Let me start by saying that I have not had great success in my previous attempt to grow citrus in containers. But this summer, my friend Maryellen of Westwind Farm, convinced me to give it a try. At one of her plant sales, I purchased an Owari Satsuma Mandarin in a gallon container. It was covered in green fruits, so I was optimistic that I would at least get one crop from the tree before I killed it.
Maryellen assured me that this type of citrus would be easy to grow...and in fact, I wouldn't need to bring it indoors in winter. Instead, she suggested I move it to my (unheated) greenhouse, once temperatures drop below 35 or so. I was skeptical, but loaded it up and brought it to live at my house.
I placed it in a sunny location, close to the house, so I could keep an eye on its progress. For most of the summer, the plant just sat there. No growth, no ripening, no nothing. I was worried that the change of locations had resulted in shock. I gave it water when dry, but other than that, no care.
For three months, I watched the tree...sometimes inspecting it, sometimes casting a disapproving glance. The green fruits seemed to get a bit larger, but other than that, nada. Then, we had our first chilly night...actually, we had a couple of chilly nights. When I checked on the plant again, the fruits had started to turn orange!
My little Satsuma Mandarin was starting to ripen! I got that feeling I sometimes get when I see a double rainbow. It was pure magic!
I left it in place until November, when our first real freeze approached. Though the oranges had continued to ripen, they were not ready to harvest (citrus does not ripen once picked). So, I moved the tree to my greenhouse for shelter. And...I am ashamed to admit this...but with all of the holiday hubbub, I promptly forgot about it until yesterday.
I ran out to check on it, certain that the fruit would be rotten. And though there was one that was beyond ripe, most were just perfect and ready to harvest (enter double rainbow feeling). I grabbed them up and had some for breakfast. Delish!
If you are thinking of growing Mandarins, here are a couple of tips:
- If you live in zone 7 or higher, you can likely grow them outside, with some shelter when temps drop below 30 degrees.
- If you live in zone 8 or higher, you can grow them in the ground. Choose one of the most cold hardy varieties and protect it during the first couple of winters until it is well established.
- For cold protection, plant trees in a sheltered area on the south side of a house or use burlap/blankets to insulate.
- Once established, mandarins planted in the ground can survive with little supplemental watering. Mandarins in containers will need to be watered when dry, otherwise fruit production will be affected.
- This citrus can grow in full sun to part shade. I would suggest being careful of too much reflective heat if it is situated next to cement or brick.
- Citrus trees are heavy feeders that need specific nutrients. Search out an organic fertilizer made for citrus trees if you don't want to spend the time blending the nutrients yourself.
- Mandarins bloom in late winter, early spring, with fruit ripening as cold weather approaches
- Mandarins start fruiting 3-4 years after grafting