The Plant Man: Growing mandarin oranges

By Steve Kawaratani

“The person we lost will never be forgotten. They will continue to live in our hearts and memories….” –Florence Littauer

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Photos courtesy of Steve Kawaratani

Steve Kawaratani

In Japanese culture, the mikan, a type of mandarin, orange is more than just a citrus; it embodies traditions, winter celebrations and the New Year. Its bright orange color suggests happiness and good fortune, making it an esteemed present during the holidays. The practice of gifting a mikan to a family member or friend is symbolic for a prosperous year.

My Mom was always happiest when it was mandarin orange season, particularly as she became older. It was easy for her to peel and being seedless, it made a convenient and enjoyable repast. I imagine it also connected her to time spent in Japan helping to pick fruit at a relative’s mikan orchard.

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Tasty mandarin oranges

While mandarins can grow in both inland and coastal areas like Laguna, they thrive in the Central Valley, which has a warmer clime. The heat is essential in developing the fruit’s sweet flavor. However, some coastal locales, like the Canyon, are candidates for mandarin cultivation, albeit with mixed results.

If you want to give it a go, select a mandarin orange variety like Satsuma, Clementine or Tango. These varieties are well-suited for warmer backyard orchards. Mandarins require at least six to eight hours of direct sunlight and avoid heavy soils that don’t drain well. Always prepare the soil with a quality planter’s mix.

Thinning the fruit helps improve fruit quality by allowing the remaining fruits to receive increased sunlight and nutrients. Be vigilant for citrus pests such as aphids, scale and spider mites. Always consider the use of organic pesticides, and only as needed.

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Mom’s 95th birthday

I don’t believe a day passes without thinking about my mother. She was truly the best! Her love in celebrating the mikan as part of a seasonal tradition and the simple joy of eating a tasty fruit will always be a loving memory. See you next time.

Steve Kawaratani has been a local guy for seven decades and likes to garden and drive the Baja Peninsula with Catharine and Loki. He can be reached at or 949.494.5141.

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