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The Summer Favorite Valencia Orange Tree

All over the world, Valencia Orange Tree is prized as the only orange to come in during the summer. They have a higher heat requirement than other oranges, but they are great for juice, even though they are hard to peel, and they only have a few (one to nine) seeds.

Valencia Orange Tree
Oranges hanging from a branch in Valencia Spain

If you grow Valencia Oranges, you won’t be alone. Over 50 percent of the orange trees in Florida are Valencias. Taking care of Valencias can be a little challenging, but if you master the basics of growing them in containers, you can grow them anywhere.

History of the Valencia Orange Tree

For centuries, Spanish orange groves near the city of Valencia were famous for producing unusually sweet oranges. The sweet orange variety is now known around the world as the Valencia Orange was originated in California.

William Wolfskill was born in 1796 in Kentucky. He went west to become a fur trapper in what was then part of Mexico and is now the state of New Mexico. Wolfskill became a Mexican citizen and earned a huge land grant in what is now Santa Ana, California.

Wolfskill experimented with grapes and citrus trees, eventually producing a sweet orange (at the time, sour oranges were more common) he ambitiously named Valencia. Before Wolfskill died in 1866, he sold the patent for his hybrid Valencia Orange tree to the Irvine Ranch. The ranch planted nearly 100 square miles (64,000 acres) just in Valencia Orange trees, and Valencias became what most Americans thought an orange should be. Most US-produced orange juice is made from Valencia oranges, although Navels have become more popular for eating fresh.

Looking for a bitter orange? Read about an orange tree that will produce the best bitter orange here.

Valencia Orange Tree and Fruit Characteristics

The Valencia Orange is an evergreen tree that flowers year-round in favorable climates or in well-regulated indoor production. The fruit of the Valencia Orange is a hesperidium, a kind of modified berry, in which the outer ovary of the fruit becomes a thin, tough, but spongy peel and the inner ovary forms sections filled with juice and a few seeds.

In highly favorable growing conditions, a Valencia Orange tree can grow to as much as 30 to 33 feet (9 to 10 meters) tall and 25 to 30 feet (8 to 9 meters) wide. Very old trees that have never experienced winter cold can grow as tall as 50 feet (15 meters). Each Valencia Orange tree bears hundreds of fruit under ideal growing conditions. Even home growers sometimes get more oranges than they know what to do with.

Valencia Orange trees are never produced from seed. The seeds in oranges can sprout and grow into a tree, but they may not flower, and if they do flower and fruit, they may not produce fruit like their parent tree. You should keep seeds between two layers of moist (but not soggy) paper towels until they sprout, grow a little orange tree, and then graft a desirable orange variety onto the rootstock you grew from the seed, but it takes years to get fruit this way.

The Valencia Orange tree you buy at a nursery has a cloned Valencia Orange top and seed-produced roots of another variety, usually a sour orange. Because the fruit-bearing part of the tree is identical to a known parent tree, you can expect good fruiting. The rootstock is chosen to give the plant resistance to cold and diseases.

Grafting a scion from a desirable Valencia Orange tree to a rootstock produces a tree that will bear fruit within 3 or 4 years of planting. Otherwise, you would have to wait 6 or 7 years.

Some Interesting Facts About the Valencia Orange Tree and Valencia Orange Fruit

Most of the fresh oranges you will see in the market are Valencias or Navels. Valencias are more available in the summer, and they are the ones that don’t have navels.

Valencia Oranges
Delicious oranges of the variety Valencias

Valencia O\oranges will turn green again after they ripen, especially if they are stored at room temperature. This is OK. The peel is just reabsorbing chlorophyll. These oranges are sweet even when they are green.

Valencia oranges are grown in warm-night tropical countries never have orange peels, but they are still sweet.

Valencia Orange Tree Planting Zones

Valencia Orange trees are best adapted to constant temperatures between 59° and 74° F (around 20° C) day and night in their growing season, never experiencing temperatures below 50° F (about 10° C). Even major orange-producing areas in North and South America don’t have those conditions, although a few locations along the Mediterranean Sea come close. 

As we will explain in more detail in our Guide to Growing Valencia Orange Trees, successful outdoor plantings of Valencia Orange trees are limited to USDA Hardiness Zones 9 through 11. You can grow a Valencia Orange tree in a container indoors most of the year almost anywhere.

Valencia Orange Tree Spacing

Commercial orange groves plant Valencia Orange trees 20 feet (6 meters) apart in all directions, in a grid. They prune them to keep some space between trees for spraying, harvesting, and irrigation maintenance. You can grow your own Valencia Orange tree in a container, preferably made of clay, of as little as 50 gallons (200 liters), if the tree is grown on dwarfing rootstock and you prune your tree to keep it manageably sized.

Valencia Orange Tree Pollination

Valencia Orange trees are self-fertile. They do not need to be pollinated by bees, and you can get oranges from a single tree.

Picking oranges
Valencia Orange Tree Ready To Pick

Valencia Orange Tree Care

Sunlight

All orange trees prefer full sunlight. If you are growing your Valencia Orange tree outdoors near a wall for wind protection, late afternoon shade is OK, but your tree must have morning sun.

If you are growing your Valencia Orange tree indoors part of the year or even year-round, be sure it gets six hours of sun every day through a sunny window. Then give it grow lighting the rest of the day. 

