Orange Blossom Special – Flowers, and Fruit, and Juice, Oh My!
By Heidi Sheesley


A visitor to the farm recently told me about her experience with her orange trees. Planted in large containers, they sit on either side of her patio. When they are in bloom, she opens the French doors and the entire back of the house is filled with a fresh, sweet fragrance.

It seems that would be enough reason alone to plant and grow oranges. However, a few short months later, her family is able to harvest oranges every day for an extended period through late fall and into winter. In fact, there are still oranges on her trees as I write this article.

There are many fruits that will grow successfully in the Houston area, but perhaps none more so than citrus. Citrus do not require a period of chilling as do many other fruits. Many varieties of citrus are hardy well into expected average Houston winter temperatures.

Citrus trees are evergreen, don’t require specific pruning schemes and they adapt well to shaping. Citrus are available in many sizes, from container specimens to large landscape jewels. Citrus blossoms appear as elegant white stars, often in attractive clusters, and sometimes tinged with pink or yellow. These characteristics, along with that amazing fragrance, make them outstanding landscape selections even before we consider their fruit.

Citrus have fewer problems than do many other fruit choices. Disease and insects seldom bother them. Homeowners who have been interested in growing some of their own fruit, but have been scared off by the spray schedules recommended, can be at ease with citrus. One visitor to citrus is the Orange Dog Butterfly, whose larvae feed on citrus leaves. They are an interesting-looking caterpillar; so just let them munch a bit. They won’t do any permanent damage, and the leaves will replace themselves after the caterpillar’s cocoon.

Citrus can be left on the tree after ripening for a longer period than most fruits, removing the pressure to harvest and prepare fruit for storage. Even after harvest, properly stored citrus fruits can last for a very long time without cooking or preservation, ready to eat fresh and full of nutrition.

Satsumas are probably one of the most popular citrus grown in Houston. There are many wonderful and flavorful varieties. Satsumas are a mandarin type orange, with a sweet and fragrant flesh. They peel easily and have very few, if any, seeds. Satsumas come in early, mid-season, and late season varieties, and the harvest can last several months if your trees are selected with this in mind. Satsumas are a very cold hardy citrus, surviving 20 – 25 degrees or lower.

There are other oranges that deserve attention. Republic of Texas is the only truly cold-hardy orange. It has been growing around Santa Fe, between Houston and Galveston, since 1847. The tree will grow relatively large and produces delicious, medium to large fruit that is sweet, and juicy.

Marrs Early Orange does not grow terribly large, but sets large quantities of very sweet, medium fruit with low acidity. Marrs begins producing when relatively young, and the fruit is virtually seedless unless grown close to a pollinizer.

Parson Brown is an orange that can be planted in containers as well as in the ground. If grown in a pot, it will only reach about 8 feet, making it a perfect choice for patios or small gardens. The fruits have a deep orange interior and a rich flavor, and make great juice. Parson Brown has only 10-20 seeds per fruit.

The best juice orange may be the Variegated Valencia Orange. This is an attractive and vigorous plant. Variegated Valencia produces medium-large, sweet fruit with high juice content. The fruit holds well on trees.

Cara Cara Pink Navel Orange has flesh that is closer to that of a blood orange. The flavor has a hint of grapefruit with the typical excellent sweetness of a navel orange.

The most colorful of all the blood oranges is the Moro Blood Orange. The exterior shows a bright red blush, and the internal color is pink to deep red depending on the number of cool nights. The juice is equally dark and sweet. The fruits are medium-size, easy to peel, very juicy, and usually seedless.

Parson Brown, Variegated Valencia, Cara Cara, and Moro will withstand mild freezes but need protection from a hard freeze – 26 degrees or below.

Mandarins are highly desirable citrus. Cleopatra, Kishu, and the Honey Mandarin are very juicy, and peel and segment easily. The kumquats are a wonderful landscape selection with bright orange fruit eaten skin and all. The limequats are hardy hybrid whose flavor is similar to that of a Mexican Lime. The Meyer Lemon is nearly ever-bearing lemon. If given winter protection, the Mexican or Key Lime, bears thin-skinned, delicious greenish-yellow limes.

Who wouldn’t love to grow their own grapefruit? Bloomsweet is a cross between a pummelo and sour orange. It is a hefty yellow grapefruit with very juicy, sweet, pale flesh. The flavor is unique, tasting of grapefruit and orange. It is easy to peel and segment. Bloomsweet has good cold tolerance.

This year’s Urban Harvest fruit tree sale was a great success, and they will be offering fruit trees for sale once a month through the spring at their Eastside Farmers Market. The first sale is February 25, 8 a.m. – noon. Get there early as some varieties sell out fast!

Heidi Sheesley is the owner of TreeSearch Farms Inc., a wholesale grower of perennials, natives and unique plants. Contact her at HeidiInTheGarden@urbanharvest.org. Learn about gardening classes, community and school gardens, farmers markets and more at www.urbanharvest.org or call 713-880-5540.