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The Washington Navel Orange Tree

The Washington navel orange tree is one of the most popular citrus trees to grow in the world and is the most beloved orange tree for backyard growers. This tree is easy to grow and requires less care than other orange trees. Because they’re remarkably low maintenance, home gardeners and growers love having these trees in their orchards or yards.

Washington Navel Orange Tree
Washington Navel oranges

Moreover, the Washington navel orange tree also outperforms most other citrus trees, so what’s not to love? This tree is well-suited to growing in containers, so even if you live in growing zones as low as Zone 4, you can grow the Washington navel orange tree as long as you bring your trees inside when the temperatures drop.

Let’s dive in and learn all about the amazing Washington navel orange tree.

History of the Washington Navel Orange Tree

When you think of an orange and picture one in your mind, you’re probably thinking of the Washington navel orange. Ironically, however, this beloved citrus tree isn’t originally from Washington at all. In fact, the Washington navel orange tree was first imported to the United States from the Brazilian city of Bahia in 1870. For this reason, it’s sometimes called the “Bahia.”

Most experts believe that the Washington navel orange tree came from a bud sport that was found in the early 1800s in a Selecta orange tree grown by missionaries. When the Washington orange tree arrived at the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington, D.C., scientists propagated it, and trees were sent to Florida and California.

The trees that went to Florida failed to flourish, but the ones that made it to Eliza Tibbets in Riverside, California thrived in the ideal climate there. 

Here’s a super cool fun fact about these legendary orange trees. Since the Washington navel orange tree doesn’t have seeds, it can’t be grown from seeds. Trees have to be grown by grafting to seedling rootstocks or budding. Because of this, almost all of the Washington orange trees grown in California originate from the first two trees that were sent to Eliza Tibbetts.

One of the original trees of Mr. Tibbetts is still alive and that tree is an official registered historical monument in Riverside. 

Fruit Tree / Fruit Characteristics

Washington Navel Oranges on a Tree
Washington navel oranges after a shower of rain in late winter ripening on a tree in a home garden.

Most navel orange trees aren’t extremely vigorous trees, and the Washington navel orange tree is no exception to that rule. Their canopies are round and drooping and the tree grows to a moderate size when mature.

The large round oranges this tree produces have a pebbled orange rind that peels easily. The navel, which is actually a small secondary fruit, will occasionally protrude from the fruit’s apex.

Washington navel oranges ripen in the late fall and early winter, but these oranges will hold well on the tree for up to three months after maturing with no sacrifice of their integrity or quality. They store very well, too.

The Washington navel orange tree has fragrant and sweet-smelling white flowers. The foliage on this tree is evergreen.

Planting Zones

The Washington navel orange tree grows well in USDA Hardiness Zones 8-10, although some experts say that it does well in Zone 11 as well.

However, it should be noted that this tree hasn’t thrived in Florida because it’s not well adapted to semitropical hot climates. The fruit that the Washington orange tree produces when grown in Zone 11 tends to be sub-par.

If you’re going to grow your Washington navel orange tree in a container, you can extend the available growing zones for this tree down to Zone 4.

Size and Spacing

A full-sized Washington navel orange tree will grow to be between seven and 15 feet tall. The width of a mature tree is between 8-12 feet.

The dwarf variety of the Washington navel orange tree reaches a height of between three and six feet tall.

Pollination

The Washington navel orange tree doesn’t require a pollinator.

Note that the flowers on the Washington navel orange tree lack viable pollen, so they will not serve for pollinating other citrus trees. Since they lack viable ovules and functional pollen, this citrus tree produces fruits that are seedless.

Tree Care

The Washington navel orange tree is delightfully easy to grow. This tree needs fertile, well-drained soil to thrive. If you grow the tree in cooler climates, you will have to move it indoors when outdoor temperatures drop.

Sunlight

Like most orange trees, the Washington navel orange tree thrives in full sun. Your tree needs between eight and 12 hours of sunlight every day.

If you grow your Washington navel orange tree inside, place it beside a south-facing window. Moreover, the area needs to have good airflow. In darker winter months, you can also supplement your tree’s sunlight with grow lights.

Watering

If you plant your tree in a container, it will need to be watered more frequently than if you plant it outside in the ground. In the spring, water your tree two to three times per week. 

In the hot summer months, you will need to water your Washington navel orange tree every day. 

This tree enjoys low to moderate moisture. However, don’t allow the soil to become soggy. To test the dryness, check the top two to three inches of soil. If your soil is dry to that depth, the tree needs water. 

Pruning

To encourage better fruit production and outward growth, the Washington orange tree needs regular pruning. To prune your tree, cut off the dead, broken, and diseased branches as they develop. 

