Beautiful oranges glowing in the winter sun. Photo -Gettyimages.com
Orange trees are 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!
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.
Growing & Feeding
Oranges require free-draining but well-nourished soil, so unless you’ve been blessed with very fertile ground, enrich your site soil at planting. 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.
To keep your tree happy over the long term, keep it very well fed. Apply 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. Water your orange tree deeply during dry spells and maintain a layer of sugarcane
or lucerne mulch.
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, balls and
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 winter citrus colour. 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.
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 Wild May.
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 flavourful 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.
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.
Text: Linda Ross & Justin Russell