‘Satsuma’ Mandarin: the Perfect Fruit Tree

‘Satsuma’ mandarin tree

If you are looking for a fruit tree that produces in the fall with a minimum of care, consider a ‘Satsuma’ mandarin.  Ronald Chong, our conscientious correspondent from Hacienda Heights, emailed a photo showing why his ‘Satsuma’ is the envy of the neighborhood.  “The tree is eye catching and people are always stopping to look,” Chong wrote, and “some ask for samples.”

‘Satsuma’ mandarins

If you are wondering about the taste of Satsumas, consider those canned mandarin slices that you have probably sampled from time to time.  Their unique sweetness and melt in your mouth texture give away the fact that they came from a ‘Satsuma’ tree.

Chong calls it “a wonderful tree” with “skin that almost falls off.”  Indeed, Satsumas are known for their ease of peel removal and their virtual absence of albedo, that fleshy white layer that comes between peel and pulp in many citrus types, especially grapefruit.  As you may have surmised, the origin of ‘Satsuma’ is Japanese.
The fact that Satsumas grow in both Japan and Korea is evidence of their cold tolerance and they can be found in Northern California gardens, too, as long as temperatures stay above 20 degrees centigrade.  Their fall ripening period, before winter cold sets in, is also in their favor when it comes to finding a home in areas where other citrus fruit, whose ripening period includes winter months, would freeze.
I have searched for a downside as far as this tree is concerned, but have been unable to find any so far, unless you include the fact that its fruit should be picked as soon as it ripens since decay may commence when picking is delayed.  In the words of Chong, “fruit are prone to rotting quickly if they get wet when ripe.  When that happens, remove the blemished skin before the flesh is affected.”  By the same token, ripening is likely to occur over a period of a few months (from October to December) so you do not need to harvest the fruit all at once, as is typically the case with spring-ripening fruit such as apricots and plums.
Chong has not identified the mandarin variety that he grows but everything he says about it points to it being a ‘Satsuma,’ primarily because of its fall ripening period, which precedes that of all other mandarin varieties except for clementines, which are smaller than his fruit.  As far as nomenclature is concerned, mandarins include tangerines and clementines.  A tangelo is a cross between a mandarin and a grapefruit while a tangor is a cross between a mandarin and an orange. Tangerines may or may not have seeds while clementines are patently seedless.  ‘Satsuma,’ although it is an inherently seedless variety, may occasionally have seeds, the result of pollination by bees.  When you encounter seeds in a ‘Satsuma’ or a clementine (as might happen when you buy bags of ‘Cuties’ or ‘Pixies’ this time of year) you’ll just have to blame the bees, usually a result of orange grove proximity since oranges do not grow without bee pollination.  Orange honey, after all, is a consequence of placing beehives in orange groves.  Where no bees are active in their vicinity, Satsumas and clementines are always seedless.
‘Satsuma’ trees grow to a height of around 20 feet but may be kept shorter through pruning.  They have an attractive, somewhat weeping stature.  In the Valley, where they go by the name of ‘Mikan’ mandarin or Citrus reticulata, they are available at Papaya Tree Nursery (papayatreenursery.com), located in Granada Hills at 12422 El Oro Way and, where they are labeled Citrus unshiu, they may be found at Paradise Nursery (paradisenursery.com), located in Chatsworth at 10943 DeSoto Avenue.
Tip of the Week:  If you are looking for a laboratory for the study of insect pests, I recommend you step into a citrus orchard.  Citrus trees, even when healthy, are magnets for most common insect pests, including aphids, whiteflies, and thrips.  Even trees that are covered with luscious fruit and dark green foliage, such as Chong’s mandarin tree, upon close examination, may harbor insect pest infestations.

mealybugs on ‘Satsuma’ mandarin

Chong sent a photo of a ‘Satsuma’ leaf covered with a cottony white creature known as mealybug and another marked with squiggly trails, a sure sign of leaf miners.  Neither of these insects is likely to kill the tree.  However, it would be advisable to apply organic products such as Spinosad to deter the leaf miners and fine horticultural oil to stymy the mealybugs.  Always follow application instructions carefully since repeat applications are often necessary.  In addition, selective pruning to thin the dense ‘Satsuma’ growth would improve air circulation through the tree leading to less moisture on leaf surfaces and a less hospitable environment for insect development.

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