Satsuma Plant Profile

Satsuma oranges hanging from tree
These satsuma oranges hang ripe and ready for picking.

 Danielle Smith / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

The satsuma is a citrus fruit very similar to a tangerine, though slightly smaller. It is a variety of Mandarin orange and originates in China. The name 'Satsuma' comes from the province in Japan where trees were grown that were first introduced to the West. The fruits were first brought to North America in the18th century. Jesuits planted them in groves in Louisiana and it is believed that Orange Street in New Orleans was the site of these original plantings. Their leathery skin is very easy to peel, and their tender inner flesh makes them highly desirable.

Satsumas growing abundantly on tree outside
This satsuma tree in New Orleans is a luscious backyard treasure.  Peter Clark / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0
Botanical Name Citrus reticulata
Common Name Satsuma Mandarin
Plant Type Tree
Mature Size 15 feet
Sun Exposure Full sun
Soil Type Rich, moist
Soil pH 5.5 to 6.5
Bloom Time Late March to April
Flower Color White
Hardiness Zones 8b to 11
Native Area China

How to Grow a Satsuma Tree

Satsumas, like other small, easy-to-peel oranges, have become more popular and easier to find in recent years, and are also proving more popular among backyard growers. They can be grown in your garden, in small groves or even in containers. These delicious fruits are somewhat more delicate than tangerines, and, as a produce item, require careful handing to avoid bruising.

Light

Most fruit trees require full sun conditions and satsumas are no exception. They should ideally get eight to 10 hours of direct sunlight, especially in spring during blossom and fruit formation.

Soil

Citrus like sandy, loamy soil with a slightly acidic pH. They're adaptable to different soil conditions such as rocks or clay, but will not tolerate salty soils. It is essential that the soil have good drainage.

Water

Satsuma trees need ample water, so plan on consistent and deep watering throughout the growing season. After watering, water every two to three days, and then once every week to ten days thereafter during the growing season.

Temperature and Humidity

Although satsumas are slightly more cold hardy than other citrus trees, they need consistently warm temperatures like those found in their suitable USDA growing zones. Satsumas don't do well in arid, desert climates as they need humidity to thrive. During dry spells, you may find your satsuma benefits from being watered with the misting attachment on your garden hose.

Fertilizer

Satsuma trees benefit from regular fertilizing. It's best to fertilize in late January to early February when the tree is producing new growth. You may use a balanced 8-8-8 citrus fertilizer that contains nitrogen. A two year old tree can handle one to one and a half pounds of fertilizer.

Planting Satsumas

Timing is important for planting satsuma trees. The best time is early spring before the end of March. Wait until all danger of frost has passed and the temperature remains consistently above 50 degrees during the day, for at least a week. This helps to ensure cold temperatures will not kill the plant in its vulnerable state, and also allows the tree to acclimate to mild temperatures before the heat of summer. If a hard frost does occur late in the spring season, cover the tree's branches loosely with a blanket to protect it.

Location is also important. Satsumas do not do well when exposed to wind, so in addition to choosing a location with plenty of sun, you will want some shelter from wind, such as near a building or solid fence, preferably with a southern exposure.

Growing in Containers

Although Satsuma trees can grow up to 20 feet tall, they can be trained to stay smaller and can be grown in containers. Keeping your mature satsuma pruned to about five or six feet tall and wide is a good rule of thumb. The main benefit of planting satsumas in containers is they can be moved indoors during the fall and winter if desired. Placed near a sunny window and watered regularly (mist the leaves to keep the humidity up, as indoor heating has a drying effect), your satsuma will produce tasty fruit for you during the cold months.

Propagating Satsumas

You can propagate satsumas from leafy cuttings, using rooting talc, but the usual way they are grown is by grafting, as with most fruit tees. The best time to get cuttings is in summer during active growth. Satsumas grown from cuttings will remain tender and vulnerable for the first two years, so wait before planting them outside. It's important to know that American citrus crops can be vulnerable to certain location-specific diseases and the USDA recommends not moving or transplanting citrus trees from one state to another. There may be quarantine boundaries to be observed; consult your local department of agriculture, Cooperative Extension or horticulture department of a local college.

Pruning

The best time to prune a satsuma tree is early spring after the danger of frost. Prune any branches growing below eighteen inches above the ground. Remove leaf debris from beneath the trees to help keep them clean and disease free.