A Hardy Orange? Yes indeed! And no, this isn’t some newfangled creation – it’s an heirloom species native to parts of China & Korea that have been cultivated for thousands of years. They are valued both for their ornamental value as well as for their edible fruit, & they have traditional medicinal uses too.
These deciduous plants are considered a shrub to a small trees – they take pruning well, so can be allowed to bush out or be trimmed into tree form. The Hardy Orange has glossy dark green leaves during the warmer months, & then provides great fall color in jazzy yellow shades as the weather cools. The fruit will remain on the tree throughout the winter if it is not harvested, providing additional interest through all the seasons. The leaves are fragrant, as are the lovely large 2” showy white spring flowers with pink stamens that will attract bees & butterflies.
The Hardy Orange can grow in a wide variety of conditions. They tolerate heat & drought well, & are not picky about soil type. They are able to grow in heavy clay soils, sandy soil, & nutritionally poor soil ranging from very alkaline to acidic. Part shade is perfectly acceptable for growing these, although the plants will produce more fruit in full sun. Hardy Orange shrubs have thorns, making them deer & rabbit resistant, & also a great choice for a ‘security’ type hedgerow. Of course one of the main thrillers is the extreme cold tolerance of this bad boy! The Hardy Orange is commonly used as rootstock for other citrus plants to help increase their cold hardiness. I will caution you though, the plants are ‘borderline’ hardy in Zone 5. If you are in Zone 5, you will want to protect your shrubs with some extra mulch for the winter & grow them in a sheltered location if possible.
Whether or not the Hardy Orange is technically citrus or is a citrus relative is debated, but after tasting the fruit, I am siding with the citrus camp. The fruit is somewhat bitter with a taste akin to that of a lemon or a grapefruit. You can enjoy it raw, made into juice or jelly, or in any number of recipes from a chutney to smother chicken or in deserts. The fruits start out green & ripen to a deep yellow color in the fall. Hardy Oranges measure 2 - 2 ½” in diameter, & their skin is covered in a light fuzz. They are high in Vitamin C. Each plant can produce as much as 30 pounds of fruit in a season!
OTHER COMMON NAMES: Trifoliate Orange / Bitter Orange SCIENTIFIC NAME: Citrus Trifoliata syn. Poncirus Trifoliata / Citrus Trifolia / Citrus Triptera COLOR: White Flowers / Orange Fruit PLANT SEEDS: Fall / Cold stratify / Outdoors after frost / Indoors weeks before last frost HARVEST: Fall BLOOM TIME: Spring (Apr-May) HARDINESS ZONE: 5 - 9 PLANT HEIGHT: 12 - 18' PLANT SPACING: 5 - 15' LIGHT REQUIREMENTS: Sun - Part Shade SOIL & WATER PREFERENCES: Average