The heady scent of orange blossoms are wafting through the air of Fallbrook this month, as the many trees and groves found locally move into peak blooming season.
Since orange blossoms are viewed as a sign of good luck, they have been freely used in celebrations, like weddings. The attractive blossoms are perfect for many uses, but are key to the evolution of this fruit.
The growing process
Citrus trees bloom here in the spring in order to produce fruit later in the year, which usually takes five months or more for oranges, depending on the variety.
Orange trees will typically lose up to 80 percent of those flowers in the first “drop;” these are the flowers that were un-pollinated. A second drop of flowers occurs when the new oranges are the size of a marble; a third drop takes place when the fruit is almost full-size. This process provides a way for the tree to help the very best fruit survive.
Since Fallbrook is a town of rolling hills and microclimates, orange trees can bloom in some areas first, and other areas of the town later. Whether trees are planted simply as family fruit, for decorative (and useful) purposes in containers on a patio, or as a producing grove, the fragrant spring blooms signal the arrival of warmer weather and fruit growth.
Beekeeping is alive and well in the Fallbrook area and in many cases, hives are purposefully placed in orange groves during the blooming season in order to produce orange blossom honey, which is very desirable in the retail market.
Basics of growing oranges
Orange trees are sun worshippers. It is important to allow them an environment with a lot of sunlight. Be cautious not to plant them underneath other trees or in the back corner of a patio. Fall is the time to prune citrus trees, removing dead branches. This makes sure that nutrients go to only strong areas of the tree.
Insects that find orange trees attractive include aphids, mealy bugs, ants, and leaf miner.
“Aphids and mealy bugs produce a sugary substance that then attracts ants,” explained Ed Warr, assistant store manager of Grangetto’s Farm & Garden Supply in Fallbrook. “For that problem, we generally recommend Neem Oil.”
For leaf miner, Warr said he recommends a product with the active ingredient Spinosad, like Captain Jack’s Deadbug. Most importantly, he said, customers need to read all labels carefully before making a decision whether they wish to use a particular product or
“Leaf miner has either become very prevalent or more people are becoming aware of it,” said Warr, noting that he has seen a steady increase in customers addressing the problem over the past few years.
While there are specific recommendations for the various pest problems with citrus trees, Warr said that really the best way to address issues is to have a leaf analysis done.
“That can identify various problems, including micronutrients that the tree might need.” Grangetto’s recommends customers locally to Fallbrook Ag Lab for that service.
Experts advise watering orange trees more sparingly in the early winter, so as to provide better blooms. They say not to restrict water altogether, just apply lightly. From December to February, they say to water orange trees once every two weeks. As spring approaches, it becomes necessary to water once per
The drought condition in Southern California has led to increasing insect problems for citrus trees.
“Drought causes stress to the trees and then they get insects such as thrips,” said Warr. In managing the serious malady of the asain psyllid, Grangetto’s recommends Bayer Advanced “Fruit, Citrus & Vegetables” spray, with the active ingredient Imidacloprid, an insect neurotoxin. However, because it is a systemic treatment, one must be careful about the strength of any treatment like this if they wish to consume the fruit after the application.
Authorities say to fertilize orange trees three times each year, at even intervals.
“We recommend spring, mid-summer, and fall,” said Warr. “I like to recommend a balanced fertilizer like 15-15-15. A mature tree will take four to six lbs. of fertilizer, three times per
The experts at Grangetto’s welcome any and all questions about landscape, plants, irrigation, vegetable gardens, and trees. The store is located at 530 E. Alvarado Street in Fallbrook. Visit www.grangettos.com for educational information as well.
Springtime Orange Cake
An easy dessert to make that is sure to impress guests is a Springtime Orange Cake.
Simply begin with a box of white cake mix (any brand). Follow the normal preparation instructions using the option of all egg whites (no yolks), and substitute freshly squeezed (and strained) orange juice for the water called for. The cake will be a very faint peach color, so if desired, add one drop of yellow food coloring and one drop of red, to make the cake more orange in color. Bake in any form desired – single layer, double layer, or cupcakes according to cake mix instructions.
Frost with a simple, homemade frosting, using freshly squeezed (and strained) orange juice. Begin with two cups powdered sugar. To sugar, add two tablespoons softened butter, two tablespoons of the freshly squeezed (and strained) orange juice, and one-half teaspoon freshly-grated orange zest (rind). Beat until smooth. Frosting will be a faint peach color with the flecks of zest. Again, for a more orange color, a bit of yellow and red food colorings can be used to tint frosting as desired.
As soon as cake (or cupcakes) has cooled, top with frosting. Slices of fresh orange can be artfully arranged atop cake or cupcakes for better serving presentation.
Orange Blossom Water
The essence of orange blossoms has been used for a very long time in making perfumes and has a colorful history as an aphrodisiac as well. In addition, the use of orange blossom water is legendary in historical accounts as well. In France, raising bitter orange trees was a long-standing tradition for the sole purpose of making this attractively scented liquid, which has been used in many ways.
Orange blossom water has been used in beauty treatments, to scent linens, and to make dessert delicacies. French and Middle Eastern cuisine have featured this in numerous recipes.
It takes about an hour to prepare orange blossom water, but then it needs several weeks to “steep.”
*Pick fresh orange blossoms that have not been sprayed with pesticides, insecticides, etc. in the early morning hours (before sun gets warm). Discard any blossoms that have been chewed on or have bad spots.
*Pick the petals off the blossoms (discard the bud) and wash petals in cool water; rinse thoroughly to remove dirt and insects
*With moisture still clinging to the petals (although rinsed), use a stone or mortar and pestle to grind the petals into a paste-like substance. Let sit for a few hours like this.
*Place the petal material into a large glass jar with lid and cover with distilled water. Do not over-fill with water, more can be added later. A rule of thumb is about 1/2 cup of water for every dozen blossoms.
*Let the jar stand in the full sun for two weeks.
*Check the scent of the petal liquid. If it smells too weak, leave it in the sun for an additional week. If the orange flower water ends up being too strong, you can always add distilled water later.
*Strain the petal water (with cheesecloth) into several smaller sterilized jars with lids.
*Store in a cool, dark place. If stored in a cabinet, it’s shelf life is about one year; if stored in the refrigerator, it should last for up to three years.