Oranges are a major cash crop for Florida. The trees were introduced by the Spanish in 1565 when they founded St. Augustine. Many orange trees today are propagated by grafting mature orange tree limbs onto root stock of a separate plant. The trees that are produced from grafting produce fruit faster than trees grown from seed. Grafted trees may produce fruit in 3 to 5 years, while seed-grown trees produce fruit in 15 to 20 years. One way to obtain a Florida orange tree without having to graft one yourself is to purchase a tree from a Florida nursery.
Determine in advance which type of orange tree you want. Oranges are classified as round oranges, navel oranges, blood oranges or acidless oranges. They are subclassified as seedy or seedless, and by season of maturity. Most oranges produced commercially are round oranges. Navel oranges are easier to peel due to the second layer of fruit in the blossom end, which creates a navel indentation. Blood oranges are pigmented, while acidless oranges are less tart.
Contact the University of Florida IFAS Extension for a list of reputable Florida nurseries. These nurseries will provide you with quality Florida orange trees. You can purchase trees out of season and have them shipped to you if you purchase from a nursery that is far from your home. Or you can travel to the nursery and transport the tree yourself. Most trees that are shipped are small in size and are shipped bare-root. This is because some states, such as California, prohibit the transport of soil that may carry pests or soil-borne diseases across state lines. Small bare-root trees are also less expensive to ship. Trees that you pick up may be tree-spaded trees, balled-and-burlapped trees or bare-root trees.
Examine trees in the nursery before purchasing them if you can travel to the nursery. Examine trees shipped to you before accepting the shipment. Refuse delivery of trees that are not acceptable.
Look over the canopy of the tree. An orange tree’s canopy should not be larger than its root ball. A small root ball cannot support a large canopy. Thin canopies may be an indicator of stress due to lack of water, rough handling in the nursery or declining health.
Pick a leaf from the canopy of the orange tree. Trees that are infested with disease or insects often show signs on their leaves. For instance, a curled orange tree leaf is often the work of a leaf-roller caterpillar. Other signs of infestation or disease may include leaves with holes, spots, blisters or bumps.
Examine the trunk of the tree for scars or tears in the bark that are often made from heavy equipment. Scarred bark may be a sign of rough handling. Rips in the bark can open the tree to fungal infections. You may have to pull back the burlap to examine the bark near the base of a burlapped tree.
Look over the roots of a tree. If the tree is burlapped, you may have to remove the burlap. Lift a containerized orange tree from its container. The roots should appear white and succulent. Broken, dry, woody or brown roots are roots that are dead or damaged by disease.