Introduction: Grow a Tangerine Tree From a Cutting

As a warning, I am a terrible gardener. From seed, I can grow radishes, but not much else. I have completely given up on growing from seed. I put about three times more plants in the ground than are currently growing in my yard.

I refuse to protect plants from the cold.

In the summer of 2011, I bought a tangerine tree from Barton Springs nursery. The story my son and I were told was a customer spit out a tangerine seed, and a tree grew from that seed. We loved the story and bought a 6-8 foot tall tree. The tree grew up quite nicely and is about fifteen 15 tall now. My tree did not bear fruit until the summer of 2015 and has had fruit every year since. See photos.

During the summer of 2016, I bought two tangerine trees purportedly developed by Texas A&M to withstand the cold weather in Austin. They were actually small bushes. I bought them from a reputable nursery. However, both died during the winter of 2016-2017. I went back to Barton Springs Nursery to buy more of the seed spitter tangerine trees, but they didn't have any.

I've read that growing a plant from seed, may not result in the same type of fruit tree. And besides, I have given up growing from seed.

A few years ago, I made cuttings from rose bushes and they did well. I planted about 16 rose cuttings and nurtured them through the winter in a clear plastic box with a lid. About half died, but more importantly half lived. I planted them in the yard and they are doing quite nicely.

So, I decided to make a cutting from my good tangerine tree to replace the ones that died.

Step 1: Steps

These are similar steps I used for my rose cuttings, with some modifications:

1) I have six one gallon black plastic pots with drain holes. The pots came with plants I bought at Home Depot.

2) I filled each pot with MiracleGro Garden soil and packed it down tightly.

3) I drenched the pots until the soil could hold no more water, and then I did it again.

4) From my tangerine tree, I took 6 cuttings. Each cutting is 6 inches long. The bark on the cuttings should be green. With sharp scissors, I removed all but the top 3 leaves. This is the same process I used for the rose bushes.

5) I think my roses died because of the way I cut them. So, for the tangerine trees, I decided to experiment with the cuts to determine what works and what doesn't. I made several types of cuts:

  • 2 were simply normal angled cuts with no bark removed,
  • 1 was steeply angled with no bark removed,
  • 2 were angled and with about 1/16 of an inch by 1 inch of the outer bark removed, and
  • 1 was angled with the bark removed all around the outside for about inch above the cut.

I gently scraped the bark off, being careful not to damage the live wood. The ones without any bark removed all died within the two weeks.

6) Wet the bottom 3 inches of the cutting, and then dip into a rooting compound. I used Bontone Rooting Powder. There should be a generous amount of rooting compound on the cutting

7) Poke a pencil in the middle of the potting soil to make a hole. The hole should be wide enough so the rooting compound does not scrape off while being inserted into the hole. Gently insert the cutting with rooting compound and then firmly tamp the soil around the cutting.

8) Get six stiff, waxed paper plates just large enough to cover the top of the pots. Cut straight from the edge to the center of the plate. In the center of the plate, cut a hole about 1/8in in diameter.

9) Gently slide the paper plate face-down around the cutting. The purpose of the paper plates is to keep the soil moist.

10) Using duct tape, gently tape the paper plate to the pot. The goal of the tape is to keep the plate in place, minimizing the loss of moisture. It is not to make an air tight seal.

11) Place the pots somewhere they will get some but not too much sunlight.

12) Water regularly through the hole in the paper plate

The photos above show the cuttings after 4 weeks. I have not done the next two steps yet.

13) After 4-6 weeks, there should be roots.

14) Once there are roots, the paper plates can be removed, but be certain to keep moist.

I'll update this as the trees grow (or more likely die).

Step 2: Update

Two of the six cuttings survived. The other four died within a few weeks of planting. None of them have grown any new leaves.

One has extensive roots (see image above) and the other has a very rudimentary root, only about 1/8 inch long. I am surprised it is still alive.

The two that survived were pruned in the same way. The bottoms were cut at a 45 degree angle and about 1/16 by 1 inch of outer bark removed. Removing the outer bark probably gave the rooting compound more area to work.

In the spring, birds or insects do significant damage to the rinds of the tangerines. But the tangerines recover and are covered with black crusty stuff that easily washes off. But the tangerines aren't that appetizing. My notes suggest spraying with neem oil after it rains prevents this black crust.

Also, these tangerines have a lot of seeds. So, they are best used for juice.

2017's crop is shown above along with the seeds from one tangerine. I will try to plant the seeds to see if I have any better luck with those.

I will follow this guide to planting tangerine seeds in the spring (~MAR2018).