Mandarin Orange Tree Care: Planting A Mandarin Orange Tree

Image by TANAKA Juuyoh

By Amy Grant

If you celebrate the Christmas holiday, you may have found a small orange fruit in the toe of your stocking left there by Santa Clause. Otherwise, you may be familiar with this citrus culturally or simply because you were attracted to the trade name ‘Cutie’ at the supermarket. What are we talking about? Mandarin oranges. So what are mandarin oranges and what is the difference between Clementine and mandarin oranges?

What are Mandarin Oranges?

Also referred to as “kid-glove” oranges, mandarin orange info tells us that the scientific name is Citrus reticulata and they are members of a distinct species with thin, loose peels. They can be the same size as a sweet orange or much smaller dependent upon the variety, and hang from a thorned tree attaining heights of up to 25 feet. The fruit looks sort of like a small, slightly squashed orange with a vibrant orange to red-orange peel enclosing the sectioned juicy fruit.


Popular in the Philippines and throughout Central and South America and commonly grown in Japan, southern China, India, and the East Indies, the name “tangerine” may apply to the entire group of Citrus reticulata; however, usually this is in reference to those with red-orange skin. Mandarins include cultivars Clementine, Satsuma and other cultivars.

‘Cuties’ are Clementine mandarins marketed prior to Christmas and W. Murcotts and Tango mandarins after. The terms “tangerines” and “mandarins” are used almost interchangeably, but the tangerines refer to red-orange mandarins shipped out of Tangiers, Morocco to Florida in the late 1800’s.

Additionally, growing mandarin oranges are of three types: mandarin, citron and pummel. And what we often categorize as mandarins are actually ancient hybrids (sweet oranges, sour oranges, and grapefruits).

Planting a Mandarin Orange Tree

Mandarin oranges are native to the Philippines and south eastern Asia and have gradually developed for commercial cultivation through Alabama, Florida and Mississippi with some lesser groves in Texas, Georgia and California. While the fruit of the mandarin is tender and easily damaged in transit and susceptible to cold, the tree is more tolerant of drought and cold temps than the sweet orange.

Suitable in USDA zones 9-11, mandarins can be either grown from seed or purchased root stock. Seeds should be started indoors and transplanted once germinated and grown into a small tree either into another pot or directly in the garden in the hardiness zones above. Make sure when planting a mandarin orange tree that you choose a site with full sun exposure.

If using a container, it should be three times bigger than the seedling’s root ball. Fill the pot with well-draining potting mix amended with compost or cow manure, or if planting a mandarin orange tree in the garden, amend the soil as above with one 20-pound bag of organic material to each foot of soil. Drainage is key, since mandarins do not like to get their “feet” wet.

Mandarin Orange Tree Care

For mandarin orange tree care, water the little tree regularly, once or twice a week in drier climates. For container mandarins, water until the water runs through the drainage holes in the bottom of the pot. Keep in mind, the mandarin will tolerate drought over inundation.

Fertilize the tree with citrus fertilizer around the drip line in early spring, summer or fall according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Keep the area at least three feet around the tree weed and grass free and devoid of mulch.

Only prune your mandarin to remove dead or diseases limbs. Trim back frost damaged branches in the spring, cutting just above the live growth. Protect the mandarin tree from frost by covering it with a blanket, hanging lights off the limbs, or bringing inside if container bound.

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