Name: orange, sweet orange, Valencia orange, blood orange, navel orange (Citrus x sinensis), Seville orange (Citrus x aurantium).
Height: up to 5m, with dwarf forms growing to 2m.
Plant type: small, evergreen tree.
Foliage: glossy, dark green foliage with an aromatic citrus scent when crushed.
Climate: frost-free temperate, subtropical and tropical. Washington navel and blood orange are more tolerant of cold conditions but should be planted in a pot and positioned near a north-facing brick wall. Planting in a pot allows you to move it to a warmer spot in the winter months.
Soil: deep and well drained, enriched with plenty of organic matter.
Position: full sun, with protection from strong winds.
Flowering and fruiting: wonderfully perfumed small white blossoms appear from spring to summer, followed by fruit from autumn to late spring. There are times when the tree may be carrying the previous season’s oranges as well as the new developing fruit.
Feeding: feed regularly throughout the year with an organic-based citrus fertiliser.
Watering: water regularly when young. Once established, oranges are fairly drought tolerant, but will perform better with deep watering every 2–3 weeks, more in hot dry weather.
Oranges are an evergreen tree with a rounded crown. The oval-shaped leaves and stems are dotted with minute oil glands, which release a wonderful citrus scent when crushed. Fragrant white flowers are followed by round, green fruit that mature to a bright orange. The flesh is generally orange, but can be coloured red (blood orange) or pinkish-red (Cara Cara navel) and can be sweet or a combination of sweet and sour.
A beautiful feature tree that is as at home planted out in the garden as it is in a pot. Pick and eat the fruit fresh off the tree or press into juice – Valencia is said to be the best juicing variety and is used all over the world for fresh OJ. Oranges are also perfect for desserts and preserves, and are often used in marmalades and glazes for beef, pork and other protein dishes.
Choose a spot in full sun with well-draining sandy loam soil – orange trees will not tolerate poor drainage. Dig in plenty of compost and well-aged cow manure and work in well. If the soil is mostly clay, mix in some gypsum. Alternatively, grow the tree in a raised garden bed or large pot filled with a good quality potting mix.
The best time to plant is in autumn or early spring – before the cooler winter months or when the soil is warming but temperatures are still mild. Dig a hole twice as wide and to the same depth as the root ball. Remove the plant from its pot, gently loosen the potting mix around the roots and position in the centre of the planting hole. Backfill with soil, firm down and water in well.
Spread an organic mulch such as pine bark or sugar cane around the tree, keeping it at least 10cm away from the trunk.
Remove any developing fruit for the first two years. This may be difficult to do – at least mentally – but it allows the tree to divert more of its energy into growing a strong, healthy framework, and this will be beneficial for future growth.
Harvest oranges when they smell sweet, turn bright orange and the skin is firm. The fruit can re-green in the winter, but the flesh will still be ready to eat. If in doubt, cut and try one.
Water trees regularly, at least once a week until they’re well established. Once established, they can withstand dry spells, but will benefit from a deep watering once every couple of weeks.
Feed orange trees in spring, summer, and autumn. An organic-based pelletised citrus fertiliser will give the trees all the nutrients they need as well as nourish the soil.
The best time to prune an orange tree is once fruiting has finished.
Remove dead or diseased wood and any branches that cross over each other. Remove any growth or suckers growing below the graft union on the trunk.
Remove any branches that ‘skirt’ or hang down to the ground. With Valencia orange trees, this may affect fruit production as a result, but it’s better for the overall health and vigour of the tree.
Like most citrus trees, oranges are susceptible to sap-sucking insects like aphids, mites, scale, and the bronze orange bug (stink bugs). Another common pest is the larvae of the citrus leaf-miner, which damages the leaves as it mines through the foliage. If left untreated, they can cause a decline in the health of the tree and poor-quality fruit. Treat with an organic insecticide, like Nature’s Way Citrus & Ornamental Spray.
Brown rot is a fungal disease that forms grey-brown lesions on the fruit, causing the fruit to spoil and prematurely drop. The rotting fruit also gives off a distinctive smell. The disease favours wet conditions and fruit becomes infected after being splashed with soil or water containing the fungus. If prolonged wet weather is expected, spray the skirt and under-tree area with a copper-based fungicide.
Oranges are mostly hybrids, so can’t be grown from seed. You can propagate via cuttings, but they will need to be grafted onto a robust rootstock (Citrus trifoliatia or ‘Flying Dragon’). For best results, purchase grafted varieties in store.
After applying fertiliser, delay harvesting for a few days and rinse fruit well before eating. If using products to deal with pests, diseases or weeds, always read the label, follow the instructions carefully and wear suitable protective equipment. Store all garden chemicals out of the reach of children and pets.
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