Clementines are the fruit of small trees that thrive in warm and sunny climates. They are popular for their sweet taste, small size and easy-to-peel skin. These bright orange, seedless citrus fruit are a hybrid of a sweet orange and the Chinese mandarin. Packed with health benefits, Clementines first became popular in the United States when a freeze in Florida in the 1980s made oranges scarce and expensive.
Clementines get their start as grafted trees. Bud wood that has been cleared of any viruses is grafted onto root stock, then planted in well-drained soil. They should be watered with around 32 inches of water per year. It takes up to 3 years for a Clementine tree to start producing fruit.
Clementine trees should be protected from late spring frosts, as a cold snap may kill any developing buds. Because most varieties are so small (averaging only 12 feet in growth, although some have been known to grow to twice that size), they do well as container trees, which also makes them easy to move if they need to get more sun or come in from the cold. In the spring, these citrus trees produce long, glossy green leaves and small bunches of white flowers with a yellow center. Once the blooms fall off, the fruit develops slowly from a hard green circle the size of a dime, into the larger, deep-orange ripe fruit.
In most climates where clementines grow, including California, the fruit is not ready to be harvested until November. They are frequently seen sold in boxes in supermarkets around Thanksgiving and Christmas. Clementines are fragile, and should be harvested within 3 days of readiness. They are ready to be harvested when the color turns deep and the skin is soft, but not mushy or bruised, which can indicate that you waited too long to pick them. If the skin is very firm and the color still green in places, the fruit is not ready to be harvested. Store harvested clementines in a cool, dry location.