Eight Steps to Growing Navel Oranges in Containers
Love oranges, but unable to grow them outside in your area? Or do you prefer to grow an orange tree indoors rather than in an outdoor grove? Read on to find out how you can grow your own fresh and flavorful Navel oranges in a container or pot in just 8 steps.
About Navel Oranges
Navel oranges are the absolute finest oranges to eat. They're fresh, incredibly flavorful, and can be grown in containers with ease. Here are some more details about Navel orange fruit and trees:
Navel Orange Fruit:
- Classic Navel oranges are unmatched in rich flavor, with fine, juicy, sweet flesh, easy-to-peel and seedless
- Develops a bright rind color
- The most distinctive feature of navel oranges is the presence of a navel—a small and rudimentary secondary fruit embedded in the apex of the primary fruit
- The juice can be enjoyed if consumed immediately, but unlike Valencia, the juice can turn bitter quickly
- The fruit can be sensitive to weather changes, and blossoms can drop
Navel Orange Trees:
- Medium to large trees
- A rounded tree with deep green foliage
- Umbrella-like foliage
- Crops mature November to February
Where Do Oranges and Citrus Grow?
With proper citrus care, having a citrus tree such as lemon, lime, grapefruit, navel orange or orange tree will produce decades of delicious fruit. However, the growing regions in the United States where oranges and other citrus fruit can be planted into the ground are limited to regions in California, Arizona, South Texas, Louisiana and Florida.
If you do not live in those regions, we do not recommend planting citrus in the ground. However, we consider this a good thing, because it's going to make your citrus growing a lot easier.
Growing Navel Oranges Outside of Growing Zones
So how do you grow Navel oranges outside of these growing zones? You do so by planting your orange tree in a container. You can use a plastic barrel, a wooden planter, a nice decorative pot, or really any sort of container that has adequate holes on the bottom for drainage.
Another option, which we enjoy, are fabric smart pots which do not have holes, however, the entire container is made of a fabric mesh which allows proper drainage and aeration of the soil.
The Planting Process for Growing Navel Orange Trees in Pots
The actual planting process of Navel orange trees in pots is very straightforward, with standardized use of potting soil and watering and fertilizing schedules.
You can keep any citrus tree pruned back, but the Navel orange is naturally a smaller dwarf type variety which gets to be about 4 to 6 feet, but it will still produce an abundant harvest.
Here are 8 steps for growing navel orange trees in containers:
Step 1: Container for Navel Orange Trees
The keys to an appropriate container are having sufficient drainage through the material either being some sort of mesh cloth (SmartPots) or having a few holes on the bottom of your planter.
Secondly, the size of the pot should be at least 5 gallons, with our favorite size recommend being 15 gallons. We find that anything above 25 gallons is quite difficult to physically move with only one person. so we recommend 15 gallons as the sweet spot.
Step 2: Soil for Navel Orange Trees
Choosing soil for your Navel orange trees is simple. All you need is any sort of potting soil. We do not recommend gardening soil or topsoil to use for orange tree container gardening. This is advantageous because even if you lived in a citrus growing region, you would have to take into consideration the type of soil.
For example, US Citrus is based in the Rio Grande Valley, and we have a wonderful sandy loam type soil which drains very well. Other types of soil such as different types of clay soils especially with limestone mixed in will have a very difficult time draining and this will adversely affect the root health of your tree.
With a standard potting soil for your container gardening, you do not need to worry about any of these factors. You also don't have to worry about the pH balance of the soil. We recommend growing citrus in containers and using any standard potting soil which is available at your local nursery garden center supply store.
Step 3: Watering for Navel Orange Trees
Watering is crucial, typically when Navel orange trees are planted into the ground there is a worry of proper drainage and overwatering your tree. Navel orange trees planted in the ground prefer to have their roots a bit on the dry side. We have found that if there is proper drainage in container gardening it is difficult to overwater citrus trees.
The best way to figure out how much water your citrus tree needs is to actually look at the tree. If the leaves are wilted and dry, your tree needs more water. After watering, the tree’s leaves should perk up.
Overwatering Your Potted Navel Citrus Tree
Overwatering is a possibility and we find that this especially happens when the trees are indoor and there's a garden saucer used underneath the pot. When there's a garden saucer there is impeded drainage, which is helpful while you're on vacation and cannot water your tree for a week, or when you have your trees indoors to prevent water seeping onto the floors and causing damage.
