Growing an orange tree is an effort of the heart, an investment of time, and a great reward unto itself! There’s nothing like enjoying a bumper orange crop grown in your own backyard, and you want to make the most of the efforts put into growing your own oranges every season; that means ensuring you pick them at the perfect ripeness so none of your fruit is squandered to early picking or late harvesting.
We’re here to help! Read on to learn all about when to pick oranges—the different factors to determine ripeness, how to harvest them properly, and how to store them to ensure you make the most of your orange tree’s annual crop!
How to Tell When To Pick Oranges Based on Ripeness
The Variety Factor
When it comes to determining when to pick oranges, the key to bear in mind is that different varieties of oranges will ripen at different speeds and will vary somewhat in their indications of ripeness. This can include peel color, scent, texture, and more.
It’s important to learn the particulars about the particular variety of orange you are growing or gleaning from in order to be certain which factors are at play in determining their ripeness! Nevertheless, there are a few overall principles that will help you determine ripeness across different orange varieties.
The Color Factor
While the infamous bright orange shade of this particular citrus may make it seem like the most apparent factor for determining when to pick oranges, the color is actually not the only factor at play in determining the ripeness of an orange. In fact, it is not even the most reliable factor on our list!
Oranges change color from green to their classic orange shade due to a drop in the chlorophyll levels that lie within the peel; as atmospheric temperatures rise, the orange peels shed chlorophyll, a naturally green compound, allowing the shade to shift from green to that familiar orange hue.
However, the color change of the fruit does not necessarily indicate ripeness, merely the warmth of the temperature. Some oranges can turn completely orange while still needing to ripen, while other varieties will retain some of that chlorophyll-greenness in the peel despite being ripe and ready to eat. Be mindful that color indicates your oranges are moving in the right direction, but may not mean they’ve arrived at full ripeness yet!
The Seasonal Factor
Different varieties of oranges will come to full fruition in different seasons, which will be a large part of helping you decide when to pick oranges from your tree. Some varieties really begin to ripen from November into June, while others will fully ripen much earlier—even around February or late January!
While this may seem like a long span of months to have to take into consideration, if you invest the time in learning about the general ripening season of the variety of orange you’re looking to harvest, it will give you an indication of when to expect ripeness regardless of how the orange may look or smell at first blush; this can help prevent early harvesting.
The Scent Factor
Another key factor to determining when to pick oranges is by their smell. You may be one of the many folks who has purchased a visually stunning orange at a grocery store or market, only to peel or slice it open and notice something key was missing: that fragrant citrus smell. And then when you bit into it, there was no denying you had purchased an underripe fruit.
Ripe oranges will almost always give off a very sweet, occasionally even overpoweringly-saccharine scent. Any smell that’s too sharp or musty can indicate underripeness, so you will want to avoid oranges that have a more pungent odor than a sweet and fruity one.
The Taste Factor
As you’re keeping a close eye on your tree or trees in anticipation of when to pick oranges, one very straightforward way you can tell is by taking a chance on one of the fruits that meets the most factors above, and busting into it to check the taste!
There is certainly no mistaking an underripe orange by its flavor, nor a ripe one, for that matter; and once you have determined by taste whether your oranges are ripe or not, you can either harvest the whole tree or pick them one by one to determine the taste factor of each.
The Experience Factor
Lastly, for many folks, deciding when to pick oranges becomes something of a learned experience and skill. The more times you harvest from your orange trees, the better you will become at understanding their particular needs and signs of ripeness so that you can determine, season by season, year by year, when to pick oranges from your trees and enjoy your bountiful garden harvest.
How to Harvest An Orange
Thankfully, once you have determined when to pick oranges off your tree, the “how” is quite simple and straightforward.
There are really just a couple of primary methods to harvesting an orange. One is slightly more delicate and a bit more hands-on: this involves using a pair of garden scissors to separate the orange from the branch, typically leaving a bit of stem on. This method ensures that neither the orange nor the branch from which you’re harvesting it are harmed in the process. You can also remove it directly from the branch by twisting gently with both hands until the orange separates from the stem.
If your garden is home to some taller orange trees, you may need a ladder to replicate the above harvesting methods. In addition, you can lay out a tarp and shake the tree, knocking any free oranges loose, or bat the oranges gently with a long-handled pole or broom. Because this is a less delicate method, there is a greater risk to harming the tree and the fruit itself, so it’s best to use a more hands-on approach when possible.
How Do I Store Oranges?
Equally as important as when to pick oranges is how to store them, as this will be a key factor in determining just how successful your harvest is in the long run.
You have the option to keep your oranges stored at room temperature, such as on the counter or in a fruit bowl, where they will last for a couple of days; however, if you have a larger harvest, you will likely want to store the majority of your oranges in your fridge, where they can last for up to 2 weeks.
How Long Can I Leave Oranges on the Tree?
This is dependent largely on the variety of orange you are growing and on what your vision is in terms of current and future harvests.
If you do not immediately get to your harvest, there is typically not a tremendous issue; some varieties, such as navel oranges, can actually remain on the tree for up to four months past maturity and still be viable, and will in fact often be even sweeter for the extra time they have to develop higher sugar content and lower their inner acid ratio.
On the other hand, an extended crop left on your orange tree for too long can reduce the overall crop size, with more immature fruit dropping quickly so the longer-lived fruits can continue to ripen and mature. In addition, this can have a ripple effect on the next season’s crop, potentially reducing the size of it. If leaving certain varieties of oranges on the branch throughout the winter months, you should also pay special attention to any frosts or freezes, as this can have a deleterious effect on your oranges and may even cost you the entire harvest if misfortune should strike.
These are all critical factors that should be taken into account when determining when to pick oranges from your tree.
Wrapping Up When to Pick Oranges
Feeling confident about when to pick oranges from your trees? There’s so much more to explore and learn about these amazing citrus fruits!
Excited for more orange content? Check out our orange trees page to start learning everything there is to know about your favorite citrus!
- About the Author
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Renee Dugan is a lifelong writer, professional editor, and lover of all things nature, gardening and the big outdoors.
A Midwest girl who’s been in the garden since she could first hold a hand trowel, Renee’s love of growing things has bloomed into a passion for healthy living, holistic lifestyle, and knowing where our food comes from.
Now a mother and maturing gardener herself, Renee is passionate about channeling everything she knows and continues to learn about gardening into lessons for her son and others. Her excitement for sharing this knowledge is only superseded by her excitement about being able to finally grow her own citrus plants in pots.
Renee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org