Why An Orange Is Too Sour: How To Make Oranges Sweeter

sour orange
Image by bsilvia

By Dean Osiowy

A number of years ago I traveled the mild Spanish coast and walked the orange-laden streets of Malaga, Spain. I was amazed to see brightly colored oranges growing right on the streets of that beautiful city. My surprise came as I plucked an orange-colored fruit only to quickly spew it from my mouth. What were these sour tasting oranges?

Why an Orange is Too Sour

Later I learned that the varieties of oranges I had become used to, and which sell best in the supermarkets, is the orange variety known as “sweet orange.” There are also sour orange varieties which are cultivated for their peels and used in culinary arts.

It is believed that sweet oranges originated in India, spread throughout Europe, and later were brought to the Americas by the Spanish explorers. Since then, home gardeners have taken the challenge to grow this sweet fruit in their own gardens. However, home gardeners are often left with an undesirable tasting orange and will ask, “Why does my sweet orange taste bitter?”

Why is your tree producing sour tasting oranges? There are several things that can affect the taste of your sweet oranges, including the climate the tree is planted in, when the oranges are harvested, the variety of tree, and the application of fertilizers, irrigation and general care of your tree.

How to Make Oranges Sweeter


If your home grown orange is too sour, review the following points and you may find an answer as to how to make oranges sweeter.

  • Variety – choose a sweet orange variety of tree and allow it to establish itself for a few years before expecting great tasting fruit. It is said that older trees will produce the best and sweetest fruit.
  • Location – oranges are native to tropical and subtropical locations and thrive in those conditions. If you are thinking about growing a sweet orange tree, ensure it is planted on the sunny side of your property where it can get as much sun as possible.
  • Soil – orange trees thrive in loamy soil. Heavy clay soils will now allow for a strong root system and will cause sub-standard fruit production.
  • Harvest Time – the acid content in oranges is reduced as the fruit remains on the tree in cooler temperatures. Allowing the fruit to remain on the tree just a little longer as winter sets in allows for sweeter fruit. Peel color is an indicator of fruit maturity. The more deep-yellow or orange the peel is, the more mature and sweet the fruit will be.
  • Fertilizing – oranges need just the right amount of nitrogen throughout the growing season to produce sweet fruit. Fertilizers should not be added until the tree begins to grow. Also, too much fertilizer can produce leggy growth and a reduction of fruit.
  • Irrigation – once your tree is established, watering should be slow and about every couple of weeks. Too much water will make fruit less sweet.
  • Care – grass and weeds should be kept away from the trunk of the tree as well as any mulch. Pruning is generally not needed and may cause the tree to go into distress and produce sour orange fruit.

By taking into consideration these ideas on how to make oranges sweeter, I hope that this year’s crop of oranges will be your best and sweetest yet.

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