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Growing Mandarin Oranges / Tangerines: Citrus reticulata

Botanical Overview

Members of the Citrus family (Rutaceae), modern Citrus fruits, according to genetic analysis, are complex hybrids arising from mandarin, pomelo, and citron ancestors, refined by more than four thousand years of cultivation. Mandarins, known for their thin, loose peels and sweet flavor, are often classified into groups based on where they were developed, such as Mediterranean, King (Indonesia and the Philippines) and Satsuma (Japan). There are hundreds, if not thousands of mandarin cultivars. The word Tangerine, originally designating mandarins from Tangiers, Morocco, is used now to describe all Mandarins or just selected cultivars.


Form: Tree.
Lifespan: 20-30 productive years.
Leaf retention: Evergreen.
Growth rate: Moderate.
Mature Size: 9-15' high and as wide.
Flowers: Five narrow, white petals, long white, yellow-tipped stamens, fragrant, from red-tinged buds.
Bloom: Late winter and/or spring. Some cultivars tend to bloom more in alternate years.
Self-fruitful: Some are self-pollinating, except for Clementine and Minneola which need a second compatible cultivar nearby for pollination.
Years before fruiting: 3-4 for trees with grafted rootstocks.
Fruit: Orange in color, with a thin peel which is often loose or easily removed. Mandarins are smaller and less round, sweeter, less acidic and have a stronger flavor than the typical orange.
Months for fruit to ripen: 12. Mandarins do not ripen further once picked and must be left on the tree until ripe. Some cultivars must be fully colored to be ripe, others can be light green (especially Satsumas). To tell if the fruit are ripe, one must be removed from the tree and tasted. It is ripe when sweet. If sour, they need to stay on the tree longer. Rainfall, sunlight, and temperature determine ripening times and will vary from year to year. Leaving the fruit on the tree after ripening will cause it to become sweeter as the acidity is reduced.
Remove fruit from the tree using clippers, cutting the stem close to the fruit. Pulling a fruit from the stem will tear a gap in the loose skin.
Storage after harvest: Mandarins can be refrigerated up to six weeks. They can be kept at room temperature one week.
Leaves: Dark green, glossy, lance-shaped.
Stems: Slender, sometimes thorny.
Roots: Usually grafted onto a hardy rootstock appropriate for a particular region's soil and climate.
Cultivars of Note:
'Clementine' a small hybrid of mandarin and sweet orange, seedless unless cross-pollinated, easy to peel.
'Gold Nugget' seedless, moderately easy to peel, fruit matures mid-March and stores well on tree up to summer, fairly vigorous, medium-sized tree.
'Tango' seedless, moderately easy to peel, the fruit matures January and stores well on the tree but should be harvested before blooming. The tree is fairly vigorous and medium-sized. Thinning of young fruit is required to avoid alternate-bearing.
'W. Murcott' few seeds unless cross-pollinated, easy to peel, a medium-sized tree, susceptible to alternate-bearing, handles heat well. 'W. Murcott' is very different from 'Murcott'.
Wildlife: Attracts bees, insects, birds, and is a food plant for the Giant Swallowtail butterfly caterpillar – see Pests, below. Mammals may strip the bark off of young trees, consume fallen fruit, or climb the tree to eat the fruit.
Toxic / Danger: Thorns on some cultivars.
Origin: Asia.

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Mandarin Orange / Tangerine: Citrus reticulata - flowers

Mandarin Orange / Tangerine: Citrus reticulata - fruit

Cultivation and Uses

USDA hardiness zones: 8b-11 after three years in the ground.
Chill hours: None.
Heat tolerant: Yes.
Drought tolerant: Somewhat, after three years, but not without damage to fruit crop.
Sun: Full sun with afternoon shade when temperatures are over 90°F.
Planting: Place the tree in a sunny location, but with afternoon shade, away from the coldest part of the yard. Do not position the plant next to a frequently watered location, such as grass. Make sure there is enough space for the tree to grow to its full width and height, with clearance to walk around and where overhead lines will not be a problem.
The best time to plant a citrus tree is after the danger of frost is past, in late winter or early spring.
Plant the tree so that the root crown is at least one inch above ground level. The top roots must extend out from the trunk, just above, and uncovered by, soil.
Mandarin trees can be grown in containers.
Soil: Well drained, low salinity, pH 6-7.5 (slightly acidic to neutral). A pH of 6.5 is ideal. Alkaline soil may result in iron deficiency. Poorly draining soil results in root rot and sub par performance.
Fertilize: Apply an organic fertilizer every month from mid-February to early October. Use a citrus micronutrient solution three times a year in February, May and August. Avoid NPK chemical fertilizers because they increase salt build-up in the soil. Do not fertilize after October to keep the plant from producing new growth that will be harmed by early frost.
Water after becoming established: Deep water or basin irrigate, weekly in summer to monthly in winter, allowing for rain. The top one inch of soil should dry out, but do not allow soil to become completely dry. Water may be needed more frequently in the hottest months of the year. Young trees need water more often than older trees. A sign of insufficient water is leaves turning dull and curling inward from the edges.
Mulch: Apply organic mulch inside the drip line and 8" away from the trunk to reduce soil evaporation and reduce root zone heat and cold stress. Place a rodent gnaw guard around the trunk at the bottom.
First Year Care: Remove all fruit, if any, when first planted. Remove all fruit developing in the first three years so the plant will direct its energy to growing roots, branches and leaves. Water weekly between June and September, allowing for rain. The top few inches of soil can dry out, but do not allow the soil to become completely dry.
Prune: Do not prune until spring because leaves store their maximum food in mid winter and pruning then will reduce flowering and fruit set. In spring, remove excess young fruit during heavy set years. Remove weeds above roots by hand-pulling, not with tools that can damage shallow roots. When shaping into a tree, unshaded trunks and branches must be painted with tree trunk paint to protect against sunscald.
Litter: Leaves throughout the year, mostly during flowering. Flower and fruit drop in spring and summer as the tree self-regulates the number of fruit it can bear.
Propagation: Seed, cuttings.
Pests: The Giant Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillar larvae resembles bird poop and has white and black and/or brown splotches. On a large plant it will cause no harm. On a small plant, relocate it to a large citrus.
Leaf wrinkling in the summer may be due to thrips, leaf miners, Asian citrus psyllids, or heat. If you do not see scars on the leaf, it is probably due to heat, and watering should be increased. This form of leaf wrinkling is most often found on Mandarins as opposed to other citrus. See Citrus: Diseases and Disorders
Uses: Edible fruit, ornamental, shade.


Seedless cultivars are available.

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Latest update: April, 2020