How Can I Grow a Cutie Mandarin Orange Tree in Zone 7?

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Orange tree in Texas

Orange tree growing in a micro-climate of hardiness zone 8b in a Texas garden. Image courtesy of Kelly Smith, all rights reserved. Used with permission.

How can I grow a Cutie Mandarin Orange Tree in Zone 7?

The Cuties orange called the “Cuties California Clementines®,” is not a specific plant. More accurately, it is a marketing brand label.

We also refer to the “Cutie” type of fruit as a ‘zipper orange’ for its ease at peeling off the rind, especially for young children or people with limited dexterity. The fruit comes from a mandarin variety of fruiting tree.

For any gardener who wishes to grow a small orange tree that produces a zipper-like orange fruit, you will want a plant variety related to the Citrus reticulate, which grows the smaller fruit. In the United States, the orange tree is hardy in zones 9 – 11.

What is a Cutie? Differences in Orange Trees and Varieties

Fruit of an orange tree

Fruit ripening on an orange tree. Image courtesy of Kelly Smith, all rights reserved. Used with permission.

Clementine (Citrus reticulate ‘Clemente’) is the common variety of mandarin orange tree that produces a small fruit. It is a native of Southeast Asia, then transplanted to the Mediterranean and now grown in the United States, too. It is a thorny tree that produces fragrant flowers and flavorful fruit.

The California Cuties are produced from a hybrid fruiting tree: the Clementine and the Murcot mandarin, which, when harvested, are small fruits that are easy to peel. It is a seedless fruit and has a very good taste as many families have discovered.

The Tango is also a Murcott mandarin variety. The Tango is patented, and may be sold as a Cutie, as well.

The Satsuma mandarin varieties of trees produce a seedless tangerine that is grown primarily for the canned mandarin orange industry.

Cutie in Zone 7: Containers Are The Key

As President George Washington, and many gardeners since, have demonstrated, it is possible to grow your own citrus tree while living in a zone 7 – such as he did at Mount Vernon – by creating your personal version of an orangery, or a room or building where you can ‘winter’ your tree to keep it safe from the cold.

Plant your Cutie in a very large container so you can move it indoors to protect it from cold weather. The plant, flowers and ripening fruit do not tolerate freezing temperatures, so you’ll need to move it from outside to indoors and back again as the seasons change.

Make a plan by identifying the two locations; one indoors and one outside, and the route to get it in and out of your home, along with extra helping hands, in advance. You can also grow a containerized orange tree in a heated greenhouse, or indoors as a houseplant where it will get adequate bright light and sun exposure.

Growing an Indoor Orange Tree

You can grow your Cutie as a houseplant, or move it from indoors to outside and back as needed, but remember: even small orange trees may seem large for a home’s interior; they reach approximately 15’ – 25’tall.

The tree thrives in well-amended organic composted soil, with a tendency to the acidic side. The soil must drain well, as orange trees do not like “wet feet” and when fertilized, should be watered along the drip line in early spring and summer or fall.

Look for a window that provides shade from hot afternoon sun but is otherwise sunny. While the tree is growing, water well, but less often in winter. Orange trees do drop leaves, flowers, or fruit when the plant is too dry or too wet. This plant also suffers from a number of rot diseases when it is not allowed to dry out a little between watering.

Dwarf orange tree

Dwarf orange tree grows in a container in a desert garden where water and shade are essential. Image courtesy of Chris Eirschele, all rights reserved.

Tips for Growing an Orange Tree in a Container

Good strategy means planning ahead:

  • -Use a large container that is made of a lightweight material and do not forget to pop out the plugs at the base or make your own holes by drilling three or four in the base or lower sides.
  • -A saucer that is not attached to the container is a better choice in this situation; remember this plant does not like wet feet so having help lifting the container to empty the water in the tray might be necessary.
  • -Keep an insecticidal soap spray handy for ridding the plant of insects before bring the plant back inside. You don’t want “hitchhikers” to spend the winter inside your home.
  • -Prune only the deadwood in spring and set outside after all danger of frost is past.

Orange Trees: Inside and Out

As a plant, the orange tree offers gardeners shiny green foliage, white flowers and a nice fragrance. Oranges to eat are the ultimate bonus, whether you’re growing a standard orange or a Cutie.

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  1. Perfect info – thanks, Chris!! I am due any day with a baby we have nicknamed Cutie, and we would love to plant a tree for him/her. This gives me lots to think about.

  2. You are very welcome, Brannan. Thanks for popping in on Decoded Plants and sending us a question at Ask the Expert. Good luck with your orange tree and best wishes for you and your baby.

  3. How long does it take to produce fruit. Could you turn this into a business if you had a controlled environment. Metal Halide/HPS lamps, intake/outflow air systems automated nutrient feed system etc…


  4. Hi Mike:
    Once a tree blooms and sets fruit, you are on your way to having fruit for yourself. How much and whether the harvests will be continual is largely about how well the trees are cared for and in what kind of weather they are grow in.

    Growing fruit trees has been turned into successful businesses often; as I mentioned in talking about the Cuties oranges. Whether you grow your orchards outside or indoors with a climate controlled system; the trees will produce oranges when they have what they need to grow.

    Some people do value food more when it is grown outside because they feel the food tastes better. But there is an argument for using hydroponics for growing plants in climates where they normally would not survive outside.

