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The Deliciously Sweet Navel Orange Tree

If you close your eyes and picture a delicious, sweet, fragrant orange, you are probably seeing in your mind the fruit from a Navel Orange Tree. A winter fruit basket would not be complete without this zesty fruit.

Navel oranges are seedless and in season from early winter to late spring. Because they are seedless, every Navel orange tree is grown via propagation. What this means is that all Navel orange trees are clones of the very first Navel orange tree in Bahia, Brazil.

Navel Orange Tree

The history behind the Navel orange tree is fascinating. However, above all, Navel oranges are prized for their delicious fruit.

History of the Navel Orange Tree

A 1917 study conducted by Archibald Dixon Shamel, Palemon Dorsett, and Wilson Popenoe ascertained that the Navel orange tree arose from a single mutation that occurred in the early part of the 1800s. The tree that produced this mutation was a Selecta orange tree planted by missionaries in Bahia, Brazil.

Because of the mutation, the fruit developed a secondary rudimentary fruit opposite the stem end at its base. The mutation was nested within the peel of the orange, giving it the unusual look of the human navel.

Arrival of the Navel Orange Tree in the United States

Twelve cuttings from the original Bahia tree were introduced to Florida in 1835. Later, in 1870, cuttings were sent to a facility in Riverside, California. Once the cuttings were in Riverside, they were grafted onto the popular California sweet orange tree. The result was the beloved Washington Navel orange tree.

When you go to the grocery store to buy your produce, most of the oranges you see are navel oranges. There are several different types of Navel orange trees, including the Cara Cara, Fukumoto, Washington navel orange tree, and more.

Fruit Tree / Fruit Characteristics

Navel Orange on a Table

Navel orange trees bloom in the spring, with the most flowers typically produced in April. Only a small percentage of the flowers that bloom on the Navel orange tree will produce fully grown fruit.

This tree will sometimes produce blooms in other seasons as well, and when this happens, it’s called off-season blooming. If your tree is blooming off-season, it’s a sign that the tree didn’t get enough water in the prior month. Any fruit produced from off-season blooms will not be very tasty, unfortunately, so you want to try to avoid allowing your tree to bloom off-season.

These delicious oranges peel easily, and they are widely considered to be some of the best-tasting oranges in the world.

While navel oranges can become as large as 4.5 inches in diameter, the average size of a navel orange is three inches in diameter.

Planting Zones

The Navel orange tree grows in USDA Hardiness Zones 9-10. Commercially, Navel orange trees are grown in Brazil, Florida, California, and Arizona.

These trees don’t do well in cold climates and can be negatively affected by frost. For more information on planting your Navel orange tree, read our article on “How to Grow the Navel Orange Tree.”

Size and Spacing

A standard Navel orange tree will grow to be up to 30 feet in width and height. Dwarf navel orange trees will grow to be between six and eight feet tall.

The holes you plant your tree in need to be twice as large as the root ball of the tree so that the roots have plenty of room to spread. Your tree’s root ball should be one inch above the surface of the soil. It will settle when the tree is more established.

Plant your trees in locations that are about 12 feet away from structures so that the roots can grow unhampered. If planting more than one tree, they should be planted six to eight feet apart if you keep the lower branches trimmed.

Pollination

The Navel orange tree is self-fertile and does not need pollination to produce fruit. This means that you will get fruit on your trees even if you only have one tree. Nevertheless, if you have more than one tree, you will enjoy a larger crop.

Tree Care

When you’re getting ready to plant your Navel orange tree, the first thing to consider is the location. Navel orange trees thrive in well-drained soil that contains sufficient organic matter. Gardeners can use manure, peat moss, or bark chips in the soil.

This tree doesn’t do well in soil that is mostly heavy clay because clay soil doesn’t give enough drainage. It’s important to note that if water stands after rain or watering, these trees may not produce fruit as well as they otherwise would.

For best results, plant your tree in early to middle spring to allow the tree time to root in warm weather.

Sunlight

Like all citrus trees, Navel orange trees need full sunlight every day, with a minimum of six to eight hours per day. We recommend planting your trees on the southern side of structures or near a south-facing wall.

Watering

When your Navel orange tree is young, water it frequently, allowing the top two to three inches of your soil to dry out between waterings.

Once your Navel orange tree is mature, water it deeply about every other week. The soil should be moist down to about five to six inches deep.

Pruning

To prune your Navel orange tree, make 45-degree angle cuts to remove crossing limbs or dead branches. This will also think the tree’s branches to allow sunlight to reach every branch.

After the tree produces fruit and it’s harvested, remove any dead wood that’s on the tree to allow the center of the tree to ventilate.

For more information, read “Pruning The Navel Orange Tree” on our website.

Fertilizing

If you need to fertilize your trees, you can use a cup of citrus mix for trees that are less than a year old. For older trees, fertilize with one to two cups of fertilizer every year, and spread the fertilizer out over multiple applications.

When you fertilize, don’t allow the fertilizer to touch the trunk.

Diseases & Care

To learn about diseases and care of the Navel orange tree, check out our guide to “Navel Orange Tree Diseases and Care.”

