Sunday, March 4, 2012

Mandarins? You Can Grow That!

Gardeners in Northern California can grow a lot of different kinds of fruit. Here in the Sacramento Valley we get enough winter chilling to grow nearly all the deciduous fruit species, yet are mild enough most winters to grow the majority of citrus varieties as well.
Among the citrus, mandarins are very popular. They peel easily, they are very sweet and tangy, many are seedless, and each variety ripens over several weeks in the winter or spring.
One other advantage? They’re the most cold-hardy of the common citrus varieties. And with some of the new varieties that have been introduced you can stretch the harvest season from fall through spring.
When I was growing up the best-known mandarin was Dancy. It is the one typically called a “tangerine,” and ripens around the holidays. It does have seeds, which we would spit at each other out on the pation while we waited for the grownups to get out of bed on Christmas morning. Very rich flavor.
In recent years Satsuma mandarins have become the most popular types, with Owari Satsuma the most common cultivar. For years it has been described as the hardiest of all mandarins (perhaps now superceded by Yosemite Gold). Ripens November - January. Seedless, peels easily, easy in containers, and one of the smallest trees (more like a bush, really). Several clones are grown; most common is ‘Frost Owari’. ‘Dobashi Beni’ has darker color.

An increasingly important commercial mandarin is Clementine. This variety from North Africa ripens about a month after Satsuma and has very good flavor. “Cuties” are a marketing ploy using small, early Clementines (and Murcotts). They are seedless if they are isolated from other citrus. Note: Pixie is a small mandarin that has been around for years, and the marketing of Cuties is causing some confusion. Pixie has small fruit with a mild, pleasant flavor. Introduced in 1927, it came into the trade in the 1960’s.

A few other important varieties:
Gold Nugget is popular with citrus connoisseurs. Seedless, mid to late season, it has very rich, sweet flavor; “...considered by professional taste panels to be one of the very best flavored citrus in the world.”[UCR]
Three new introductions from UC Riverside, introduced in 2002, have increased the hardiness and ripening range of mandarins.
Shasta Gold: Large fruit is mid-season but holds well on the tree. This triploid is naturally seedless, even when cross-pollinated. Good color, very juicy, very sweet.
Tahoe Gold: Fruit is early but does not hold well on tree. Very juicy, sweet, and productive.
Yosemite Gold: Late ripening, holds well on the tree. Naturally seedless, even when cross-pollinated. Good color, very juicy, very sweet.

There are many species of citrus, and a lot of natural and intentional hybrids. Mandarins are Citrus reticulata. Some hybrids with other species have also been created: the Indiro mandarinquat is a hybrid between kumquat and mandarin! The Rangpur lime is thought to actually be a sour mandarin, not a lime. And there are hybrids between Tangelo and mandarin (Page), Pummelo and mandarin (Cocktail), and more.

Citrus like a warm, sunny location. The soil should drain reasonably well, so in heavy-soil areas you should plant on a slight mound. Make a watering basin so you can water deeply, thoroughly, and infrequently. Young citrus like to be fertilized regularly: monthly or seasonally, depending on what you’re using. Yellowing leaves may indicate a lack of certain micronutrients. An established citrus tree is reasonably drought tolerant and requires no special pruning.
Citrus from your garden from fall through spring!

You Can Grow That! is a grass-roots project of independent garden centers, garden bloggers and writers, and other plant professionals!


  1. I'm jealous (here in CT) - I wish I could grow that!

  2. We have it pretty mild here in Vancouver, BC, but I'm really jealous of your California climate. You can grow things that we'd only see in greenhouses here.

  3. Great article Don, as always. I have to say that the Page Mandarin has to be my favorite of all. Easy to peel, juicy, nearly seedless and the most robust, perfectly balanced mandarin flavor I have tasted.

    Do you know why there are hundreds of varieties of Mandarins? Because they are all GOOD!NOva is great, Ponkan ( the most popular mandarin in the world ) has great flavor, and OH! Kishu seedless is fantastic too! But pick it before it rots on the tree.

    One thing to remember about Mandarins is that most are alternate bearing. Which means one year you will have a bumber crop and the next you may get very little. If you don't eat all the citrus on your tree, it is a good idea to strip the fruit you did not eat so the tree will bear copius ammounts of fruit the next year.

  4. I love citrus! I wish that I could grow that here on Cape Cod but I don't think that it would fly. Although I have seen that the folks over at New Alchemy Farm in Falmouth do grow lemons in there solar green house.
    Hmmm...maybe I CAN grow that afterall!