    Though I caution; hydroponic gardening, in this case growing trees, requires knowing what plants require to thrive in that type of environment: chemical nutrient balances, light exposures, etc…

    But first, I would suggest you grow your own tree outside and see if you like growing an orange tree at all.

    Good luck to you.

  5. Can I successfully grow a Cuties tree that actually bears fruit? Can it be a container tree outside? Our soil is not the best. We enjoy this fruit and I would love to plant one for my grandson. A small reminder when Nan is no longer around.

    • Sally:

      I am so sorry that I missed your posted question. I absolutely think planting a tree for your grandson would be a good remembrance of you.

      You do not say where you live: your hardiness zone determines how successful you could grow an orange tree outside. Or, if you could grow one in a container that would be moved inside during winter.

      As for soil; amending soil with an organic compost is job #1. The soil (in planting bed or in pot) much be as healthy as possible for success in any kind of gardening.

      I urge you to visit your county extension Master Gardeners. They can advise you of your best choices and how to accomplish growing the tree. Please keep in mind that any tree, fruit tree or otherwise, would be a wonderful gift to your grandson.

      Good luck to you. I wish you and your grandson much success growing your tree.

  6. I have 2 trees,,(grew them from seed) , in the same 18 inch container and have been growing them for over 4 to8 years now. I bring them in during our oregon winters and put them back on top of the hot tup lid all summer. after all this care,, and time i have yet to see it get any flowers. they are about 22 inches high and have VERY nice foliage but no fruit so,,they are either still too young,,, to close to each other or maybe there needs to be a male and or females in order to pollinate? together
    Anyone know whats up?

    • Ben:

      You do not say in which zone you live: Oregon has 4 – 9 zones in its state. A lot of variety in your state’s climate.

      Is this orange tree a dwarf plant? What is the light exposure that the plants receive when outside?

      I definitely would separate the trees, careful to work out the roots for each.
      You say nothing about the soil you planted them in or the fertilizer you are using. You need a good organic compost in your soil.

      For local guidance, I would visit your local county extension Master Gardeners: for your climate they can advise on what to do to get oranges from your trees. I wish you well growing your plants.

  7. In season, we take 6-8 Clementines a day. Recently a large number of Californians have moved to the Hudson Valley where growing zones range from 5B to 7B as you get further south. Many of these transplants are people in the film industry returning home for its cheaper, but also not suffering drought. Many want to have orangeries, or fully dedicated hot houses that can house a goodly number of Orange trees for a family of 10.

    Several live within the high peaks region of the Catskills around Woodstock New York (Zone 5a) where sun in winter on mountain top properties can be set for a full day of sun. Is it a feasible endeavour to grow any variety of eating orange or clementine within a greenhouse?
    Would you have a book to recommend on growing citrus just to be familiar? I’ll tell you, from visiting Sicily several times, there are not Clementines that can touch Sicilian citrus! They have a premium perfume that makes their juices seem like they’re heaven sent.

    I’ve done well creating a Colonial Williamsburg style garden in Amish country Pennsylvania were the peach variety was as good as Sicilian Clementines. We had both June bearing and ever earring Strawberries that grew very well — pure heaven — but now we’re in New York—Cooler and shorter season. Plus, you can only eat so many apples.

    Thanks for your time—Shorts answers are fine; we know you’re busy.
    Kind Regards, Jackson

  8. It is the way of gardeners to want to grow what others have grown. The variety of climates you mention and what you found good to eat in each of them shows the dilemma we all face at one time or another. But, gardeners must use good judgement, too, and use what they know about growing plants to get the best outcomes.

    You can put a greenhouse anywhere and try to grow any plant you want in it. But, do I think it is a feasible endeavor to grow oranges in zone 5a? You would have to replicate all an orange plant would need: to grow healthy, produce flowers, and then produce fruit. George Washington had an orangery at Mount Vernon, but he was in zone 7.

    My advice is to try raspberries, blueberries, peaches, and pears, and a variety of apples. And have you put in a rhubarb plant, a perennial that will give you fruit every year and goes nicely with strawberries.

    I don’t have a book to recommend, but I do strongly suggest you visit your local university extension Master Gardener. They are your best local resource for getting on board quickly in a new gardening region.

    Good luck to you and happy gardening.

  9. My children LOVE cuties and I would love to start growing them at home. We are currently setting up a tower based hydroponics system for lettuces an strawberries an the like that will be housed inside a well ventilated greenhouse. We are in Zone 8B here in Austin, TX. We would like to have some fruit bearing trees including the zipper oranges for my kids. My question is, would you suggest I try to include the fruit trees in the hydroponics system? or might it be better to grow our small orchard in containers with soil and bring them into the greenhouse in the winter? Would it be ok to have them crowded into a corner during the 1-2 months it gets cold, and allow them to spread out more when they are outdoors? Would watering the trees with any left over water from the hydroponics system be a good idea to add some nutrients if there are any left in the water when the system is cleaned?

    Sorry for the wall of questions, anything you could help me with would be wonderful.

  10. I would like to grow a cutie plant from the most basic beginning possible. I have only found actual baby trees to purchase online–is there somewhere where I can purchase a root graft to plant? or seeds for this specific type of plant? I know it will take a long time to grow and then to fruit, but it is important to me to grow and tend to it from the beginning. any advice would be welcomed, thanks! 🙂

    btw i live in socal.