It’s January here in Northern California and today I ate the first (of many) oranges off my ‘Washington Navel’ tree….
I LOVE that first, sweet-with-a-faint-hint-of-sour-taste the season’s first orange gives me…I look forward to it all year, beginning in late Spring when my garden is literally blanketed with the scent of it’s heavenly blossoms…to the Fall when it’s green ‘tennis-balls’ start to swell…to January, when everything in the garden seems so dreary and all I have to do is look at my orange tree just covered with it’s cheery orange fruits…
This is the tree I recommend for my clients, as it’s the first to ripen in our area – versus a Valencia orange which ripens in the Summer. Personally, I’d much rather have something delicious to eat from my garden in January – when there’s not a whole lot going on – versus Summer when everywhere you turn there’s something happening. In the Winter, eating fresh fruit from your gardenseems just a little bit more ‘exciting’..
Each orange is quite large, with a thick, easy to remove rind, and with each orange segment easy to separate (not like grapefruits which can be a messy nightmare to eat). It’s not a super-juicy variety, but still has excellent flavor and has almost no seeds whatsoever.
It’s also a great tree for our Zone 8 climate, as it prefers our cooler temperatures (whereas most other orange trees want a much warmer climate).
But beware! All citrus need to be protected from freezing temperatures which seem to be occurring here with more and more consistency. And that’s a particular risk you run when planting this Winter-bearing variety. An unusually cold frost (mid-twenties) can really damage or ruin an entire crop, but I’ve found once the tree has a few years under it’s belt it tends to survive the freezes with little damage. When your tree is young pay close attention to the weather reports – and if a hard freeze is coming make sure you cover your tree with burlap, or run Christmas lights through it (yes, they DO provide enough heat to stave off damage) or both!
Also – once your tree is heavy with fruit – beware of strong winds and heavy rain which weigh down your tree and can rip it in two. When a storm is coming, make sure you prop up it’s limbs – I use 2×4′s, stained a dark brown (so they blend in with my garden a little better than the bright, untreated wood color).
I wish I had the forethought to take pictures of the damage caused to this tree a few years ago during a terrible storm…but I was in such distress, taking photos was the last thing on my mind! I had completely forgotten to prop up the branches of my tree and watched as 50MPH winds tore through my garden, splitting my tree down the middle – THREE INCHES FROM THE GROUND! I kid you not!
I was just frantic – as this tree is crucial not only because I love it, but because it blocks an unsightly view of my neighbor’s roofline. It would take me years to get another tree that size (and I’m not known for my patience)! My good gardening friend advised me to round up some neighborhood men to hoist the tree back together, pulling it with a winch (that’s how heavy it was!) and bolt the trunk together ‘Frankenstein-Style’.
I was skeptical to say the least but you know what? It worked!! This tree NEVER SHOWED ANY SIGNS OF TRAUMA! No wilting, no pouting, no dropping it’s leaves – nada! Well…not exactly. The following year, it never set fruit (focusing it’s energies, instead, on healing itself), but the next year we were back in business.
I’ve since had several tree experts tell me that Citrus are one of the most resilient trees around – they never seem surprised when I show them my tree’s success. However, every year since that storm when I see it heavy again with fruit, I’m amazed all over again…