What’s better than a glass of fresh-squeezed orange juice with breakfast? Or dropping a fresh orange into the blender as part of a refreshing smoothie? Or placing some fresh orange chunks in a fruit salad?
Of course, there’s nothing better. And the good news is that having fresh oranges from your own backyard tree, or from a container-grown tree on your patio, is easier than you might think.
Read on for a complete guide to orange tree care, from how and where to plant to watering, feeding, and pruning. You’ll also learn about protecting your tree from pests and diseases.
The Basics for Planting an Orange Tree
Orange trees grow best in subtropical regions, which in the United States covers the Deep South and parts of the West Coast.
But don’t despair if you live elsewhere. Orange trees also can be grown in containers, placed on your deck during warm weather, and wheeled inside as cooler temperatures arrive.
Starting an orange tree is as easy as buying a young tree from a garden center, or if you’re very patient, starting one from seed.
Orange trees are available online from Nature Hills Nursery. Orange tree seeds also are available online from Amazon and other sources.
You can even take a seed from a store-bought orange, soak it overnight in water, plant it in potting soil and wait for it to germinate. Be sure to wrap your pot in a plastic bag to conserve moisture, and sit it in a warm, sunny spot to ensure germination.
One caution, though, is that growing an orange tree from seed means it will be years before you’ll have oranges.
On the bright side, that’s plenty of time to learn about orange tree care.
Planting Your Backyard Orange Tree
To get the sweetest oranges, plant your backyard tree where it gets plenty of sun and warmth. If you’re planting more than one, set them about 20 feet apart, or half that distance for dwarf varieties.
The best times to plant are early spring and early fall, as long as daily temperatures reach at least 50 degrees. The absolute optimum time to plant your orange tree is early to mid-spring. That ensures plenty of warm weather for your tree to get established.
Ground Preparation Is Important in Orange Tree Care
Prepare the ground by clearing any existing vegetation in a 3-foot diameter from the center of your planting site. Clearing ensures no other vegetation will be leaching moisture and nutrients from your tree.
One thing to consider is a raised planting area as a best practice in orange tree care. Heaping soil eight to 10 inches will help keep your orange tree out of any problematic drainage situations and also may deter some pests.
The hole you dig should be twice as wide and twice as deep as the pot in which your tree arrived. Digging that much will loosen lots of soil at the planting site, facilitating root development as a basic step in orange tree care.
As you install the tree, be sure it’s planted at the same depth as in its original container. As a final step, build a dam of soil around the planting site to hold water over the roots.
For the first watering, make sure to put enough water in the dammed-up area to saturate the roots. Watering will be crucially important for the first few months to ensure the best in orange tree care.
Starting a Container-Grown Orange Tree
The most important rule for growing an orange tree in a container is to choose one of the many dwarf tree varieties. As just three examples, you can get dwarf varieties of navel, Valencia, and Calamondin oranges.
You also might want to try clementines, a hybrid orange, or the satsuma, a naturally small orange tree.
Just as with backyard orange trees, the best time to plant a container-grown orange tree is in the spring.
Transplant your tree into a container that can accommodate 20 gallons of potting soil. As with backyard trees, establishing a generous planting area for your container-grown tree helps it to develop a hardy root system, one of the basics of the best orange tree care.
Choosing a Pot for Your Container Orange Tree
Pots for indoor and patio orange trees come in plastic, various glazed options, and the venerable terra cotta pot.
Whichever you choose, make sure it has drainage holes. For terra cotta or any other unglazed material, be aware that moisture will leach into the container itself, so you’ll have to water your tree more frequently.
After you’ve chosen a permanent container, fill the bottom quarter with a well-draining potting mix. Place the tree in the center and fill the container with soil, firming it up around the base of the tree.
Be careful that the tree is planted at the same height as in its original container. For the initial watering, soak the tree until water is coming out of the container’s drain holes. From there, the best in orange tree care is to water when the top several inches of the soil are dry.
For even more information, check out our blog post on Growing Potted Orange Trees.
