When are citrus “in season”?

I always thought citrus where in season in the winter. Apples are in season in the fall, berries in the spring and summer, and oranges in the winter, right? When I was a kid, my mom’s aunt and uncle, who lived in Florida sent us a box of grapefruit and oranges every Christmas.

Then I moved to California in July.

Meyer Lemon: July 2020

The Meyer lemon tree in our backyard was full of ripe lemons. Huh?

I’ve never lived in a place where citrus grew outdoors before, and I hadn’t really thought to consider why citrus’s peak season should be in the winter….or if that’s even true….maybe it’s all a marketing ploy to get people to buy oranges in the winter?

What I’ve observed in the few months I’ve lived here:

  1. The Meyer lemon tree in our backyard had ripe fruit when I arrived. We’ve picked a lot of the fruit, and there doesn’t seem to be new fruit growing. Unlike plum or cherry trees, which drop their fruit when ripe, the lemons stay on the tree for a very long time.
  2. The lime tree started with no fruit in July, produced flowers and then ripe fruit pretty quickly thereafter. The fruit was ready to pick in October.
  3. The navel and blood orange trees started with no fruit on them in July, and have since grown several oranges that are nearly ready to harvest – possibly ready to harvest in December.
  4. Most fruit on citrus trees in this area seem to be ripening now and will be ready to harvest in the coming weeks. However, in just about any month, I could usually find at least some sort of citrus (lemons, kumquats, etc) somewhere in Palo Alto.

According to google, it’s true that oranges tend to ripen in winter, but that doesn’t generalize that to all citrus. Each type of citrus – lemons, oranges, grapefruit, kumquats, etc – has it’s own unique growing requirements, bloom time, ripening time. Some citrus can even produce fruit multiple times a year, or all year round.

Blood Orange: November 2020

Let’s take Meyer lemons: Different sources give slightly different information. One version says that they have two main bloom times – early spring and fall, and the fruit can take up to 6 months to ripen. Another take on the Meyer lemon is that Meyer lemons are really only available Dec-Feb. (I know this not to be true based on my experience this summer.) A third source said Meyer lemon trees can produce up to four crops per year. And lastly, another source says they can flower and produce fruit all year round. So, in summary, Meyer lemons may or may not have “a season.”

Eureka lemons, on the other hand (which I learned about back in March), are known to produce lemons all year round. This is one of the reasons most of the lemons you find in the store are Eureka lemons. Eureka lemons are, thus, always “in season.”

Similar to Meyer lemons, I see conflicting references for limes. Some sources say fall (August – December), while others say summer (May – October). I’m inclined to believe the first source (based on my limited experience).

Grapefruit and oranges, however, according to nearly all sources, have one main crop each year, which typically ripens in the winter-spring (December-ish to April-ish).

I found this chart from Friend’s Ranch that I think is helpful to visualize when different fruit is in season. It’s odd however, that, according to this chart, grapefruit is a summer fruit. Hmmm…. As my experience with Meyer lemons has taught me, take these dates with a grain of salt.

* indicates seedless fruit
Y indicates a great juicer
z indicates an excellent peel flavor, choice for zest

Whatever their true seasons are, I’m lucky I get to experience living in a place where citrus is grown locally and abundantly.