Orange trees (Citrus sinensis) are one of the most rewarding plants that a home gardener can grow. In the spring, the tree puts forth masses of beautiful, fragrant blooms, followed a few months later by juicy, nutritious fruit. Choose from many varieties, which range widely in terms of the quality and the taste of the fruit. Most orange trees average around 30 feet tall, and no varieties are cold-hardy.
"Valencia" is the most important variety of orange grown commercially in Texas and California, according to horticulturists with Purdue University. Although smaller than many other varieties, the fruit of this tree is very juicy and rich. The oranges have thin rinds, making them easy to peel, and are almost seedless. In warm, tropical climates such as South Africa, the oranges have more seeds and have a thin layer of chlorophyll over the rind, making them appear more green than orange.
The oranges from this tree are the most popular in the world for sectioning and eating right off the tree, according to Purdue University. This is partly due to the fact that their thick rinds are easily peeled and the orange sections are easily separated. Washington navel oranges are large, sweet and nearly seedless. They are not as juicy as some other cultivars, and they cannot be pasteurized or the juice will turn sour. For this reason, Washington navel oranges are not commercially processed other than for sale as whole oranges. These trees need a cooler climate than some other orange varieties and are grown primarily in California.
Jaffa trees produce small oranges that have smooth peels and are seedless. The flesh, however, is of high quality, and the yellow juice is thick and rich, making this an excellent orange for commercial processing.
This variety is prized for its ability to withstand colder temperatures than most orange tree varieties. The fruit of the Hamlin is small, with smooth, pale skin and equally pale juice. Although the oranges are not of high quality, the hardy tree will produce a lot of them, making this variety commercially valuable. The Hamlin is the leading early producer in Florida (oranges are harvested before March).
"Pineapple" orange trees produce medium to large oranges that have good color when exposed to cool nights. The rind is thick, smooth and blunt on both ends. This orange is known for having excellent juice in both color and taste, although the orange does have a high number of seeds--about 20 per piece of fruit. "Pineapple" is one of the earliest harvesters, ripening before Thanksgiving.