Heirloom Navel Orange Trees are an easy to grow tree that produces a sweet delicious orange ideal for snacking. However, you can do so much more with these fruits.
Before you race out to get an heirloom navel orange tree, you should understand where they grow well and how much care they need. This will help you decide if you should purchase one, two, several, or none.
History of the Heirloom Navel Orange Tree
Navel oranges are a hybrid. They’re a cross between a mandarin orange and a tangelo. Navel oranges originated in the 1800s in Brazil, as a spontaneous mutation. Later, these fruit trees were brought to California, specifically in the 1870s. They quickly became iconic to the area, as thousands of acres of these trees were planted in Los Angeles and Riverside counties in California.
Heirloom refers to the fact that oranges come from navel orange trees that are more than 100 years old. The oranges from these trees are grown using traditional farming practices, and all the trees are from the “old line” Washington navel from San Joaquin Valley.
The reason these oranges are so sought after is because newer heirloom navel orange trees have been altered, so they yield more fruit, faster. The ones who bred them this way didn’t take flavor into consideration, so the original navel oranges are tastier than the ones from newer trees.
Interesting fact about the navel orange in general: a navel orange receives its name because it has an indentation that looks like a human navel. The “belly button” of this fruit develops because of a genetic mutation that causes these oranges to have a twin grow with it. The twin presses on the other orange and causes it to indent.
Heirloom Navel Orange Tree Characteristics
The heirloom navel orange tree grows around eight feet tall. They will need to be pruned to keep them at a more manageable height like the eight feet, or you could find that the tree will grow too tall to manage. We’ll discuss in the pruning section how to keep your orange tree at a manageable size.
Typically, the spread of this tree is between eight and 12 feet. Once again, this will require you to keep the tree pruned, so it’s manageable and healthy.
The leaves of the tree are dark green and elliptic. They work well as ornamental trees because the bright hue of the oranges really stands out from the dark green of the leaves. You’ll notice when the tree flowers that off-white, five-petaled, star-shaped, fragrant flowers appear.
The fruits on the tree are large and spherical. The rinds are loose, thick, bright orange, and rough. You’ll notice an indentation on the orange where its twin pushed into it.
The planting zone of the heirloom depends on whether you plan to have it on a patio in a pot or completely outdoors in the ground. If you’re going to grow it in a pot, it’ll grow best in zones four through 11. If grown in the ground, it does best in zones eight through 11.
You may also grow the heirloom navel orange tree inside your home. You, however, still want to only purchase this tree if you’re in one of the recommended zones, or it won’t fruit properly.
If you’d like a more explicit guide to growing the heirloom navel tree, check this blog out.
Size and Spacing
Since the spread of these trees can get quite wide, you want to plant the trees between 12 and 25 feet apart. If you’re planting rows of them, each row should be 10 feet apart.
You also want to consider this recommendation when you plant the orange tree near other trees, making sure you take into account the size of their canopies as well. This way each tree will be able to get enough sunlight without being crowded.
All navel orange trees, including heirloom navel oranges, are self-fertile. This means you only need one tree to have fruit. The tree has both male and female components, and the pollen can easily meet with the female part of the flower for it to fruit.
You’ll have more fruit, though, if you choose to have more than one navel orange tree. Keep in mind that you can plant any type of navel orange plant, and the trees will cross-pollinate and increase your fruit yield for the year.
Whether you have one or more navel orange trees, they’ll start fruiting the first year. The harvest will increase by the third year. The tree won’t reach full maturity until around 10 years, which is when it will start bearing the maximum amount of fruit.
You’ll have fruit during your first year if you take care of your plant properly. We have a few recommendations to help.
These plants need a great deal of sunlight on a regular basis to grow and especially to fruit. Ideally, they should have direct sunlight; however, they will grow in partial sunlight. In general, they should get between six and eight hours of sunlight each day. The same applies whether you grow them in a pot or in the ground.
If you choose to grow the tree indoors, you should situate the pot near a glass door or window. Generally, they’d prefer to be on the southwestern or south side of your house where they can obtain the most sunlight.
During the first year after you plant your orange tree, you want to water your tree deeply every few days, especially when you have a period with little rainfall. All the watering during the first year will help your tree grow a hearty root system. Once your tree is established, you won’t have to water it as much. Whether your tree is new or mature, you want to make sure you allow the soil to drain completely in between waterings.
