Tangerine Dreams

Tangerine Dreams

Tangerines, manderins or naartjies. What you call them makes no real difference to the great value that these soft citrus fruits bring to the home garden. They’re attractive evergreen trees or large shrubs that are bathed in sweetly scented white blossoms in spring, which in turn produce delicious fruit that ripens from autumn through winter. There is nothing quite like picking a fresh tangerine from your own tree, peeling off the aromatic skin that’s so rich in oils, and then biting into the succulent flesh of the juicy fruit. Many different hybrids or cultivars are grown commercially by citrus farmers, some of which are available for the home garden. Tangerines thrive in many parts of the country, are easy to grow and are very rewarding if cared for correctly.

Growing requirements

  • Select good-quality, healthy trees and make sure that they have been propagated by means of budding in a nursery environment. An obvious bud-union scar is always evident on the stem of the young plant where the rootstock meets the actual cultivar or hybrid part of the tree.
  • Remove any growth that emerges from the rootstock, to prevent it from dominating the plant and causing the desired part of the tree to eventually die off
  • Plant the young trees in well-prepared planting holes in a sunny, aerated position with well-drained soil. Add compost and superphosphate at the recommended rate.
  • Plant the tree at the same level as it was growing in the nursery container. Don’t bury it deeply as this can cause collar rot, a disease that damages the main stem.
  • Stake the young tree to prevent damage from wind. Water frequently until the tree is well established and has made new growth. Thereafter water when the soil is dry.
  • Check regularly for pests and diseases.
  • Remove any competing weeds or lawn grass from under the drip line of the tree.
  • Feed every 6-8 weeks with a suitable fertiliser (3:1:5 is good).
  • Don’t allow fruit to develop on very young trees. Remove any fruit at infancy to encourage vegetative growth.
  • Fruit can be expected in the third or fourth year, depending on how vigorously the tree grows.

Popular cultivars for the home garden

Small-to-medium with moderate growth rate. Attractive willow-like leaves and weeping habit.
Small-to-medium sized, orange-red when ripe, easy peeler. Sweet and juicy with few-to-many seeds. Fruit hangs well on trees. Ripens mid-season

‘Nova’ (A hybrid between ‘Clementine’ and tangelo ‘Orlando’.)
Tree: Medium-to-large, vigorous with lush foliage.
Fruit: Medium-to-large flat shape, yellow-orange when ripe. Tight skin peels easily. Sweet and juicy with few seeds. Ripens early-tomid- season

‘Minneola’ (A hybrid called a tangelo, which is across between tangerine and pomelo.)
Medium-to-large size, vigorous with rounded shape
Large with prominent neck, orangered when ripe, relatively easy to peel. Rich and juicy with a distinctive tart flavour. Few-to-many seeds. Holds well on the tree. Ripens mid-season

Tree: Medium-to-large with slender, upright shape and smallish leaves
Fruit: Medium-to-large with prominent neck, green to orange colour, easy to peel. Sweet and juicy. Few to- many seeds. Ripens mid-to-late-season

Tree: Small-to-medium with slow, spreading growth and large leaves. The most cold-hardy of the tangerines
Fruit: Medium-sized, bright orange colour, easy to peel. Mild, sweet flavour with plenty of juice. No seeds. Ripens early season

Did you know

  • Tangerines originated in Southeast Asia.
  • Tangerine peel is dried as a condiment in China (where it is called kuo pei) for its sweet, spicy  flavour, or to reduce odours.
  • Tangerine essential oils are used for flavouring in the food industry.
  • Tangerines make attractive container specimens in the ornamental garden.
  • Tangerines set more fruit if they are cross-pollinated with other compatible citrus types. Most are, however, self-fertile.

The Gardener