Image by Andrew Ratto
By Jackie Rhoades
Tangerine trees (Citrus tangerina) are a type of mandarin orange (Citrus reticulata), their loose skin, easily pulled away from the fruit, and the sweet segments within make them a delicious treat. In the United States, the ‘Clementine’ is the most familiar of the species and is readily available in grocery stores. This article is for those gardeners with an interest in how to grow tangerines or how to care for a tangerine tree you already have.
Planting Tangerine a Tree
Unless you live in a tropical or sub-tropical region, you’ll be growing tangerines in a pot. While they withstand cold temperatures better than most citrus, they still can’t survive a hard freeze. Even in warmer climates, it’s best to choose a sheltered place for planting. Tangerine tree growth is dependent on lots of sun, so choose a sunny spot as well.
You might be tempted to try growing tangerines from seed, but in all likelihood, the tangerine trees that result from your efforts won’t bear the fruit you’re expecting. Much better to purchase your tangerine trees from a reputable nursery. The plant will be grafted onto a rootstock and already have a year or two’s growth.
To know how to grow tangerines best, you’ll need to gather a few things before you unwrap your tree. First, you’ll need a container that leaves plenty of room for growth. While potted citrus trees don’t mind being a little pot bound, you want to give your growing tangerine’s roots plenty of room to expand. Don’t go overboard. Just make sure there are a few inches of free soil around the root ball than there was in the container it came in.
Which brings us to the second item before planting. Tangerine trees like a neutral pH, so it’s a good idea to wash off as much of the peat around the root ball as you can. Most good potting soils are already neutral and the addition of peat can drive the pH into the acid range.
Place your tree into the pot and fill the area around the roots with soil. Set the tree at the same level as it came from the nursery and tamp the soil down well. Young tangerine trees need plenty of water until they’re settled in their new home. Keep the soil moist, but not wet, for at least a week or two and the water regularly.
How to Care for a Tangerine Tree
Now that you’re finished potting, it’s time to talk about how to care for a tangerine tree. Tangerine trees grown in a pot need to be fertilized at least twice a year and as soon as you see new growth, it’s time to begin. Set your pot in a sunny place and let nature take its course.
When the weather is consistently above forty degrees F., it’s safe to move your tree outdoors although, like most houseplants, gradually moving your tangerine to its new microclimate will prevent shock and the loss of leaves. Follow the same process in the fall when temperatures begin to drop.
When your tangerine tree is indoors, it will need to be watered when just the top of the soil is dry to the touch. During the time your potted tangerine tree is outdoors, it will need to be watered daily.
When talking about how to care for a tangerine tree, we would be remiss not to mention the future. Unlike some other fruits, tangerine trees need no pruning.
As it grows, your tree will need to be repotted about every three to four years. Like other houseplants, one size up in pot size should be enough.
It will also take three to four years for your tangerine to bear fruit. So be patient and enjoy its beauty in the meantime. And when you taste the first fruits of your labor, you’ll be glad you learned how to grow tangerines.