Orange trees are juicy jewels for the home garden.
They really need not play second fiddle to lemons as the go-to backyard fruit tree. Luscious, shiny green foliage, sweet-smelling blossom and sweet winter fruit they have the added advantage of out-performing the humble lemon over a range of climates. Time to paint the town orange!
Text: Linda Ross & Justin Russell
Sweet and juicy thanks to the winter sun.
Oranges are considered subtropical but will grow in most areas of NSW and Queensland. Given enough water they’ll tolerate hot conditions, though the fruits
may be sunburned. They don’t like frost, and prefer protection from strong winds. Like other citrus, orange trees grow best in deep, well-drained soil,
in plenty of sun (6 hours).
Orange trees grow pretty big - limit their mature size, while reducing the dreaded pruning task, by choosing one grafted to 'Flying Dragon' root stock. Oh and always buy a grafted citrus - they'll outlive you and produce consistently in a range of soil types. Cheap ungrafted citrus, purchased at the supermarket, just wont cut it long term.
Choose the perfect spot
We've mentioned how much sunshine they need, now lets talk soil. Oranges require free-draining but well-nourished soil, so unless you’ve been blessed with
very fertile ground, enrich your site soil at planting. Start by mounding the surrounding soil into a giant volcano, this will do a wonderful job at
protecting the root ball from rotting during wet weather. Work a few bucket loads of well-rotted manure into the planting hole, or substitute with
a single bucket load of chook pellets. Add some rock minerals to supply slow release nutrients and, after planting, water the tree in well with seaweed
extract. Fashion a slight saucer directly around the trunk, allowing water to be absorbed into the root system.
Growing and Feeding
To keep your tree happy over the long term, keep it very well fed. Apply citrus fertiliser, chook pellets or manure at the start of every season, and supplement
this during very wet weather with a fast-acting liquid feed such as fish emulsion. Alternate fertilisers each season. Spread fertiliser out to the
extremity 'the drip line' and water in. Water your orange tree deeply during dry spells and maintain a layer of sugarcane or lucerne mulch.
Don't allow any plants to grow beneath your citrus trees - no grass, no herbs, no weeds! They hate sharing their space with other roots and dislike sharing
the nutrients and water from their patch of soil. This goes for pots too.
Linda with third generation citrus nurseryman, Mark Engall. Photo- Annette Marsh
Citrus produce new growth near pruning cuts, so there’s no danger in shaping the tree to fit your space. We’ve seen them grown as espaliers, giant balls
and open orchard vases.Renovation pruning should be done every 10 years. This is where the tree is taken back to bare trunks and branches, a skeleton
if you like (with no leaves left) - this hard core prune should be left until August.
Oranges ripen from late autumn to late spring, depending on variety. Colour is an unreliable indicator of ripeness (Valencias can turn green, yet still
be ripe), so the best advice I can offer is to pick a ripe-looking fruit and taste it. If it’s sweet, start harvesting.
Harvest with a twisting–pulling action to break the stalk but not damage the button or the fruit. Do not pick cold or wet fruit, as the moisture will reduce
shelf life. Fruit can be stored for several weeks in the crisper of the refrigerator.
Array of juicy winter citrus. Photo- Luisa Brimble
Pests and diseases
Citrus have a reputation for being at the mercy of all manner of pests and diseases. In reality, pests make a beeline for poorly nourished trees and can
be avoided through good nutrition. It’s very hard to overfeed citrus trees. Our handy Magic Mix will keep most pests at disease at bay.
Fruit fly can be an issue in spring, especially with thin-skinned navel oranges. Keep their numbers in check by using organic baits such as Eco-lure or
Scale - control with Eco-oil or Pest Oil.
Queensland fruit fly – use a fruit fly lure program, such as Eco-lure. Reduce threat by not leaving fruit on the tree beyond maturity.
Bronze orange bug - may reduce fruit production. Remove by hand before populations explode.
Citrus leaf miner - can damage new growth. Prune off affected shoots and spray regularly with Eco-oil or Pest Oil.
By having a number of varieties growing, oranges can be picked, fresh from the tree, for more than half the year. Here are our favourites:
Joppa: brought here by the First Fleet, this is an underrated backyard orange. The tree is a strong grower, producing mid-winter fruit
that is flavoursome and juicy, with only a few seeds. It crops consistently every year.
Washington Navel: matures in May and June. The fruit holds on the tree for several months. In some coastal areas excessive summer fruit
drop results in poor harvests so a better choice for inland gardeners.
Lane's Late Navel: Consistent cropper, ripening later that all other navel oranges.
Valencia: matures in September and October. Fruit will remain on the tree for six months if not damaged by fruit fly or black spot. Mainly grown commercially for juicing. Best for frosty
Blood oranges: Choose ‘Arnold Blood’, found by Mike Arnold in South Australia. This variety produces a good red pigmentation in Sydney
and coastal climates, although colour is best where differences between day and night temperatures are greatest. The small fruit ripens mid-winter
and has a distinctive tang. The tree is small and bushy – good for pots or a small garden.
Seville: the marmalade orange, with bitter, flattish fruit. Ripens mid-winter.
Cara Cara: a pink-fleshed navel orange.
Washington Navel: a relatively compact tree that bears large, sweet oranges. Ripens early winter.