Common Uses For the Navel Orange Tree

Orange Sherbet
Orange Sherbet on a plate.

Navel oranges aren’t the first choice for juicing oranges because the Limonin in Navel oranges is in the fruit’s flesh. Because of this, the juice will become bitter-tasting within about 30 minutes.

This fruit is best eaten fresh. However, oranges have a fairly long shelf-life, especially if you refrigerate them.

Besides producing delicious fruit, the Navel orange tree is perfect as an ornamental tree. The waxy white flowers smell incredible and will perfume your entire yard with citrus scent from spring through summer.

What Do Navel Oranges Taste Like?

As one of the world’s sweetest oranges, Navel oranges are super sweet and tasty, with just the right amount of tang.

Cooking

Navel oranges are delicious in any recipe that calls for oranges. They’re also perfect for adding to salads, dipped in chocolate for a wonderful pairing, and tossed into a fruit salad.

When choosing Navel oranges at the grocery store or produce stand, choose oranges that are heavy for their side. Also, look for fruit that doesn’t have pitting or soft spots.

Eating Raw

Oranges are one of the most nutrient-dense portable fruits you can find. They keep well and don’t require refrigeration, so you can easily take them with you to eat raw whenever you want a healthy snack.

Navel oranges are best eaten fresh, and they keep well.

Canning / Freezing / Drying

Oranges are one of the most popular fruits for preserving, and with good reason. If your tree delivers a good harvest, you can find countless ideas online for preserving your orange harvest.

Canning

Canning oranges is one of the most timeless ways to preserve this fruit. You can use canned oranges in fruit salads and recipes throughout the year. Even better, you can preserve oranges in glass jars in segments or whole.

We love how Sunny Southern Preserved Oranges look in jars. Not only are oranges preserved this way delicious, but they’re also ornamental.

Another delicious way to can oranges is to make jams and jellies. We love this Orange Marmalade recipe. It brings sunshine to the breakfast table all year round. Moreover, canned preserves make a wonderful and welcome gift.

Freezing

Did you know that you can freeze oranges whole? Just imagine pulling a juicy orange out of the freezer and allowing it to thaw for cutting up to make recipes.

You can also freeze orange juice in ice cube trays. Keep in mind that juice from Navel oranges can get bitter, so freeze it quickly after squeezing it. Then, when you use it, add it to your beverages or recipes before fully thawed.

Drying

Dried Orange Slices

You can use dried orange slices as a gorgeous and fragrant addition to a homemade potpourri or as decoration.

Here’s another idea for dried orange slices. Add the whole dried slices to a pitcher of iced tea or homemade lemonade. The effect will be as beautiful as it is delicious.

Orange Zest

One of the most popular ways to preserve every delicious part of the orange is to zest them. Then you can dry or freeze the zest for future use. Here are the steps for making your own orange zest.

  1. Finely zest your oranges and place the zest in a thin layer on a baking tray. When zesting, be sure to avoid getting the white pith into your zest to prevent bitterness.
  2. Set your oven to 170° F or lower.
  3. Bake for 30 minutes to one hour.
  4. Allow your zest to cool completely before storing.
  5. Store in a cool, dark place in an airtight container.

You can also allow your zest to air dry naturally for a couple of days. Orange zest will stay flavorful for up to a year.

Recipes for Navel Oranges

A quick Google search will net you thousands of delicious recipes for your Navel oranges. Here are a few of our favorites.

Check out more Orange Recipes here on Minnetonka Orchards.

Health Benefits of the Navel Orange Tree

A fresh orange offers multiple health benefits that have been well-documented by medical studies. With only about 47 calories in half an orange, eating oranges is a great way to load up on vitamins and nutrients.

Oranges are known for being rich in vitamin C, which the human body doesn’t produce on its own. However, oranges offer much more than just vitamin C. Here’s what you’ll find in oranges.

  • Vitamin C
  • Potassium
  • Fiber
  • Thiamine
  • Folate
  • Rich antioxidants
  • Lycopene
  • Beta-cryptoxanthin

Additionally, oranges are chock-full of fiber, which helps improve the body’s cholesterol levels and regulates blood sugar. The caloric breakdown of an average-sized navel orange is as follows.

  • 3.1 grams of the recommended daily fiber
  • 1.3 grams of protein
  • 17.5 grams of carbohydrates
  • Less than 0.2 grams of fat

For more information on the many benefits of this fruit, read “Health Benefits of Navel Oranges.”

Where To Buy This Fruit Tree?

If you want to plant a Navel orange tree, you can buy different varieties at Nature Hills Nursery online. As of this writing, the company sells a Lane Late navel orange tree, a Washington navel orange tree, and others.

On most of their listings for orange trees, Nature Hills Nursery notes that they sell out quickly, so order your trees early.

Where To Buy the Fruit

You can buy Navel oranges at most grocery stores and produce markets throughout the year. Fruit bought in season is always best and will reward you with pure deliciousness.

Wrapping up the Navel Orange Tree

As one of the most popular fruits in the world, oranges from the Navel orange tree are a wonderfully addictive treat. If you’re fortunate enough to live in a zone where you can grow these trees, consider yourself blessed and enjoy your harvest.

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