Mandarins are part of the large and bountiful citrus group and among the most popular backyard evergreen fruit trees that people like to enjoy fresh straight from the tree. They can also be enjoyed in salads, cakes or pudding, juiced or made into marmalade or jam.

In the garden, they are attractive trees, suited to either garden beds or pots. For small gardens or for containers, select mandarins grafted on dwarf rooting stock. Dwarf trees, which only reach around 1.5m-1.8m high, produce normal sized fruit.

Mandarins are popular bright orange fruit (or can be reddish or yellow orange) as they are easy to grow, have large crops and the fruit is easy to peel with few seeds so they are ideal for a quick snack. Unlike other citrus where the fruit can be left on the tree, mandarins ripen quickly and can become overripe if not harvested as soon as they are ready.

To have a long harvest, select early and later fruiting varieties. ‘Imperial’ or ‘Clementine’ mandarin are early fruiters. while ‘Emperor’, ‘Afourer’ or ‘Honey Murcott’ are late fruiters.

Growing conditions

Aspect Mandarins need a bright, sunny location. Ideally, they should have sun from the morning onwards but can tolerate a little afternoon shade, especially in hot climates. Plant potted mandarins at any time (but avoid extremely hot or cold conditions). To reduce transplant stress and aid establishment water in with Seasol when planting.

Soil Mandarins grow in a wide range of soils but require excellent drainage. Before planting add homemade compost and organic matter and/or Seasol Super Compost. In areas with poor drainage, grow mandarins in raised garden beds (raised at least 30cm) or in large containers using a premium potting mix such as Seasol Advanced Potting Mix.

Climate Although like most citrus mandarins are subtropical plants, they grow in all temperate climates however in cold areas provide protection from cold winds and frosts.

How to grow and look after mandarins for tasty, juice fruit including soil, planting, and feeding

General care

Watering Adequate and regular water is critical for fruit formation and development. Lack of water can lead to loss of flowers or fruit. Deep water no less than weekly especially when plants are in new growth, flowering or fruiting. Water more frequently if plants are in hot, dry or exposed conditions or if they are growing in containers.

Feeding and mulching Mandarins are heavy feeders. Feed every season with a complete fertiliser especially for citrus such as Seasol plus Nutrients Fruit & Citrus. Supplement feeding with a liquid fertiliser such as PowerFeed PRO SERIES for Fruit & Citrus every two to four weeks. Plants in containers can be liquid fed regularly every two to four weeks while they are growing, flowering and fruiting using PowerFeed PRO SERIES Fruit & Citrus.

Protect the area around the base of the tree with a 5-7cm layer of coarse organic mulch such as sugarcane mulch, lucerne or pea straw, which helps keep the soil evenly moist and weed free.

Pruning Mandarins will fruit without regular pruning however it is necessary to remove any dead wood and thin out fruit clusters on over laden branches to encourage larger fruit and reduce the weight of the crop. Large trees can be pruned to reduce their size.

Older woody trees can be renovated by hard pruning in spring (avoid pruning in summer as the bare branches can be sunburnt).

Watch out

  • Pests The main pests that attack mandarins include aphids on new growth, scale on leaves and stems, and citrus leaf miner which causes silvery trails in new growth. Use an organic pesticide such as EarthCare White Oil insect spray to treat these pests.
  • Fruit fly In fruit fly zones, mandarins may also be attacked by as they ripen by fruit fly. Protect crops with splash baits.
  • Fruit production Mandarins can be heavy bearers every second year with much reduced crops in the intervening years. Thinning fruit in heavy cropping years can reduce the effect of biennial bearing.
  • Tree establishment Mandarins put more energy into flowering than growing in the first two years. Remove flowers for the first two years so the tree can put all its energy into healthy strong growth and tree establishment.
  • Dry tasteless Mandarins fruit are likely to be dry due to earlier than usual fruit development and lack of regular fertiliser, water and sunlight during this time. Reduce the likelihood of dry fruit by regular deep watering and feeding the tree during all stages of development from plant growth to flowering and fruiting as above.