Canning / Freezing / Drying
Freezing oranges — or more specifically, orange juice — can be a great way to enjoy their benefits long after the harvest. Frozen orange juice is delicious in smoothies, ice cream, popsicles, and more.
You can preserve Bergamot orange peel by making it into candied peel. This simple candy requires you to boil the peel in sugar water until it loses its bitterness and rigidity. Then you can add it to baked goods or enjoy it on its own.
Bergamot oranges are famously used in marmalade. Their tangy flesh and juice is perfect for sweet preserves, making a good balance of sugar and acid. If you love to make your own jams and preserves, Bergamot oranges are a must for your garden.
Health Benefits of Bergamot Oranges
Like many other citrus varieties, the Bergamot orange has many health benefits. It is high in vitamins A and C, which promote immune and eye health.
Some studies also suggest that Bergamot oranges may improve your body’s production of good cholesterol while reducing the production of bad cholesterol.
Bergamot essence or oil is sometimes consumed as part of health supplements, but the evidence behind these is mixed. Make sure you never take supplements that are unregulated or without your doctor’s knowledge.
Where To Buy Bergamot Oranges
Unless you live in Italy or France, you aren’t guaranteed to find Bergamot oranges at your local supermarket. Your best bet is to check around with some local growers to see if they have them.
Wrapping Up The Bergamot Orange Tree
Though it isn’t usually eaten, the Bergamot orange tree is beloved around the world. Its fragrant oils and use in marmalade have ensured its continued propagation for centuries. Whether it is grown in your garden for its fruit or purely as an ornamental, there is no doubt that this aromatic and beautiful citrus tree will catch everyone’s eye.