However, if trees are over-watered, the plant leaves will wilt and may turn a bit yellow and look sad. Watering more will not improve the condition of the tree obviously, and you will likely notice that the soil is waterlogged at this point.
Giving your tree a break by taking it outside if possible or letting the soil drain without a garden saucer in the bathtub for a day is a good solution. Afterward, you can adjust your watering schedule appropriately.
Step 4: Fertilizer for Navel Orange Trees
Your Navel orange tree will need both macro and micronutrients, just like a human. The macronutrients that all plants need are Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium. You have likely seen fertilizers and soil which state three numbers together, this is the N – P – K system which shows the concentration and relative amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium respectively.
These machinations are very important for the development of the root system, the color of the leaves, appropriate photosynthesis, the growth of the trunk of the tree, proper flowering, fruiting, and taste of the fruit. See our blog article on nutrition for more information.
Micronutrients are also very important - think of these as vitamins for humans. They are needed much in smaller quantities and plants can have characteristic symptoms if they have a micronutrient deficiency. We will detail out micronutrients and symptoms of deficiencies in later articles.
Between regular potting soil and the fertilizer we recommend, you will have all the macronutrients and micronutrients that your tree needs and a simple fertilizing schedule for easy and effective fertilizing when you get your tree and for every February, May, and August. See our fertilizer schedule below for amounts that we recommend.
Ounces to use every Feb, May, and Aug
Miracle-Gro for Citrus, Avocado and Mango (13-7-13)
Espoma Citrus (5-2-6)
Step 5: Sunlight for Navel Orange Trees
Sunlight is crucial to Navel orange trees, especially because it is a tropical plant. In most areas of the United States, you want to maximize sunlight with full sun exposure. If you are planting indoors, make sure that it has full sun next to the window, but we would also recommend having a grow light.
Our Grow Light Recommendation
We love SANSI 24W LED grow lights. They have a clean white light because they are full spectrum. They have all the right mix of light spectrum for growth, leaf flush, flower blossoming, and fruit set. 24 watts is a good amount of power for indoor lighting. We recommend placing the grow light anywhere from 6 to 18 inches away from your tree.
Your tree needs 12-16 hours of light a day. You can be very flexible with your light. You can keep it on for many days straight. However, all citrus trees need some dark time.
You can easily use one grow light for 1-3 trees. An easy way is to use one light on a tree for 24 hours at a time.
All grow lights get hot. We prefer SANSI because they use ceramic sinks to dissipate the heat. We have found the majority of grow lights on Amazon to have disturbing safety profiles. Use standard safety precautions, don't let babies and pets stare directly into the light or touch the heat from the grow light!
Our socket/clamp Recommendation:
We recommend the following clamp for your tree. It has a UL certified socket, electrical cord included as well. And it fits the Sansi bulb!
A Navel orange tree does best when it has at least six hours of sunlight a day. If the temperature is consistently above 90° especially for younger trees, there may be some wilting of the leaves. This wilting will reverse however and at this point, it would be advantageous to keep your tree by elementary and partial shade.
Step 6: Winter Protection for Navel Orange Trees
We recommend that under freezing temperatures, you move your citrus tree into a warmer area such as a garage or indoors for the entire winter. This point you can utilize grow lights for continued growth.
There is nothing more frustrating than losing years of work and future decades of fruit than losing your citrus tree to a freak cold-snap which occurred while you were vacationing out of town! Citrus can die with exposure to temperatures in the teens for even up to 12 hours.
Step 7: Where Do I Buy My Navel Orange Tree?
First of all, if you live in the states of California, Arizona, Louisiana, or Florida, you will need to purchase your citrus tree locally as citrus cannot be imported into your state because of USDA regulations.
Step 8: Harvesting Your Navel Oranges
This harvest season is winter to late spring.
Growing trees is fun, but if you want to have delicious, seasonal citrus fruit right away, join the Craft Citrus Club!
Get a curated box of fresh-harvested citrus fruit from South Texas sent to your door every month!
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Leopoldo Edkins on
Very informative thanks for the help
I just got a navel orange tree and am researching how to care for it properly. Your article has been such a huge help. I had a question regarding the fertilization schedule though, should the miracle grow and the epsoma citrus be applied at the same time or is it an either/or?
Thank you very much,