How does your garden grow?

Louise Grabell

It’s that time of year again. You know, the holiday season. How did this happen? I think yesterday was July, eh? So, I usually devote some space at this time of year to tell you what to do with some of those Christmas bloomin’ beauties you purchased, but I’ll save that for next time.

I’ve been recently bombarded by the question: “My oranges are orange…does that mean they’re ripe?” In order for me to answer that question, I need to know what kind of oranges you are growing. You cannot tell ripeness by color. If your oranges are beginning to fall off the tree, they are ripe. But you don’t have to wait that long if you know what type you are growing. For example, tangerines, mandarins, and clementines ripen from October through January. Navel oranges can be harvested from November through late spring. Fukumoto navels are already ripe. Do a taste test before you harvest, and only pick what you need or want to give away. Leave the rest on the tree for further harvesting when you are ready. Minneola tangelos ripen in January, and you have one month to pick and eat them! Arizona “sweets” may be ripe now, but try one first. Mine ripen towards the end of December. Valencia oranges are ready in March. For a complete ripening chart for all citrus including orange varieties, grapefruits, and lemons, visit and scroll to the end. You can also download it for future reference. Our location is high desert, so add about two weeks to the printed schedule. Good luck, and now you don’t have to ask me anymore!

Citrus are a bit finicky, especially oranges, in that some years they produce abundantly, and other years not so much. I have a Hamlin that alternately produces tons of small fruit some years, and then nice large fruit in other years. Last year was the year for small oranges and now I see really large ones on the tree. My Lisbon lemon tree doesn’t care what year it is—it simply produces too many lemons! I mean, how many lemons can one person eat or bake into cakes or cookies? It’s my sorcerer’s apprentice tree! No matter how much I prune it back, it just grows and grows with more and more lemons! You can do a Google search for “Arizona Sunshine Lemon Pie” for a real treat.

As far as grapefruits are concerned, leave them on the tree through late spring, eating them freshly picked whenever you want. Grapefruits just keep getting sweeter the longer they remain on the tree. Food for thought: Did you know that the average citrus tree produces 600 pounds of fruit annually? There’s a huge orchard of citrus in our neighborhood!

Be sure to visit the Master Gardeners website at for all up-to-date information and events for your community. Garden questions? You can reach our very own Garden Helpline by calling Pat at 520-407-6459.

Remember, nothing brings more tranquility to the heart than a beautiful garden.