You should also eliminate any crossing or rubbing branches. Doing this will encourage the outward growth habit that is ideal for this tree and allow the sunlight to reach every branch. 

Diseases & Care

For information about diseases that can affect this tree, read “Washington Orange Tree Diseases and Care.”

Common Uses For the Washington Orange Tree

The Washington navel orange tree produces delicious, sweet, juicy fruit. These excellent trees are also ornamental in the yard or on a patio. Their fragrant citrus-scented flowers will bring a lovely aroma to any area where you plant them. 

What Do Washington Navel Oranges Taste Like?

The Washington orange tree produces a sweet fruit that’s juicier and sweeter than many other oranges.

Cooking

Orange Tart

You can use Washington oranges in any recipe that calls for oranges. The zest is delicious when added to recipes.

Eating Raw

Because these oranges are seedless and so naturally sweet, they’re perfect for eating out of hand, making fresh-squeezed juice, or adding to recipes and salads.

Canning / Freezing / Drying

It’s nearly impossible to list all the ways to preserve oranges. If you’re blessed with a bumper harvest, you can find scores of ideas online for canning, freezing, and even drying your excess fruit.

Canning

Canning oranges has always been a popular way to preserve this juicy and delicious fruit. Once your oranges are “put by,” you can use them in fruit salads or recipes all year long. They’re also beautiful in canning jars — canned either in segments or whole — and make welcome holiday gifts.

One recipe that looks amazing is Sunny Southern Preserved Oranges. You can also make preserved recipes such as Orange Marmalade to bring a taste of sunshine into your breakfast all year long. Marmalade in tiny jelly jars also makes beautiful gifts.

Freezing

Did you know that you can pop a whole orange into the freezer? You absolutely can. This allows you to pull one out to make freshly squeezed orange juice year-round.

One of our favorite tips for freezing oranges is to juice them and freeze the juice in ice cube trays. Once your little orange juice cubes are frozen, pop the juice cubes into a large freezer bag. You can later thaw them for a glass of juice or use them in recipes.

Drying

Dried orange slices are gorgeous and fragrant in potpourri. You can also use them as decoration. For enjoying this delicious concentrated flavor, put dried slices into 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 part of the orange is to zest oranges and dry or freeze the zest for future use. Follow these steps for the best results.

  1. To dry your orange zest, zest your Washington oranges and place the zest in a thin layer on a baking tray. If desired, you can place parchment paper over the pan before adding the zest. When zesting, be sure to avoid getting the white pith into your zest because it will give it a bitter taste. 
  2. Set your oven to 170° F or lower. 
  3. Bake your zest for 30 minutes to one hour if your zest is finely grated. If you’re drying your zest in strips of peel, it can take several hours. 
  4. Store in a cool, dark place in an airtight container. 

Another option is to simply let your zest dry in the air naturally. Follow all the instructions above and skip the oven part. Your zest should be dry in a couple of days if you don’t use the oven. 

Your zest will stay flavorful for up to a year. Orange zest is sublime in fruit bread and quick breads. 

Recipes for Washington Oranges

You can eat your Washington oranges straight off the tree or juice them, but oranges are also delicious in recipes. There are countless ways to use this delicious citrus fruit in your cooking. Here are some of our favorite ideas for cooking with oranges.

Another interesting use for Washington oranges is to make candied citrus peel out of the peels.

Check our more uses for these oranges in our Orange Recipes.

Health Benefits of Washington Oranges

The health benefits of oranges have been well documented by numerous scientific and nutritional studies. Half of a large orange has only about 47 calories, and this nutrient-dense fruit packs a powerful nutritional punch that’s chock-full of vitamin C, folate, potassium fiber, thiamine, and rich antioxidants.

In addition to the vitamins listed, oranges also have phenolic compounds such as flavonoids, which include hesperidin and anthocyanins.

Oranges get their rich color from carotenoids, and our bodies convert these to the antioxidants lycopene and beta-cryptoxanthin. 

Here are some of the many health benefits of oranges. 

Where To Buy This Fruit Tree?

You can buy Washington orange trees on the Nature Hills Nursery website. The company says that they always sell out of these trees, so be sure to order as soon as you’re preparing to plant.

Where To Buy the Fruit

You can find Washington navel oranges and other varieties of navel oranges in grocery stores, organic markets, and fruit stands. These oranges are in season from autumn through spring. 

Wrapping up the Washington Navel Orange Tree

It’s nearly impossible to go wrong with the Washington orange tree. Whether you plant it outside in your yard or grow it in a patio container that you bring inside for the winter, this tree will add beauty and flavor to your life in so many ways. 

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