by Matt Gibson
One of the sweetest fruits in the orange family, the mandarin orange is the slightly smaller sibling of the standard orange. Fresh mandarin oranges are peeled, seperated into segments, and added to salads, entrees and desserts. They are also commonly found canned in a light sweetened syrup at grocery stores.
The name “mandarin” refers to the bright orange robes worn by the public officials of the ancient Chinese courts, who were called Mandarins. In the Far East, mandarins and other exotic fruits were only available to the privileged elite. Due to their connection with high social status in the past, mandarin oranges still symbolize wealth and prosperity to this day. The Chinese cultivated mandarin oranges for over 3,000 years before they ever made the trip over to Europe and North America in the late 19th century.
Every year, 600,000 tons of mandarin oranges are grown in the USA, mainly in California, Texas, and Alabama. But these numbers pale in comparison to the amount cultivated in China, whose population consumes more mandarin oranges than people anywhere else in the world. Over 12 million tons of mandarin oranges are harvested in China each year.
At only 50 calories, each mandarin orange packs a big nutritional punch. As with most citrus fruits, mandarins are high in vitamin C and contain a lot of antioxidants. In fact, mandarin oranges contain a lot more antioxidants than the standard orange, and just one mandarin will provide you with all the vitamin C you need for a full day—plus two grams of fiber and about two teaspoons of sugar. The antioxidants contained in each mandarine include vitamin A, carotenes, xanthines, lutein, naringenin, naringin, and hesperetin.
Types of Mandarin Oranges
Mandarin oranges, otherwise known as the Citrus reticulata, actually encompass a whole family of citrus fruits that includes clementines, dancy oranges, pixie oranges, satsuma oranges, and tangerines. The terms “mandarin orange” and “tangerine” are often used to mean the same thing in the U.S., but tangerines are actually just one variety of mandarin orange. Clementines are small, seedless versions of the mandarin orange.
When growing mandarin trees, you can select between three different types of citrus tree. The mandarin trees produce sweet oranges. Citron trees produce more tart varieties of orange. Pummel trees produce grapefruits. There are many different varieties available that produce different sizes of fruit, each at a different level of tartness and sweetness. The various types also produce fruits that come in different colors as well as seeded and seedless varieties. The following are some of our favorite varieties of mandarin oranges.
Kishu: This small Japanese variety is tart, sweet, tiny, seedless, and easy to peel.
Fremont: This medium-sized variety is deep in flavor and color.
Owari Satsuma: The hardiest of all the mandarin trees, the satsuma variety produces an incredibly flavorful seedless fruit. The only drawback is that this tree is very slow to grow. But you know what they say: “Great things come to those who wait.”
Clementine: This very popular variety is small, sweet, tart, juicy, and seedless.
Murcott: Sprightly in flavor, this Moroccan native’s fruit ripens in the spring.
Pixie: This mandarin thrives in inter-coastal regions and produces small, sweet, seedless oranges.
Encore: The encore orange tree produces a dark-colored, tart, seeded fruit.
Page: Usually seedless, this variety is a cross between a clementine and a minello tangelo.
Gold Nugget: Seedless and easy to peel, this variety produces sweet-tart fruit with a rich gold hue.
Tango: This type of orange produces deeply orange-hued fruit with a sweet-tart flavor.
Growing Conditions for Mandarin Orange Trees
Suitable to USDA hardiness zones 9 through 11, the mandarin orange tree needs a location with full sunlight exposure. Mandarin orange trees also need a consistent supply of water. In drier climates, self-water your outdoor orange trees once or twice per week.
If you’re growing your mandarin orange trees in a container, select a roomy pot, and fill it with rich, well-drained soil. Ideally, the soil should consist of a mix of equal parts peat moss, sand, and vermiculite. If growing indoors, rotate the plant regularly to provide consistent light, and consider using grow lights as a supplement to illuminate unexposed areas.
How to Plant a Mandarin Orange Tree
Start mandarin orange tree seeds indoors, then transplant them into a new pot or directly into your garden once they’ve fully germinated and begun to grow into small trees. Plant your mandarin orange tree in a sandy loam with ample drainage.
If planting directly into the garden bed, turn over and amend a five-foot-square area. Dig a hole twice the size of the tree’s root ball to the same depth that the root ball sits in its pot. Leave one inch of the root ball above the ground, and scoop in soil around the root ball, packing in gently to remove pockets of air. Spread soil six inches high in a ring about one inch from the trunk of the tree. Water the transplanted tree deeply, and continue to water the tree twice per week.
Care of Mandarin Oranges
Fertilize in March, May, and June using a citrus-specific fertilizer. Divide the annual amount by three to get the correct amount to use for three separate feedings during the spring.
Prune the tree regularly, focusing on only dead or dying branches or leaves. Pinch off any fruit after the bloom has died for the first two years. After those first two years, you can start to harvest the fruit the tree produces instead of pinching it off. Water your mandarin orange tree regularly, and keep the area three feet around the base of the tree free of weeds, grass, or mulch.
For the first two years, cover your mandarin tree with a sheet during any frosts. When growing during the winter season, you may need to add some form of humidity around the plant. Consider adding trays filled with pebbles and water near the tree and in full sunlight. The sun’s rays will hit the water and cause the area around your citrus trees to become more humid. Staking is usually necessary with non-dwarf varieties.
Hardening and Moving Mandarin Trees
You will need to harden off your mandarin trees when moving them outdoors or indoors for a season. A mandarin tree in a container prefers a sunny spot on the porch or patio during the summer months, but it will need to be protected and brought indoors during the winter.
Gradually introduce the tree to its new home instead of shocking it by moving it directly from one location to the next. Start with an hour of exposure to its new location, and increase exposure by one hour each day before moving the tree entirely indoors or out.
Repotting Mandarin Trees
Eventually, your fruit trees are going to outgrow their pots. When repotting, remove any diseased or damaged roots with a clean, sanitized pair of garden shears. Use a dolly to place the uprooted tree on during transportation. Make sure to choose a pot that is at least two inches bigger in diameter than its current container.
Harvesting Mandarin Oranges
Most citrus fruit is fine to leave on the vine after it has begun to ripen. However, when it comes to mandarin oranges, the fruit needs to be picked as soon as it starts to get ripe, or its flavor will start to decline and dissipate. Once the fruit has turned from green to orange, it should be ready to pick, peel, and enjoy.
Garden Pests and Diseases
Use an insecticidal soap, and spray down your tree in early spring as new leaves begin to form. Keep an eye out for aphids, whiteflies, scales, orange dog caterpillars, and mites.
Videos About Growing Mandarin Oranges?
This video is filled with informative tips on how to get your mandarin orange tree producing tons of fruit:
Check out this tutorial on how to grow mandarin oranges from seed:
This video will teach you the ins and outs of growing dwarf tree versions of your favorite citrus fruits:
Watch this for a in-depth look at how to germinate citrus seeds:
Want to Learn More About Growing Mandarin Oranges?
Gardening Know How covers Mandarin Orange Tree Care
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SFGate Homeguides covers How to Grow a Mandarin Tree
SFGate Homeguides covers How to Grow Clementines & Mandarin Oranges From Seeds
The Spruce Eats covers What Are Mandarin Oranges?
SummerWinds Nursery covers Family Favorites: How to Grow Mandarin Oranges