How to Pick a Ripe Orange

Oranges ripe on tree1

Oranges ripe on treeThere are differing peak seasons for oranges depending upon variety. Valencia oranges are in season from late spring to mid summer. Navels are best from mid winter to early spring and blood oranges are at their peak from early winter until early spring. Sour oranges are harvested beginning in late fall and the harvest continues through spring depending upon the region and climate.

Select. Select a firm, smooth and thin-skinned orange that is full colored and heavy for its size. Color is not a good indicator of quality; some oranges are dyed and some fully ripened oranges such as the Valencia may regreen. Brown surface patches do not mean the orange is unripe or spoiled, but rather that it was grown in a very warm and usually humid region. Avoid oranges that are soft or moldy.

Amount. Three medium-size or 2 large oranges equal about one pound of segments.

Store. Oranges will keep at room temperature for up to 1 week and in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Whole or segmented oranges are not recommended for freezing. Orange juice can be frozen in plastic containers for up to one year.

Prepare. To eat an orange out of hand, wedge your thumb between the peel and flesh and pull off peel a piece at a time. Break fruit into sections.

To remove the orange’s peel and the bitter white membrane beneath, run a sharp knife between the peel and flesh in a spiral fashion.

To juice an orange, roll the fruit on a firm surface to soften the flesh then ream on a orange or lemon juicer.

To grate orange peel for zest, rub the colored part of the rind only against the small holes of grater or use a zester or vegetable peeler to remove the rind and then chop finely.

Written by Stephen Albert

Stephen Albert is a horticulturist, master gardener, and certified nurseryman who has taught at the University of California for more than 25 years. He holds graduate degrees from the University of California and the University of Iowa. His books include Vegetable Garden Grower’s Guide, Vegetable Garden Almanac & Planner, Tomato Grower’s Answer Book, and Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide. His Vegetable Garden Grower’s Masterclass is available online. has more than 10 million visitors each year.


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  1. I get about 12 oranges off of our tree every year. They aren’t huge and I don’t even know if they’re ready. Last year I grabbed them around November and this year waited until today. They were very easy to pick except a few (at the time I didn’t know you weren’t supposed to yank) and the smaller branch came off. The blooms begin in around March, I think. Facebook had deleted my account the last time I took pictures so I’m not sure. I’m in Northern California. It sounds like I’m picking them a little too early?

    • Here are a few ways to know an orange is ripe: (1) color: a ripe orange may be orange, but it might also have a tinge of green; color is not the best determining factor for ripeness; (2) feel: a ripe orange will feel plump–like it is full of juice; the skin of a ripe orange will feel smooth and thin; a unripe orange will feel more bumpy; (3) weight: a ripe orange will feel heavier than an unripe orange; a ripe orange will feel heavier than it looks; (4) squeeze: a ripe orange will give with a squeeze; it will not feel firm; squeeze, a ripe orange will give and then will return to its shape when you release your grip; if the orange does not return to its original shape it may be overripe; (5) shape: a ripe orange will be oval–not round–and slightly flattened bottom and top; if it is round it is under ripe; if it’s odd shaped or lumpy it probably overripe.

  2. I have several Washington Navel trees, dwarf variety, that produce many large fruit. I live in the middle of the Sacramento Valley so heat and sun are not an issue. However, my oranges have very little if any sweetness! I fertilize monthly. Any suggestions?

    • Fruit from orange varieties that are supposed to taste sweet (including Washington Navels) but do not taste sweet may suffer from one of the following:

      Lack of Heat – Summer heat increases sugar in the fruit and in turn the sweet flavor. Lack of summer heat can result in fruit that is not sweet tasting.

      Harvest Too Early – The longer the fruit stays on the tree, the less acid content the fruit will have. In cold winters, let the fruit hang on the tree longer. Sample one fruit from the tree before starting harvest; if it is sour delay harvest.

      Rootstock Takeover – Allowing suckers below the graft to grow can result in the rootstock growing on until it takes over the scion and produces flowers and fruits from the rootstock (which is likely not a sweet orange variety). Fruits from rootstock will not be the same flavor as fruits from the scion. Orange tree rootstock can come from sour orange and lemon trees. Cut back suckers as soon as they appear.

      Lack of Regular Fertilizing: Orange trees require regular fertilizing to maintain fruit production. Make sure you are feeding the tree twice a year.

      Inadequate Water: Fruit development–from fruit set to harvest–should not be interrupted. Lack of moisture will slow or inhibit fruit development and can result in bitter fruits.

      Failure to Prune or Thin Fruits: Too many fruits on the tree can leave fruit sour; if the tree does not receiver regular nutrition and moisture and is not pruned or thinned, fruits will not be able to fully develop and sweeten.

  3. Brenda: Hmm, it’s likely the oranges coming to your market are from far away and may have been picked before they were ripe in order to survive the trip to your market. Oranges do not continue to ripen once off the tree. Choose oranges that are firm and heavy for their size, these will be the riper ones. Thin-skinned oranges will be juicier than thick-skinned oranges and small to medium-sized fruits will be sweeter than larger ones. Again when choosing a small to medium-sized orange choose ones that are heavy for their size–they are likely to be filled with sweet juice.

  4. Thanks for your useful information, the Irish winters are long damp and sunless, but I never get a cold if I eat oranges. Many of the oranges I buy are bitter and I can’t eat them, I’ll try the ones you’ve recommended, thanks again.

  5. This comment translates from Arabic: “Choose the orange you have to choose soft and smooth skin and be a heavy-sized orange when…”

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