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Bitter Orange Trees. Care? Uses? Grafting?

Posted by olivesandoranges Zone 10 (My Page) on
Fri, Jun 11, 10 at 15:00

I have just rented a house on a Greek Island and there are 12 Bitter Orange trees in the garden. I can't communicate with the owner very well, but I gather he got them by mistake, he wanted sweet oranges...

a) I don't want to kill his trees - they are fairly well established, about 4-inch thich trunks - we are in full drought here for a good 5 months in the summer. How often do I need to water them to keep them alive, and how often for a good crop. What fertilizer to they need? can I grow nitrogen fixing plants around the base? Will they need pruning?

b) Is the juice drinkable, I read it was a bit like grapefruit juice - I am not much of a jam maker, any other ideas?

c) The owner mentioned that one could graft sweet oranges and lemons onto some of the trees, is this difficult? Again I don't want to kill his origional trees, but it seems daft to have all those trees and still not have a lemon for my G&T!

Thanks for any advice that you can give a Black-Thumb, with a big garden to care-take!

Follow-Up Postings:

RE: Bitter Orange Trees. Care? Uses? Grafting?

The "bitter orange" has a three part leaf, unlike the leaf we are used to seeing on citrus trees, and the fruit is only about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. If this is the case with your trees, what you have is Poncirus trifoliata, hardy to zone 6 and used as a root stock on citrus for dwarfing and resistance to root rot. It is used in Chinese medicine and to make a very bitter marmalade. I have made the marmalade and it is improved by adding orange juice (at half the volume of marmalade but the experiments continue). IMO the best feature of this fruit is its fragrance. A small bowl can perfume a room for 1-2 weeks. There are a number of postings on Poncirus trifoliata on this forum.

If the leaf is not a three part leaf and the fruit size is about that of a sweet orange, then you are likely to have a sour orange (the Seville orange is a variety of this) which is sometimes called a bitter orange. These are used to make the traditional marmalade (which is less bitter) and the rind is used as a flavoring. One variety is used in Earl Gray Tea. Also 18th century recipes were written for these sour oranges, not the sweet oranges that we use because the sweet oranges either had not yet been introduced to Europe or were still exceedingly rare.

I hope this helps you to find a way to make use of these trees.


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