Growing Valencia oranges under glass give you an opportunity to stop regreening the fruit. Scientists have discovered that the Valencia Orange fruit begins to resorb chlorophyll in response to blue wavelengths of light. If you give your tree light through a red filter, your oranges won’t turn green. Just make sure your plant is still getting strong sunlight no matter what filtering you use.

Watering

Valencia Orange trees like moist soil, but it’s a mistake to water them several times a week. The best approach to watering an outdoor Valencia Orange tree, if you live in a dry-summer climate, is to water the soil to a depth of 36 inches (90 cm) no more often than once a week. If you planted your tree in the gritty, sandy soil it prefers, this won’t cause it to become waterlogged. Indoor container-grown plants, which should be planted in a commercial soil mix containing perlite and vermiculite, also respond better to occasional thorough watering than little bits of water every day.

Pruning

Pruning keeps your Valencia Orange tree productive and beautifully shaped. As we explain in more detail in our Pruning Guide for Valencia Orange Trees, it is especially important to prune your container-grown tree once or twice a year to prevent flagging and deadwood.

Flagging occurs when a plant has too much top growth for its root system. Stretches of leafless wood will appear at the top of the plant, usually with one or two leaves at the end of a stem. This is growth your Valencia Orange tree can’t support. Prune it, making the cut flush with the main stem so the bark can grow over the wound. (You don’t leave a few inches, or a few centimeters, of wood the way you do with apples and stone fruit trees.) 

You should also remove branches supporting cracked, damaged, or diseased fruit. Fruit production takes a lot of energy from the plant, and you don’t want your Valencia Orange tree spending resources on the fruit you will never eat.

Common Uses for Valencia Oranges

Just about everyone has had store-bought orange juice from a carton, carafe, or jug, but no commercial product compares to fresh-squeezed, homemade orange juice. And because Valencia oranges spend more time on the tree, developing sugars in the warm summer sun, Valencias are your best choices for making your own OJ.

Making orange juice
Fresh squeezed orange juice

Valencia oranges are sweet and aromatic. They are unusually juicy. And because they are a summer fruit, not a winter fruit, they don’t have the bitter flavors so often found in other oranges used for juicing.

All citrus fruit produces a compound known as limonoid acid di-delta-lactone. This compound is also referred to as limonin.

Limonin is a powerful plant chemical. It protects the Valencia Orange tree fruit from bacterial infections, and it can also protect you from bacterial infections. Unfortunately, there’s a catch. Limonin is extremely bitter. Juicing an orange breaks down the cell walls that contain limonin and slowly releases it into the juice.

Drink your Valencia orange juice as soon as you squeeze it. Drinking Valencia orange juice right away gives you the benefits of all the sugars the orange has been making in the summer sun for months before you can detect the bitter taste of limonin. And because limonin breaks down inside the orange as it stays on the tree, the slowly maturing Valencia orange will contain less limonin than other varieties of oranges. High sugar content and low limonin content make Valencias the best oranges for juicing.

The outstanding juicing qualities of Valencia oranges don’t preclude their uses in fruit salads, jams, marmalades, sorbet, sherbet, ice cream, and pies. But you may prefer Navels or mandarins for eating out of hand, because of Valencia’s tough, thin skin and multiple seeds.

Health Benefits of Valencia Oranges

Valencia oranges have some astonishing health benefits currently under investigation. In 2020, the Mayo Clinics funded a study of Valencia oranges and some other fruits and berries as a source of a plant chemical called fisetin. Researchers believe this plant chemical (which is available both from the fruit and as an inexpensive, safe nutritional supplement) may slow down the aging process in older adults, especially with regard to brain health. The results of this study may be published in 2023.

The previously mentioned limonin is in the early stages of clinical research (laboratory testing with mice) as a treatment for obesity. It also is believed to have potential neuroprotective uses. There are potential applications for dozens of naturally occurring compounds in Valencia oranges.

But there are also health benefits of Valencia oranges that are clinically proven and in general use today:

  • Hesperidin from the inner peels of Valencia oranges is used in skin creams to treat bruised skin. It breaks down the green and yellow pigments that discolor the skin as a bruise heals. Scientists believe that hesperidin from OJ can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
  • Valencia oranges are a major source of limonene, which is added to skincare products to help their active ingredients penetrate the skin. Limonene is also used in cough lozenges.
  • Naringin from Valencia oranges is a natural anti-inflammatory agent. It’s used in skin creams to fight redness and skin irritation.
  • And alpha-terpineol from the juice and peel of Valencia oranges fights bacterial and fungal infections of the skin.

Valencia oranges aren’t a cure for any disease, but they support many of the processes that lead to normal, good health. There’s even good news for diabetics who like their morning OJ with Valencia oranges.

The first 20 to 25 grams of fructose you consume every day activate the liver to process sugars rather than raising blood sugars. There is reliable evidence from the scientific literature that most diabetics can include small (think less than 1 cup or 240 ml) of Valencia OJ every day, although you should follow the advice of your dietitian and doctor.

Where Do You Get Valencia Oranges?

It’s easy to find Valencia oranges. They are in supermarkets everywhere for months every year. But the Valencia oranges from your own tree will always taste sweeter.

Where Do You Get a Valencia Orange Tree?

Nature Hills Nursery can help you find the size and age Valencia Orange tree you need for your home, garden, or orchard. Visit our site for more details!

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