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
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.
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.