As with any tree, you want to make sure you remove any dead, damaged, or diseased branches. In terms of other pruning, you should prune the rootstock. It produces sub-par fruit and is just taking away from other parts of your tree that would grow better and more high-quality fruit.
You then want to focus on trimming the skirt — the part of the tree that’s growing downward. Next, cut away any branches that are taller than average or are growing straight up.
For a more intricate guide to pruning the heirloom navel orange tree, check out our guide.
Diseases & Care
This particular fruit tree is prone to bacteria, viral, and fungal infections. For instance, your fruit tree could develop citrus stubborn disease, which stunts the growth of the leaves and fruit. Another example is sooty mold, which causes yellow mottling and black spots on the leaves. The mold can spread to the fruit. It doesn’t make the fruit inedible, but it’s unsightly and may make you not want to eat the fruit.
If you think your orange tree has a disease or are interested in learning how to prevent tree diseases, take a look at our guide to heirloom navel orange tree diseases and care.
Common Uses for the Heirloom Navel Orange Fruit
The heirloom fruit is incredibly sweet and juicy. The orange has the taste you expect from an orange, but it’s not heavily acidic.
Since they’re not very acidic, have a sweet taste, and are juicy and bursting with orange flavor, you can do a great deal with these fruits. For instance, you could make orange jam or marmalade. For something a bit more exciting than a regular jam, check out this cherry jam with orange zest. Try an orange shortbread cookie or add some into a cocktail. Maybe, add a hint of orange to the next cherry cobbler you make to ease the tartness of the cherries. You could also make an orange cake or orange bars.
These oranges work well dipped in chocolate if you don’t want to eat them plain. You could also choose to add them to a fruit salad or use the zest in a chicken dish. You may also choose to add them as a garnish to a cocktail or even make yourself a homemade glass of orange juice.
Because oranges are so high in acid naturally, you don’t need to worry about adding lemon juice or any type of citrus to preserve them. You can simply use water. However, if you’d like to can them in juice or syrup, you may. Typically, they’ll be good to 12 to 18 months when you can them.
For freezing, you can cut them or peel them into pieces and place them in a freezer-safe plastic bag. They’ll last for up to a year. Dehydrating orange slices work best in a dehydrator. Typically, you dry them for 12 to 18 hours. You could put them in the oven at 175 degrees Fahrenheit and allow them to cook for four to six hours for ideal results. You can also dry oranges in the air fryer.
Health Benefits of the Heirloom Navel Orange
Fortunately, the heirloom navel oranges are loaded with vitamin C, which is an antioxidant. It’s also a vitamin that’s necessary for immune function, wound healing, and cartilage maintenance. They’re low in calories and also contain potassium — a nutrient necessary for blood pressure regulation and nerve signaling. Oranges are also rich in vitamin A, which is necessary for eyesight, immune system function, and bone health.
Oranges may also help with your memory, regulate diabetes and reduce your risk of certain cancers and heart disease. Vitamin A is found in many acne medications and can reduce the presence of acne when you eat it and can improve your skin.
Although the amounts are small, these navel oranges have calcium and fiber. Calcium is good for your bones and heart. Fiber is also helpful for your heart, while it also helps to regulate your digestive system.
You may find a full guide to all the health benefits of the heirloom navel orange by visiting this blog.
Where to Buy This Fruit Tree
You can’t buy the heirloom navel orange tree at a nursery, in stores, or online. We prefer shopping for fruit trees at Nature Hills Nursery for their great customer service, mature trees, and quality products.
While you can’t purchase the actual trees for home use, you can buy the fruits in stores. They’re shipped from California since that’s the only location of these fruit trees. Typically, you can find these fruits in stores from November to June.
Wrapping Up the Heirloom Navel Fruit Tree
When you think of biting into a juicy orange, you want that burst of orange flavor. Depending on your preferences, you may anticipate a tart citrus flavor from the acid. However, if you’re a fan of sweet oranges, then this one might be right for you. Navel oranges are rich in nutrients and easy to take off, especially if you know exactly how to care for them.
With this guide and the many others we’re publishing, you’ll find a great deal of information to help you along your journey. Excited for more orange content? Check out our orange trees page to start learning everything there is to know about your favorite citrus!