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How to Grow Orange Trees in the Desert

By Katie Jensen ; Updated September 21, 2017

Growing orange trees in the desert might seem to be a hopeless task. When you think of oranges you probably think of lush green California or tropical Florida. The desert around Phoenix, Arizona, has major citrus groves that include oranges. The mild winter temperatures are perfect for oranges. Almost all that's needed to add is water.

Select valencia, navel, Arizona sweets and Mandarin orange varieties that grow well in the desert.

Dig a hole that is 3 feet deep by 3 feet wide for a 15-gallon size tree. Plant larger trees in holes at least 2 feet bigger than the size of the tree's container.

Mix half of the removed soil with equal amounts of bagged topsoil, compost and organic matter. Backfill the hole with the mixed soil and amendments high enough that the depth the tree is planted at the same depth it was in the pot. Water enough to settle the soil. Add more soil, if necessary, to attain the required height in the soil.

Score the sides of the root ball with a knife before planting if the roots are compacted. Plant the tree and cover the top of the mixed soil with a 4-inch layer of garden soil to prevent the orange tree from drying out. Mound the soil around the tree to form a well that's 3 feet in diameter and about 6 inches high.

Water the tree once a week for the first month after planting by letting the well fill up with water. Water deeply every few weeks after that, more often in hot summer months and less often in cooler winter months.

Fertilize with a citrus fertilizer twice a year in February and August. Water well before and after fertilizing. Fertilize more if leaves are turning yellow.

Protect the orange tree from freezing and cold temperatures by covering it with a blanket or stringing it with ornamental lights.


Things You Will Need

  • Soil amendments
  • Shovel
  • Citrus fertilizer


  • Harvest the crop in late fall and early winter depending on orange variety.
  • The orange tree should be grafted onto sturdy sour orange stock. Most tags will specify the variety of the graft and the root stock.
  • Pruning is not required. However, trees can be pruned to keep them within size boundaries without a problem.
  • Caliche, compacted calcium carbonate, is rock hard and not very porous. It occurs naturally in the desert soil. It may be necessary to jack hammer the caliche out. If that's not possible locate the tree somewhere else.


  • Remove fallen oranges so rats don't become a problem. They love oranges and will climb walls to get at them.
  • The tree needs iron if the veins of the leaves are green but the leaves are yellow.
  • Don't use LED lights as a source of warmth for the tree. They don't give off enough heat.

About the Author


Katie Jensen's first book was published in 2000. Since then she has written additional books as well as screenplays, website content and e-books. Rosehill holds a Master of Business Administration from Arizona State University. Her articles specialize in business and personal finance. Her passion includes cooking, eating and writing about food.