Harvest time is when you get to enjoy the “fruit” of your labor, i.e. growing and caring for your own fruit tree, whether indoors or out. But when it comes to harvesting citrus trees, you may be wondering when the time is right to pluck the fruit from your tree.
It can be a bit challenging to figure out when the right moment for picking an orange, grapefruit or lemon has arrived, because citrus fruits take months to ripen—six months or more on average. Some citrus fruits take over a year to fully ripen!
Here are five things to keep in mind as you begin to reap the fruits of your labor:
- Remember that citrus fruits don’t continue ripening after they’re picked. Unlike apples, bananas, pears and other starchy fruits that continue to ripen after they’re picked, a just-picked orange or tangerine is as sweet as it’s ever going to be. You should wait until your citrus fruits are fully ripened (and therefore at their sweetest) before you pick them.
- With citrus fruits, color is not necessarily an indicator of ripeness. Don’t depend on color to cue you in – the rind, or peel, of winter citrus fruits often reach their full color long before they’re ready to eat because the nighttime drop in temperature causes the color change. On the other hand, summer citrus fruits (like the Valencia orange) may have reached their perfect sweetness while still showing greenish rinds.
- When harvesting fruit from an outdoor citrus tree, start from the bottom and go up. If growing citrus fruits outdoors, it’s best to harvest from the lower branches first. This is because frost will affect fruit that’s closer to the ground, and diseases in the soil can be splashed onto the fruit when it rains.
- Citrus takes awhile to ripen, but don’t lose track of how long your fruit has been on the tree. Citrus fruit can stay on the tree for several weeks or even months after it ripens, which is great if you can’t get to it right away. (Plus, it looks pretty!) But don’t wait too long to pick it – citrus fruit that’s been left on the tree too long after it ripens will begin to wrinkle, dry out and develop a tough texture. Even worse, it may negatively impact future crops.
- The best way to tell if your citrus tree is ready to be harvested is taste testing. Take a fruit from the tree and taste it to decide if the fruit is sweet enough for your liking. If it is, you can go ahead and harvest the rest of the fruit.
When is it the right time of year to harvest citrus?
How long does it take for an orange tree to bear fruit? Most citrus trees generally produce fruit three to four years after planting (if grown from seed, they can take seven or more years before they start fruiting).
When citrus fruits have reached their peak of sweet-tart flavor, it’s time to harvest the fruit. Most citrus fruits are ready to pick during the wintertime, but the exact month depends on the type of fruit.
Here are some average harvest times for common citrus fruits in North America:
- How long does a mandarin tree take to fruit? Blossoms appear on mandarin orange trees in March or April. Fruit normally appears in May, though it may take another six to eight months for the oranges to ripen. NOTE: mandarins are the rare citrus fruit should not be left on the tree for long after they’ve ripened.
- How long does it take for a lime tree to bear fruit? Limes are actually harvested before they’re ripe, while they’re still green. Key limes are usually ready to harvest in late summer, around September or even into October. Bearss limes ripen anywhere between August and December, depending on the climate.
- How long does it take for an orange tree to grow ripened fruit? Sweet oranges are usually ready to pick sometime between December and March, while navel oranges are ready a bit earlier, somewhere between November and February. The summer Valencia orange isn’t fully ripe until the spring, somewhere between March and May.
- When are lemons ready to harvest? Meyer lemons are usually ready to harvest between August and February and are usually safe to pick once they turn yellow. True lemons turn ripe between September and April.
- When are grapefruit ready to pick? Most varieties of grapefruit are ready between December and June.