Caring for Your Orange Tree
As with most backyard fruit trees, growing an orange tree requires close attention to three things. Watering, fertilizing and pruning are the bedrock of the best orange tree care.
As your outdoor orange tree is getting established, water it every few days. As your tree matures, watering requirements can vary from once a week to once a month.
Get familiar with seasonal rainfall amounts in your area as part of your orange tree care strategies. During the dry season, watch the soil around your tree and water as it dries up. At the same time, recognize that during rainy seasons, you may not need to water your tree at all.
Fertilizing is a straightforward aspect of orange tree care. To ensure that your tree or trees will produce edible oranges, apply one or two pounds of nitrogen yearly to each tree.
If an established orange tree in your yard or on your patio isn’t producing a lot of fruit, you may want to test the soil in which it is growing to determine some more specific fertilization needs.
Unlike some other fruit trees that require meticulous pruning as a hedge against disease and to boost fruit production, routine pruning of an orange tree is not an onerous task.
There is no need to prune an orange tree to ensure an easily harvestable shape. You should, though, be on the lookout for damaged or dying branches for removal. Also, branches a foot or less from the ground should be removed as part of routine orange tree care.
For more information, read our blog post on Pruning Orange Trees.
Dealing With Pests and Diseases
Orange trees may not be particularly difficult to maintain, but they are susceptible to some pests and diseases that demand attention as part of your orange tree care.
The development of hybrid orange trees has made pests less of a problem for orange tree care, but there are still some pests for which you should watch. Among them are aphids, leaf miners, spider mites, and orange dog caterpillars.
Yellowing leaves, or leaves with bumps on the underside, may signal the presence of aphids while winding leaf scars indicate the presence of spider mites. Orange dog caterpillars will chew the edges of your tree’s leaves.
There are ways to address these and other pests as part of routine orange tree care, including spraying the leaves and branches of your tree with insecticidal soap early in the growing season.
You should check your tree at least monthly for pests, but if you don’t catch a problem early, an insect oil spray still can be effective.
With regard to container-grown trees, you can use most insecticidal soaps and sprays indoors, but be sure to check the label to properly dilute them for indoor use.
Orange trees are susceptible to a number of fungal, bacterial, and virus-caused diseases. Among the most serious to be aware of as part of your orange tree care are citrus greening and phytophthora fungal infection.
Citrus greening is spread by the Asian citrus psyllid, an insect that carries the bacteria that causes the disease.
If you see mottled yellow leaves or undersized fruit that stays green at its end, you might be dealing with citrus greening.
Sadly, there is no cure for citrus greening, and an infected tree will die. If you have more than one orange tree, removal of the infected tree is the only way to keep the disease from spreading.
The phytophthora fungus gets into orange trees through unhealthy bark or overwatered roots. Infection is signaled by bark lesions that weep tree gum and bark that pulls away from the tree.
General tips for discouraging phytophthora and other bark infestations include keeping mulch away from the trunk, cutting off branches touching the ground, and scraping away dark or diseased bark.
For more on orange tree diseases, check out our blog post on the 7 most common diseases affecting oranges.
Harvesting Your Oranges
Picking your oranges isn’t as simple as pulling them off a stem. As the first step in orange tree care at harvest time, don’t pick any fruits that aren’t a bright orange color.
Before you take an orange from your tree, be sure it’s firm to the touch. Next, balance it in your hand to check how weighty it feels. A heavy-feeling orange is loaded with juice and at peak ripeness.
When you pick your orange, use the “pull, twist, snap” method. A ripe orange will come away from the tree with a light pull and quick twist, and adding a quick snapping motion will free the orange from its stem.
Our blog post about Harvesting Oranges will tell you all you need to know to pick your oranges at their peak!
Wrapping Up Orange Tree Care
We hope this post has provided you with a good grounding in orange tree care, and maybe has inspired you to try growing more than one tree to share your harvest.
For more on orange trees, check out our Orange Trees page for more blog posts and helpful guides.