How to Grow and Care for Orange Trees

oranges on an orange tree

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When you mention citrus, most people probably picture an orange. The orange tree is one of the most recognized citrus trees featuring a full, leafy canopy and fragrant flower display. Best of all is the delicious fruit produced during the growing season. A full size trees can grow to 32 feet tall, with dwarf varieties reaching about 12 feet in height. Orange trees can be kept even smaller when planted in containers, which makes them great for indoor gardening as well.

Orange trees are notable for white blooms that appear in summer followed by their famous fruit. Although the fruit is delicious, the plan, itself, is known to be toxic to pets.  

 Common Name  Orange tree
 Botanical Name  Citrus sinensis
 Family  Citrus
 Plant Type  Tree, Fruit
 Size  30 ft. tall (full size), 12 ft. tall (dwarf), 30 ft. wide (full size), 12 ft. wide (dwarf)
 Sun Exposure  Full
 Soil Type  Loamy, Well-drained
 Soil pH  Acidic, Neutral
 Bloom Time  Summer
 Flower Color  White
 Hardiness Zones  9-11 (USDA)
 Native Area  Asia
 Toxicity  Toxic to pets

How to Plant Orange Trees

Orange trees are a popular fruit tree to grow and easy to care for when provided with the right conditions. 

When to Plant

These trees can be planted at any time of year in warm climates, like southern Florida where they represent a major food crop. For cooler climates with significant seasonal variations, they grow better when planted in spring or summer which allows them to acclimate before cooler weather arrives. 

Selecting a Planting Site

Orange trees require plenty of sunshine and warmth; key factors for producing sweeter fruit. They are susceptible to wind damage so some protection is needed. Since these trees can grow fairly large, depending on variety, space them about 20 feet apart. For dwarf varieties, 10 feet should be sufficient.

Orange Tree Plant Care 

Light

Orange trees require plenty of sunshine and warmth to produce the best tasting fruits, so choose a spot that receives full sun for 8 hours a day. For dwarf varieties grown indoors, place them in a sunny window. 

Soil

Orange trees thrive in loamy, rich, well-draining soil. It is important that excess water drains away, as orange trees cannot tolerate heavy, wet soil. When planting these trees, you can mix in potting soil for additional nutrients. Slightly acidic to neutral soil pH levels from 6.0 to 7.0 work best.

Water

Orange trees need consistent watering but don't tolerate soggy soil. Drainage can be improved by building up a small mound at the bottom of the planting hole. Established orange trees do best with about 1 inch of water a week. How often you water will depend on the amount of rainfall you receive. 

Temperature and Humidity

Orange trees thrive in subtropical regions with warm temperatures and moderate humidity levels. They can be grown outdoors in USDA hardiness zones 9 to 11 and begin to go dormant when temperatures dip below 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

Fertilizer

When grown in cooler areas, orange trees need fertilizer every month or two during the growing season. In warmer zones, such as 10 and 11, fertilizing year round encourages continual growth and fruit production. 

For young trees, start with a small amount of fertilizer, about half-strength. Once the tree matures, give it full strength fertilizer, spread out around the tree all the way to the drip line. It is best to use a well-balanced fertilizer, such as 10-10-10, or one specifically designed for citrus trees. 

Pollination

Orange trees are self-fertile and do not require another orange tree to produce fruits. However, including more than one orange tree in your garden will attract more pollinators which can increase fruit production.  

Types of Orange Trees

  • Navel Orange: Navel oranges are a common varieties often found in grocery stores. They are easily identifiable for their navel-like marking at the bottom of each fruit. This variety is sweet, seedless, and enjoyed both for its juice and as a snacking fruit. 
  • Blood Orange: Known for their unique red coloring and sweet flavor, these oranges are a popular ingredient in prepared dishes and good for snacking.
  • Valencia Orange: Another common variety, Valencia oranges contain a high juice content ideal for juicing. They do have seeds.

Harvesting Oranges

Harvesting oranges is easy and fun. Once the oranges are bright and consistent in color, firm with a slight give, and fragrant they are ripe and ready to eat. Gently pull them from the branch, or use snips to cut the fruit from its stem. Just be sure it is ready, as oranges do not ripen after they are picked. Store oranges in the refrigerator. They should last a few weeks. 

