Harvesting Oranges

In my mum’s garden, we have a couple of orange trees that are more than 20 years old. Every year we harvest them and usually, my mum makes great homemade orange marmalade (jam). I learned some important things about when and how to do harvest oranges to avoid mistakes. If you have an orange tree or a friend with an orange tree in their garden you might have the opportunity to pick fresh fruit. Here is the info on when and how to harvest your oranges, how to pick them from a tree, how to tell if oranges are ripe, what to do, and what to avoid in the whole process.

Our oranges picked up from one of my mum's orange trees
Our oranges picked up from one of my mum’s orange trees

When to Harvest Oranges – Right Harvesting Time

When to pick oranges off the tree is actually the most important step in harvesting oranges. Choosing the right harvest season is very important as if you choose the wrong time to harvest this citrus fruit will not be ripe See below photo of green oranges). The thing you need to know about oranges is they only ripen on the tree which means you don’t want to pick oranges before they are ripe as oranges won’t continue to ripen once picked up.

Oranges here in the Mediterranean are harvested from late December to the end of January, which is here a cold, winter period. The exact time depends on the particular tree variety, micro-location of both your garden and the particular tree as well as of the current year’s weather.

Oranges are ready to be picked
Oranges are ready to be picked

How do you know when oranges are ready to be picked?

You can’t tell just by the color. To determine if oranges are ripe, go to your tree and look for one orange that is evenly colored, it feels firm and looks heavy enough for its size. You can either twist the orange off and pull or, which is a much better way, use pruning shears to cut the stem off from the tree.

This is a better way as by pulling off the fruit you can sometimes hurt your tree branch or rip off the top part of your fruit. Cut this orange in half, open and taste it to see if it’s ripe. If it tastes sweet and juicy, then it’s time to go and pick the rest of the oranges.

You may also notice perhaps some of the oranges start to drop onto the ground. This is definitely the time to harvest. You can pick the oranges off the ground just make sure they are firm and that there’s no tear or dent in the skin.

Do oranges get sweeter the longer they are on the tree?

Yes, at the stage when they are not ripe yet, for each day they stay longer on the tree, the fruit will be sweeter. However, if you let them stay on the tree after they are ripe, they will eventually drop on the ground and if not picked, they will get off and finally rot. So, the answer is: it depends 😉

What happens if you leave oranges on the tree?

If you leave oranges on the tree, they will eventually drop on the ground and if not picked from the ground, they will get off, start fermenting, become sour, and eventually rot.

How many times a year can you harvest oranges?

It would be great if we can have several harvests a year, but, for time being, each tree produces just one crop of fruit per year, usually in the winter season.

Green oranges at our trees are not ready for harvest yet
Green oranges at one of our tree are not ready for harvest yet

Can you pick oranges when they are green?

Well, in theory, yes you can but they will not be ripe, they will taste acidic. The best option is to leave the fruit on the tree to ripe until they change in orange color (green oranges are not ripe!) and become sweet and juicy. Bear in mind the oranges will not continue to sweeten once they are picked from the tree. In the case of satsumas, it is a bit different, this type of citrus tree continues to ripe even when picked when it is half – green.

How to get orange off the tree

Snipping orange fruit from the branch with garden scissors
Snipping orange fruit from the branch with garden scissors

The best way to pick oranges is to take your garden scissors (snippers) and snip the orange from the branch so that you don’t tear the peel of the fruit or harm your tree branch.

Picking fruit from the taller branches
Picking fruit from the taller branches

To pick oranges from a tall tree, shake the tree branches to let fruits fall on the floor. You can also use a ladder to climb up to the level where you can reach fruits with both of your hands. Or get a long stick such as a broom handle or hiking stick to shake fruits off the branches. Orange trees are not very tall usually so most of the harvest should be done easily, from the ground. If for any reason you choose to shake the tree or let the fruits fall on the ground it is a good idea to use a tarp and spread it below the tree to prevent fruit rotting.

Cutting off orange with garden scissors (pruning shears)
Cutting off orange with garden scissors (pruning shears)
Picked orange fruit from the tree
Picked orange fruit from the tree

Do oranges continue to ripen after they are picked?

Oranges do not ripen off the tree which means that after being picked they will not continue to ripen, so keep them on the tree and monitor the ripening process.

Keep the oranges in the clean cotton bag
Keep the oranges in the clean cotton bag

Storing your oranges

To store your freshly picked fruits, keep them in the clean cotton bag or on the fruit tray. They can last for a few weeks at room temperature, 3-4 weeks in the refrigerator. We usually eat ours pretty soon, squeezing orange juice or making some lovely orange marmalade.


In this video, we are picking our oranges in my mum’s garden. As you can see it is a very easy process, all you need is a pair of garden scissors and a cotton bag for storage – have a look:

Fresh, homegrown oranges are a real delight so make sure if you ever have the opportunity to pick oranges to gather all that you can. You can also make orange marmalade to preserve them for future use.

Our oranges
Our oranges
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