North Floridians with citrus trees are reaping the fruits of their labor now that winter is here. Many types of oranges, grapefruit, mandarins and tangerines are ripe and ready for picking. The key to successfully growing citrus in our colder climate is to select early maturing varieties that begin maturing in October or November through January.
Sweet Oranges – A North Florida Favorite!
Sweet Oranges are the #1 dooryard citrus fruit. Early season oranges include ‘Hamlin’, ‘Parson Brown’, Ambersweet’, and Navel. ‘Valencias’ are grown further south because the harvest is from March to June so they are more susceptible to freezes in our area. But, I know some expert gardeners that live in protected areas that boast of bumper crops each year. There are lots of selections so you might want to make room for a couple of trees.
Grapefruit – Another Local Winner!
Grapefruit is the #2 choice to complement sweet oranges. Grapefruit vary in harvest dates depending on the variety. The harvest season for ‘Duncan’ and ‘Ruby runs from December to May while ‘Marsh’ and ‘Redblush’ is from November to May. Although most fruit are ready by December, many home gardeners leave them on the tree and pick as needed because they don’t have sufficient refrigerator space to store the fruit. This is not a bad idea because with favorable weather conditions, they hold up well on the tree. Some think they even get sweeter with age.
Satsumas and Mandarin Types – Early Harvest
Mandarin types also vary based on variety, but the harvest time for most ranges from November to December. The ‘Owari’ satsuma types are one of the earliest and harvest is usually completed by November but this year peak season ran a little late. Unlike other mandarins, satsuma fruit hold poorly on the tree after ripening and should be picked promptly. If fruit is left on the tree too long after they mature, they become puffy or pithy and loose their flavor. Use hand pruners to clip fruit when harvesting or twist the fruit to avoid leaving part of the skin on the tree. This will cause the fruit to rot and shorten the storage time.
Lemons and Limes – Not As Well Suited For North Florida
Lemons and limes are not cold hardy and are better adapted to central and south Florida. However, the ‘Meyer’ lemon is the most cold hardy lemon variety and can be successfully grown in our area. The ‘Meyer’ lemon is a cross between a true lemon and a mandarin or sweet orange. It has high juice content, lower acidity compared to other lemon varieties, and is harvested from November to March.
When To Harvest
One common question from those new to citrus is “when is the best time to harvest?” If in doubt and you think they might be ready, sample one. Citrus matures slowly and does not ripen once removed from the tree. Some are picked based on peel color while others like lemons are picked according to size and degreened to get the yellow color. When harvesting oranges, select fruit that are firm and have a good weight which is an indication of high juice content. Fresh citrus store much better under refrigeration, especially with the roller coaster of warm/cold temperatures that we experience. Store at 35 to 50° F and do not place the fruit in airtight plastic bags because this promotes mold. If you intend to make marmalades from the oranges, the earlier fruit has higher pectin content which produces a better gel in marmalades.
A Great Way To Share – Second Harvest’s Citrus Drive
If you have more fruit on your tree than you can use you may be interested in the Second Harvest North Florida/Society of St. Andrew Citywide Citrus Drive. It’s January 26 from 8:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m. Trucks will be parked at five locations around town (Baymeadows/Phillips Hwy, Mandarin, Westside, Arlington, Kernan/Atlantic) to drop off your picked fruit. Or call Second Harvest at 353-FOOD to arrange to have volunteers come to your home and pick fruit from your trees. If you’d like to volunteer to help harvest fruit, call 353-FOOD or sign upon line at www.handsonjacksonville.org.
You can contact the Duval County Extension Office at 904-255-7450 or online at duval.ifas.ufl.edu
duval county urban horticulture extension agent interests include florida-friendly landscapes and urban gardening» Read more from this author