As our northern friends dig out from the last snowstorm and prepare for the next, those of us in sunbelt states bask in the sunshine and remember exactly why we moved south…for the winter!

When I first moved to Arizona, I remember being completely shocked that friends had about five citrus trees full of fruit growing in their yard. My Minnesota childhood didn’t prepare me for seeing oranges outside of the grocery store.

If you’re lucky enough to have a few oranges, grapefruit, lemons, or limes, it’s about the right time to harvest your citrus trees. But how do you know that your fruit is ready for picking? Judge by:

  • Citrus fruit color: We all know that a green grapefruit isn’t going to taste very good. Enough said.
  • Citrus variety: Color may be the most obvious, but the most important factor in your citrus harvest schedule is the kind of fruit you’re dealing with. Not just the type of fruit (orange, lemon, etc.), but the actual variety. For example, Valencia oranges will be ready to harvest later than navel oranges in most cases.
  • Taste: For all citrus fruits other than lemons, the ripening process stops after you take it off the tree. For example, if you prefer your oranges more tart, pick them early in the citrus harvest period. If you like them sweet, let them stay on the tree a bit longer.

Your fruit ripening will vary based on conditions specific to your yard, that year’s weather, and the fruit’s location on the tree. Keeping all of these factors in mind, consult a local nursery or university agriculture department’s Web site for a citrus harvest schedule, and then pick your fruit when you think it’s ready.