How to Grow Orange Trees in Pots

Dwarf orange trees are popular fruit trees to keep in pots. This is a great option if you live in climates colder than those recommended for growing citrus. A potted tree can be brought indoors before cold temperatures hit. Choose a deep pot with plenty of good drainage holes to accommodate the root system.

Pruning

Pruning following fruit harvest will benefit the following season's crop. In the cooler regions of their growing zones, orange trees are best pruned in the fall after fruiting and before cold temperatures arrive. In warmer regions where temperatures are consistent year-round, pruning can be done almost anytime, but is most effective before new growth begins in spring.  

Pruning for shape is optional but not necessary. It is important to prune away damaged or dead branches and any branches that cross each other. This keeps the tree healthy and provides good airflow and light. For young trees, remove branches that are less than a foot above the ground. 

Propagating Orange Trees

Orange trees can be propagated through cuttings. This is best done in the late spring or early summer while the tree is producing new growth. To do this, you need a sharp pair of snips, a pot with rich, well-draining soil, rooting hormone, and a plastic bag. Then follow these instructions: 

  1. Select a branch tip that is around 6 inches long with healthy leaves. Cut the branch below a leaf node at a 45-degree angle. 
  2. Remove leaves on the lower half of the cutting. Remove any blossoms or developing fruit. 
  3. Score the bark with a clean knife near the cut end of the cutting to encourage root growth. 
  4. Dip the cut end into rooting hormone. Shake away access powder. 
  5. Moisten the soil, then poke a hole in the center to plant the cutting. 
  6. Plant the cutting in the hole and firmly press the soil around it. 
  7. Place the plastic bag over the cutting to keep the humidity levels up. Place the pot in a warm area that receives bright, indirect light.  
  8. Allow the bag to breathe daily and check the soil moisture. Keep it moist, but not wet. 
  9. Remove the bag after a week or so and allow the cutting to acclimate to average humidity levels. Keep the soil moist. 
  10.  After roots form, move the cutting outdoors to a partially shaded, protected area. This may take several months. Once outside, slowly expose the cutting to more and more sun until it can be planted in direct sunshine.

How to Grow Orange Trees From Seed

Orange trees can be started from seed, though it is important to note that seeds may not produce trees with the same characteristics as their parent plant. If you wish to start a tree from seed, you will need a bowl of water, a tray or small pot with rich potting soil, and a plastic bag. Then follow these instructions: 

  1. Before planting the seeds, soak them in a bowl of water for at least 24 hours. Dispose of seeds that float, only planting those that stay below the water. 
  2. Plant the soaked seeds in the rich potting soil about 1 inch deep. 
  3. Place the pots in a warm area and keep the soil moist. Place the plastic bag over the pot to keep the humidity levels up. Allow the bag to breathe daily, checking the soil moisture. 
  4. Once the seeds germinate, remove the bag.
  5. Place the seedlings in an area that receives bright light. Grow lights may be needed. 
  6. Repot each seedling into its own container and keep them in bright light. 

Potting and Repotting Orange Trees

Orange trees need to be repotted about every 2 to 4 years, depending on your tree. Check for signs that the tree has outgrown the container, such as stunted growth or roots coming out of the drainage holes. Repotting is best done in the spring before new growth appears.  

To repot your tree, tip the container onto its side. Tap the outside of the pot to loosen the roots, then grasp the trunk close to the soil and gently slide it out. Place the tree into a container that is several inches larger than the previous one and fill it in with new, rich soil. Press the soil around the tree and give it water. 

Overwintering

When orange trees are grown in their appropriate growing zones, not much is needed to overwinter. Simply remove any leftover fruit and cut back on watering. If there is a threat of frost, you may wish to insulate the tree with frost cloths. For trees grown in areas outside their growing zones, you will need to move the tree indoors before heavy frosts begin.

Common Pests and Plant Diseases

Like many fruit-bearing plants, orange trees are prone to specific pests and diseases. Pests that commonly attack orange trees include aphids, scale, and spider mites. Different fungal and bacterial diseases can affect the trunk, leaves, and fruit. These include things like citrus canker, melanose, and root rot

Article Sources
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  1. Orange. (n.d.). ASPCA. Retrieved from https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/animal-poison-control/toxic-and-non-toxic-plants/orange

  2. https://sonomamg.ucanr.edu/Food_Gardening/Additional_KG_Articles/Planting_Bare-root_Fruit_Trees/