Citrus trees, such as lemon, lime, and orange trees, have a special place in the imagination. With taglines like, “100% Fresh-squeezed sunshine,” you can’t ignore the cultural attraction to those bright, refreshing fruits. But you don’t have to trek to the juice aisle of the grocery store or the booth at your favorite grove to enjoy “fresh-squeezed sunshine.” You can learn how to grow an orange tree almost anywhere.
Indeed, you can grow some varietals of orange trees indoors in containers. The same is true for most citrus trees. But if you live in a tropical or subtropical climate, you’re among the fortunate gardeners who can enjoy an orange tree right in the back yard – or front yard!
There are a few conditions, though. Oranges are grown worldwide, from South Africa to Turkey to China. In fact, Brazil is the largest orange-producing country in the world, producing nearly quadruple the amount of oranges as the U.S.
Most U.S. commercial orange production comes from California, Florida, and Texas, but technically, oranges can grow anywhere in USDA hardiness zones 8 through 11. However, your success in growing an orange tree is about more than just your hardiness zone.
Find out how to grow an orange tree in your yard in 12 simple steps
Assuming you live in the right climate, what are the next steps? Here’s how to grow an orange tree that will thrive far into the future.
1. Test the soil. Look, you really don’t want to spend upwards of $100 for an orange tree sapling, dig up a section of your yard, and tend to your tree only to end up with root rot or a tree that doesn’t flower. Orange trees need nice, loamy soil with a pH of 5.5 to 6.5. Get your soil tested and find out if an orange tree will be happy before you go through the heartbreak.
2. Select the right tree. You have a lot to choose from. Generally speaking, though, the usually seedless Navel oranges are one of the most popular backyard orange trees in the U.S, and Valencia oranges are known for their juice.
3. Grow your tree from a cutting or sapling. Yes, you can grow an orange tree from seed. But there’s how to grow an orange tree, and there’s how to grow an orange tree you’ll actually get to enjoy. Grow a tree from seed, and you could be looking at 15 years before it bears fruit.
4. Keep on the sunny side. Orange trees need six to eight hours of sunshine each day.
5. Head south. Okay, if you’re thinking about how to grow an orange tree outdoors, you probably already live in a southern latitude. Still, plant your tree on the south side of your home if at all possible, so it gets plenty of sunshine.
6. Don’t plant your orange tree! Weird advice, right? You will eventually plant your orange tree, just not right away. Give it some time to acclimate to a new location. You don’t want to stress it too much the minute it leaves the nursery.
7. Check those roots. Before you put your tree in the soil, check the root system and remove any dead or broken roots.
8. Give ’em some space. Your orange tree is going to grow up and spread out. Most nurseries recommend giving your trees a clear radius of 15 feet.
9. Give ’em a drink. Consistent watering is key for healthy orange trees. Do not overwater, though. Too much water leads to soggy soil, which leads to root rot which leads to nothing good. A deep watering about once a week is probably good, but that depends on your climate, rainfall, temperatures, and the like.
10. Nip suckers in the bud. Most orange trees are grafted onto rootstock. It’s important to know where that graft spot is. Frequently, the rootstock will send up suckers. Left unchecked, they will overtake your growing orange tree and suck the life out of it.
11. Fertilize it. Grab some fertilizer specifically formulated for citrus and give your tree a little boost of nutrition. How much and how often will vary. They need less fertilizer as they get older.
12. Watch out for pests and diseases. Your best defense against trouble is to stick with good planting and caretaking practices. Companion planting with herbs can help reduce pests and weeds. Keep your trees pruned, so there’s plenty of air circulation, and remove any infected fruit or branches.
Special conditions for a changing climate
We can’t talk about how to grow an orange tree without discussing the impact of extreme weather such as flooding, hurricanes, and wildfires.
In the case of wildfires, it can be difficult to tell how much damage there is, as anything from smoke to ash to heat can impact a tree. A badly damaged tree may well need to be removed, unfortunately. Keep a very close eye on those trees that aren’t obviously damaged, as pests and disease can sneak in. Consider removing any remaining fruit, as well, so that your tree can recover.
For water damage, such as flooding, the real key is how quickly the water drains and what temperatures are like. Hot, damp weather is perfect for fungal growth, and an entirely waterlogged root system can develop root rot rather quickly.
Some signs of water damage, such as yellowed and wilting leaves, are apparent. It’s especially clear if you know the area was or currently is flooded. But post-flood soil that doesn’t drain well can also cause water damage.
Prevention is ideal here. And while you can’t prevent flooding, you can try to plant your trees on higher elevations, so you have gravity working with you. It’s also possible to sometimes create good drainage around your orange trees through mechanical means, such as drainage ditches.
In both cases, one of the best things you can do to help your trees recover from a natural disaster is to keep them as healthy as possible to begin with. Like us humans, healthy trees are more resilient and able to recover more quickly from injury.
You can get more in-depth orange tree care tips and ideas (as well as some darn tasty recipes) in our latest Juicy Oranges Guide: The Complete Guide to Growing, Cooking, and Eating Oranges! Don’t miss the Orange Marmalade recipe – it’s a mouth-watering favorite!