1. Q. Can I grow an orange tree from the seed of an orange? Will such a tree ever produce good-to-eat oranges and, if so, how long will it be before a tree from seed produces fruit?
A. The production of citrus in this marginal hard-freeze areas should be accomplished by planting in a sunny, southern exposure area which can be protected during severe cold or plant in a container which can be moved to a protected area. The main reasons that seed are not used is because the length of citrus seedling juvenility (non-productiveness) can be 7 years or longer. Also, oranges, grapefruit and limes are not cold hardy enough to have a chance of surviving unless protected from below 25 degrees F.. If you want citrus, you should wait until March and purchase a satsuma (mandarin). However, if you insist on planting an orange seed, you should know that citrus seed have the unusual characteristic of producing nucellar seedlings which are vegetative (identical to the mother-tree) rather than genetic in origin. From each seed planted, three sprouts can emerge. Two will be fast growing sprouts which are vegetative in nature and will produce a tree exactly like the one from which the fruit was obtained. The center, weak sprout, if it emerges, is the genetic or different-than-its-parent growth which should be removed.
2. Q: My daughter asked me a question regarding the gender of oranges. It is her belief that oranges with seeds are female while those without are male or neutral. Is there any truth to this?
A: Gender of trees is associated with the flower rather than the fruit. Usually most flowers are perfect, meaning they have both male and female parts; an orange tree has a perfect flower. Some fruits need seeds to make growth hormones so that the fruit will develop normally, however there are a few fruit which develop without seed such as Oriental persimmons and navel Oranges. These trees are very susceptible to stress as stress causes the fruit to drop. So seediness of fruit is a function of the type of fruit, rather than the gender of the fruit.
3. Q: About three years ago, I planted a couple of orange seeds into a plant in my room and now they are all about a foot tall and look healthy. Will they grow to full size indoors?
A: Full sized orange trees make a wide, roundish bush at least 8 to 10 feet tall and about that wide. So not only is space a limitation, but also sunlight. All fruit plants require full sunlight for optimum tree growth and production. So the light inside the house would never support that kind of growth either. Your best bet is to gradually step it up (transplant it) into larger containers ultimately ending with a container about the size of a wiskey barrel. As you step them up put them outside in full sunlight and allow them to grow to fill the container. Once they become root bound then they need to be transplanted again ending with a container about the size of a wiskey barrel. Be sure to include a slow release fertilizer in the media and water on a regular basis. It would be good if you included a water soluble fertilizer every month. Remember containers dry out much faster than plants growing in the ground. You will need to move them in when it gets cold or protect them from freezing in some manner. They can be easily covered as well. Since citrus grown from seed has a fairly long juvenile period, it will take about 7 to 8 years for it to flower and potentially bear fruit.
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