The When and How of Picking Oranges at Their Best

Ripe oranges have a little secret: they can be delectably sweet, full of juice and still remain completely green. Depending on where they grow, in fact, oranges may never become orange. So how DO you know when your own orange tree (Citrus sinensis) is ready to harvest? Our tips on the when and how will soon have you picking them like a pro!


Color Confusion

Oranges get their orange color from pigments called carotenoids. But unless they spend enough time in temperatures lower than 55°F (12.7°C), green chlorophyll hides the carotenoids. In tropical parts of USDA zones 9 through 11, oranges may ripen without ever “degreening.” In order to tell ripe green oranges from unripe green ones, you’ll need additional clues.

Trust the Timing

Different orange varieties are in season at different times of year. The peak seasons for the most widely grown varieties are:

  • Valencia oranges (Citrus sinensis ‘Valencia’) — March through July. Valencias are the only summer-harvested oranges.
  • Navel oranges — November through March.
  • Blood oranges — December through April.
  • ‘Hamlin’ sweet oranges (Citrus sinensis ‘Hamlin’) — October through January.
  • Pineapple oranges — February through April. They’re a cross between Valencias and Hamlins.

Expert gardener’s tip: The local weather may extend or reduce your oranges’ peak ripening season by up to a month.

Trust the Twist

When grasped and twisted, a ripe orange pulls free of its branch with ease. If your oranges resist, wait a week and try again.

Trust Your Taste Buds

Taste is the best indicator of an orange’s ripeness. For an accurate taste test, sample two heavy, firm oranges from opposite sides of the canopy. If both are as sweet and juicy as they should be for the type of tree you’re growing, picking time has begun.

Expert gardener’s tip: Don’t rush to finish picking; depending on their variety, ripe oranges keep from two to six months on the tree.

Picking Your Oranges

Things you’ll need:

  • Heavy-duty gardening gloves
  • Canvas collection bags
  • Tarps
  • Ladder
  • Someone to hold the ladder
  • Long pole for shaking branches (optional)
  • Stem clippers (optional)

Wearing your gloves, twist the oranges within reach off the tree and drop them into a collection bag. Then spread tarps beneath the canopy. Shake the higher branches with the pole or climb the ladder and shake them manually. Empty the tarp into collection bags.

Expert gardener’s tip: Oranges with thin peels are susceptible to tearing when hand-picked. Use clippers to cut their stems from the branches.