Orange trees are a popular selection for gardeners in citrus-friendly climates. While grapefruits, mandarins, and acid fruits are also favored, sweet and juicy oranges are the most popular. In addition to producing tasty fruit, the trees have ornamental value, too. When in bloom they will perfume a landscape and a well-maintained tree makes a striking focal point. Plant an orange tree where it can be enjoyed from outdoor living spaces but far enough removed that any falling fruit will not create a messy problem.
Choosing an Orange Tree
There are hundreds of varieties of sweet orange trees. Orange varieties are most often distinguished by when the fruit matures. There are early-, mid-, and late-season varieties. Expect early ones to ripen in November and December. Midseason trees will produce edible fruit January through March, and trees classified as late season will produce from April through June. Sort through those that grow well in your area to find the best fit for your landscape. Then plant a tree from each maturity season to enjoy fresh citrus fruit from November through June.
Orange Tree Care
Orange trees grow well in well-drained soil in a spot that gets full sun, though they will tolerate light shade. Plant at least 15 feet apart to prevent trees from shading each other. When shopping, select container-grown plants showing vigorous growth.
Container-grown plants can be planted any time of the year in warm climates. Place the tree in a hole so that the top of the root ball is even with the surrounding grade. Carefully remove some of the soil around the root ball to expose the outer roots to the surrounding soil to encourage growth into the planting site. Use soil to build a shallow basin around the root ball to contain water when watering the young tree. Make sure your tree gets 10 to 15 gallons of water each week during the first growing season. Spread a 2-inch-thick layer of mulch over the root zone to prevent weeds and conserve soil moisture. (An orange tree can be planted in Zone 8 but you'll need to research site requirements and growing tips at your extension service.)
Many orange trees benefit from regular fertilization. The tree's leaves and growth rate will indicate if fertilizer is needed. Trees planted in humus-rich soil are less likely to suffer from nutrient deficiencies than trees in sandy sites. Macro- and micronutrients are generally applied to citrus trees during their first few years after planting. High pH soil and iron deficiencies can be corrected through nutrition and fertilizer. Your extension service or local garden center can help address your tree's nutrient needs.
Orange trees require a minimal amount of pruning. Clip away shoots that grow from the base of the tree. These shoots, called suckers, will interfere with tree development if not removed. Pruning in the canopy should be reserved to remove dead or rubbing branches or to prevent trees from crowding buildings or nearby plants. Make all pruning cuts flush with the trunk or surface to prevent rot and pest damage.
Plant breeders are continuously working to develop orange trees that are more productive and grow well in small landscapes. Hardiness is also improving. For easy harvest and integration into small landscapes, choose one of the many dwarf varieties on the market. Dwarf orange trees are well-suited for growing in large containers for a statement on the patio.