Mandarin Orange Tree
Dwarf Mandarin Orange Tree
With their sweet and delicious fruit, the compact mandarin orange tree is a rewarding fruit tree to grow in the home garden. More tolerant of cold weather than standard orange trees, mandarins can be grown in areas that don't get hard frosts, although some cultivars can survive temperatures below 40 degrees. The fruit itself is always cold-sensitive, however, and easily damaged by frost.
Garden centers generally carry the cultivars that are expected to do well in the surrounding area. Some common cultivars that you may find include:
Dancy - The Dancy is a tangerine that originated from China. Its fruit is seedy, with an easy-peel skin. The Dancy variety is a wonderful juice fruit, as long as you are mindful of the seeds. The tree can be grown in a container, though it will get taller than a Satsuma tree and can get pot-bound in a couple of years.
Clementine - The Clementine produces small, glossy and sweet orange fruits that are easy to peel. Clementines are a popular choice for those looking for a citrus fruit that is less acidic than others.
Satsuma - the Satsuma is a cold-hardy and drought tolerant tree, originating from Japan. Its easy-peel fruit is known for its sweetness and lack of seeds, and is often confused with Clementines. Satsuma trees are fairly easy to grow even in pots, staying under 5' for many years, which means that Northern gardeners can grow them in pots, bringing them indoors during the colder months.
I've tried for many years to grow mandarins in my Southern California backyard, including as container plants. The most successful were the Clementine and the Satsuma, with the edge given to the Satsuma for its production consistency. Here are some tips to grow your own backyard mandarin oranges.
Satsuma mandarin trees come in a backyard friendly dwarf size, which keeps the tree at an easy to pick height below 6' for many years. This is an important consideration, because Satsumas can produce heavily, so a short tree reduces the work needed to pick the fruit.
If you live in USDA Zones 9-11, Satsumas are well-suited to grow in the ground, provided that the soil is very well draining. Pick a spot that gets all-day sun and dig a hole that is at least twice as large as the root ball. Amend the natural soil with manure and coffee grounds to acidify it and to add needed nitrogen. If you have heavy soil, mix in some vermiculite to lighten it.
Plant the tree so that the root crown is level to the ground, and make a watering well by building up the soil around the tree, following the leaf-line.
In Southern California, the tree will flower and push out leaves in late February to March. Start fertilizing at this time, keeping up with a monthly feeding cycle until September, when fruit is setting and growing large.
Satsuma mandarins are generally ready to pick in December. Test by either picking a fruit and tasting it, or lightly palpitate the fruit on the tree. A definitely ripe Satsuma on the tree feels like it has loose skin, and the fruit may fall off into your hand!
Satsuma Mandarin Orange
Best Practices for Growing Mandarins
- Clementines and Satsuma trees do really well on a drip irrigation line, where they can get deeply watered and allowed to dry out in between watering times.
- Check soil ph to ensure that the soil is slightly acidic, around 6.0.
- Mandarins are heavy feeders! Use a slow-release citrus fertilizer, like Miracle Grow for Citrus, and add an iron supplement, like Ironite.
- Fertilize from March through September.
- If you have alkaline soil, dig your used coffee grounds into the soil around the tree from time to time. It will help to acidify the soil.
- For Satsumas, ripe fruit can stay on the tree for a long time, though it seems to affect fruit production the following year if harvesting is delayed, so try to pick the fruit from the tree as it ripens.
- Some Starbucks coffee shops save used coffee grounds for gardeners. The program is called "Grounds for Gardeners." Ask your local shop if they participate.
If you live in USDA zones 9-11, Clementine trees will do best planted in the ground, just like Satsumas. If you live outside these zones and need to grow your Clementine tree in a pot, choose a container that is at least twice as large as the root ball. Rather than using regular garden soil, potting mix with some extra peat moss works well. Some growers use sand, but I never had much luck growing Clementines in sand, rather, I have found potting soil mixed with coffee grounds, peat, and Miracle Grow for Citrus works well.
A pot-grown Clementine needs to be checked once a year, after it has fruited, for signs that it is getting root-bound. If you see the tree seemingly pushing its way out of the pot, you will need to move quickly to get it transplanted! Other signs include roots growing out from the bottom of the pot, or the soil appearing dry and unable to take up water.
When transplanting a Clementine to a new pot, trim the root ball on the sides so that the roots can grow outward instead of around in a circle.Select a location that gets full sun for most of the day, in an area with well-draining soil. Dig a hole that is at least 4" larger in depth and diameter than the root ball. Amend the soil with organics and a time-release fertilizer like Miracle Grow for citrus. If you have very alkaline soil, add peat to the mix and some coffee grounds.