If you're interested in growing fruit in a home garden, you have many options when choosing trees. Mandarin oranges, or satsumas, can be fun to grow and the variety called "Owari" (Citrus reticulate "Owari") is an especially good choice for a home with children. A small, manageable tree that grows well in the ground or a container, its fruits are essentially seedless and have loose rinds that small hands can peel easily. This variety can survive occasional frost and grows in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 9 and 10.
1. Planting Time
The "Owari" satsuma tree doesn't become completely dormant in winter, but it begins putting out vigorous new growth in early spring and continues growing actively through early fall. You can plant the tree anytime during its active growth period, but it's best to put it in the ground or a new pot in spring or early summer, so that it has several months to grow before winter arrives. Avoid planting the tree in late summer or fall so that tender new growth won't be damaged by winter cold. Never plant the tree during winter, because the ability of roots to take up water and nutrients from soil is poor during cold weather.
2. Planting Site
An "Owari" satsuma tree needs full sun to grow best, so choose a site that gets good light for most of the day. If you live in an area prone to winter frost, placing the tree near a warm, west- or south-facing building wall can help protect it from cold, but keep the tree at least 5 feet away from the wall to allow it to spread. Siting the tree near a large, tall tree can also help keep cold air from settling around it, but ensure the larger tree isn't located where it shades the satsuma. Avoid planting sites that are soggy or tend to remain wet for long periods, because this can promote root rot and other fungal problems.
3. Planting Hole
If you're planting an "Owari" satsuma in the ground, dig a hole about twice as wide as the tree's root ball, with a depth equal to the depth of the root ball or the tree's pot. For a tree that's going into a new pot, choose one that's at least 4 or 6 inches wider than the original container and has drainage holes. Inspect the outer roots of the tree, prune back any damaged roots and cut back roots that curl around the root ball, which are called girdling roots. Place the tree in the hole, ensuring it's at the same depth as it was previously, because planting too deeply can smother the tree and cause it to die. Backfill the hole or fill the pot with soil amended with compost and tamp it down well, watering fully to ensure no air is trapped around the tree's roots.
4. After-Planting Care
Once the tree is planted in its new spot or container, add a 2- or 3-inch thick layer of mulch to help conserve soil moisture and keep down weeds. During the first season, water the tree regularly to help it develop an extensive, deep root system. The "Owari" satsuma grows at a moderate rate and becomes 10 or 12 feet tall and equally wide when mature. You can shape the tree as it grows by pruning back branches, but do this during winter, when its growth slows. You can also feed the tree each spring before new growth appears, using a balanced, 10-10-10 granular formula, spread at the root zone at a rate of about 1/2 cup per tree.