The blood orange is a delightful fruit that has a taste similar to a standard orange. The blood orange tree is attractive as well as being a way to get your own harvests of blood oranges. If you love citrus fruits, you’ll love the tasty and versatile blood orange. If you’re considering getting your own tree, or several trees, here’s what you need to know about them.
History of the Blood Orange Tree
While the orange has been around for thousands of years, the blood orange is a relative newcomer to the citrus scene. It began to be grown in Italy on the southern Mediterranean coast in the 18th century. They have remained a very popular fruit in Italy since then. There are different varieties of the blood orange tree with each growing its own type. One type, the Sanguinelli, was found in 1929 in Spain.
Blood Orange Tree Characteristics
The blood orange tree is a citrus fruit tree that grows sweet fruit that can be used for a wide range of uses. The trees average about 10′ to 15′ tall, but they are often pruned down to 8′ in height. They typically grow to be about 12′ to 15′ wide. The trees have dark green leaves, making the orange color of the fruit look great against that darker backdrop. The tree has creamy white flowers that are highly fragrant.
The blood orange is a fruit a little smaller than an average navel orange. On the outside, it doesn’t look much different from a traditional orange, although some cultivars have a slightly reddish hue to the orange peel. On the inside, there is a deep, purplish-red color to the flesh that gives this fruit its name. The juice that comes from this fruit is also that blood-red color. The blood orange is sweeter than most orange varieties. It also grows few seeds and is comparatively easy to peel.
The blood orange tree can be planted in zones 9 and 10. If you live in a colder region, it is often possible to grow it indoors and to take it outside only during the warmer months. As a citrus tree, it needs a very warm climate in order to grow outdoors. See How to Grow the Blood Orange Tree to find out more.
Size and Spacing
The exact size often depends on the specific cultivar that you are growing. In general, these trees can grow to be from 10′ to 15′ tall and about 12′ to 15′ wide. It’s common to prune them to stay smaller so that the fruit is easier to harvest and nets are easier to put over them to keep birds out.
The blood orange tree is self-fertile. It does not need an additional citrus tree near it to cross-pollinate in order to grow its fruit. It will grow its fruit without any cross-pollination, but cross-pollination with another blood orange tree can result in more fruit developing. However, if you end up with a harvest that is sparse, it won’t be because of a lack of pollination. Often, that problem is instead caused by a lack of bees.
Blood Orange Tree Care
The blood orange tree isn’t overly complicated to take care of, but it does need some assistance as it establishes itself, grows and produces fruit.
This tree, as with most citrus, needs plenty of sunlight. It does best in full sunlight, but it can tolerate a few hours of shade as long as it gets about 6-8 hours of full sun each day.
Blood orange trees need a moderate amount of water. They do need regular watering to keep the fruit they produce high-quality. Each month, a blood orange tree needs between 4″ and 6″ of water. That’s 1′ to 1.5′ of water each week. If your area gets that much rainfall, there is no need to water. However, in most areas, you will have to supplement the rainfalls with waterings to ensure that the tree gets enough water. Be sure to keep both grass and weeds away from the tree, as they can take some of the water away from your tree and use it for themselves. It can also be helpful to mist the leaves each day to keep the humidity high around the tree. They often do better when the humidity is high.
As with other types of sweet oranges, this tree looks attractive in its own natural form without a lot of pruning needed. Many owners do prune them to keep their size more manageable, though. This can be done by cutting back the areas of heavy growth in the early spring. This can help keep the tree shorter. The tree may also need pruning in the winter to keep it healthier. If there is any tissue that cold temperatures have damages, those can be cut away in the winter. It’s also a good time to cut away any dead branches or shoots that are very weak. When you prune, be careful to wear gloves, as many types of these trees have twigs that are thorny.
Diseases and Care
There are a number of diseases and conditions that can strike a blood orange tree, so be careful to notice any changes in your tree that could mean trouble. Sooty canker is one such disease. It can infect the branches and twigs of the tree and cause the bark to peel away. If you look under that bark, there will be a black fungus growing there. It can also result in leaves withering and turning brown as well as twigs that die. If you see that this fungus has infected your tree, immediately remove the branches that are affected. After pruning, make sure that you dispose of the infected areas properly and that you disinfect any tools that you used to keep it from spreading.
Another common disease is citrus stubborn disease. It causes the tree’s fruit to grow lopsided so that they have a seed pocket that grows on one side of the fruit instead of in the middle. It is carried and spread by bugs called leafhoppers. If you see evidence of this disease, use horticultural oil or an insecticidal soap to kill off the leafhoppers. Cigar leaf curling can also strike blood orange trees. When you see leaves that are brittle, wilted and are curled up, it’s likely that your tree isn’t getting enough water. Water it more often so that the soil 2′ under the surface gets moist. To find out more about diseases that can affect this tree, check out Blood Orange Tree Diseases and Care.
The blood orange tree can use fertilizer a few times a year. Ammonium sulfate fertilizer 21-0-0 can be given to the tree with one cupful for the tree’s age in years. If the tree is four years old, it can be given four cups of this fertilizer. It should be scattered on the soil above the tree’s roots. Then, water is added to the soil to make sure the fertilizer reaches the roots. When you fertilize, divide the yearly amount by three and deliver them in September, February and May each year.
Common Uses for the Blood Orange
The blood orange is a sweet type of orange that has a taste similar to oranges but is generally sweeter than traditional oranges. There are a number of varieties of blood oranges, and many have slightly different flavors. Some have a flavor similar to oranges and raspberries. Others have a taste closer to a grape.
When you have blood oranges to cook with, there are a number of interesting dishes you can make. The taste of blood oranges goes well with seafood, making it perfect for a seafood sauce. It also works well in desserts because of its sweetness. They are also used in cocktails for both their sweet taste and their red color. They can also be eaten raw and taste great right off the tree. They can be frozen for later use, and they work well for canning. See these Blood Orange Recipes for further ideas.
Check out our Orange Recipes for amazing recipes using Blood Oranges.
Health Benefits of the Blood Orange
Citrus fruits are well-known for their high amounts of antioxidant vitamins, especially vitamin C. They also contain plenty of vitamin A as well as B vitamins. In fact, the very pigments that lend the red color to these fruits are antioxidants. These can reduce the chance of developing cancer as well as having strokes. The vitamin C in these fruits helps to boost the immune system as well as helping you to regulate cholesterol for healthier levels of LDL and HDL cholesterol. It also supports the health of your muscles and blood vessels. To find out more, see The Health Benefits of the Blood Orange.
Where to Buy the Blood Orange Tree
You can usually find blood oranges at many different local nurseries, or if you prefer to purchase online, we recommend Nature Hills Nursery. Nature Hills offers high quality trees with a great warranty.
Where to Buy Blood Oranges
While many full-size grocery stores often have at least a few types of oranges, you will need to check your local stores to see whether they include the blood orange. While the blood orange is highly popular in Italy, it isn’t as popular in the U.S., so it may take some shopping to find them.