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Growing The Tarocco Blood Orange

Tarocco Blood Orange

(Citrus sinensis)

Tarocco Blood Orange tree overview:

  • Tarocco Blood Orange trees produce beautiful and delicious fruit.  I am eating one as I write this and it is my favorite citrus of all time.
  • Note: For a general overview about different kinds of blood oranges, check out my earlier article on the subject of different blood orange tree varieties.
Blood orange

The Tarocco Blood Orange (cut open) shows its beautiful color

Tarocco Blood Orange fruit appearance:

  • From the outside, the Tarocco Blood Orange fruit looks quite a bit like a large Valencia Orange. It is generally round in shape, but sometimes it has a bit of a bump on the stem-end of the fruit like you would see on a Minneola tangelo. Unlike the Moro Blood Orange, the Tarocco rind has no red coloration.
CUltivation of the Tarocco Blood Orange

Tarocco Blood Orange size and shape

  • However, on the inside of the Tarocco, the fruit is stunning.  The flesh is splashed with a beautiful red blush. That red color is usually most concentrated on the bottom end of the fruit with a gradation to a yellow-orange on the stem end of the fruit.  As a result, the fruit is sometimes called “half-blood, ” (not to be confused with the half-blood Harry Potter… who, as the story goes, is the son of a pure-blood wizard and a Muggle-born witch).
  • I have never seen this fruit completely red on the inside like you often see with a Moro Blood Orange and the color of the Tarocco Blood Orange never gets the deep-violet dark purple that you would see with the Moro.
  • The amount of red color in the flesh of the Tarocco Blood Orange is a bit variable and is dictated by several environmental factors. The two most common factors impacting the color of the flesh is the maturity of the fruit (getting more red as the fruit ripens), and the amount of chill in the winter night air.
  • The fruit typically ripens in the winter months and that chill is thought to help the flesh become more red.  In contrast, in warm-humid climates, most blood oranges will only develop a few small flecks of red in the flesh.
  • Because you never know what you are going to get by looking at the fruit from the outside, its a bit “like a box of chocolates“, as Forrest Gump would say.  Sometimes there is a lot of red in the flesh and sometimes there is just a ting bit.
Growing Tarocco Blood Orange

Cutting into a Tarocco Blood Orange. This one does not have much pigment.

  • The red color of the fruit is the result of anthocyanin pigments, which is a natural flavonoid antioxidant. This type of flavonoid is also responsible for the color of many other fruits including pomegranates and berries.  Some studies have shown that these compounds do a number of amazing things for our bodies including scavenging free radicals and therefore protecting us from from cancer. There have even been reports that it can lower LDL (bad) cholesterol.
  • Unfortunately not all of the scientific reports of the health benefits are amazing.  I hate to be a “Debbie Downer”, but there is conflicting scientific research about the antioxidant activity of anthocyanin and flavonoid-rich foods in the body… some researchers saying that most of these chemicals don’t survive digestion.  I have included some journal references below for you to read for yourself if you like.  Regardless, my strong belief is that if the produce you eat is fresh and organic, it is much more likely to be good for you than other chemically augmented options.

De Rosso, VV; Morán Vieyra, FE; Mercadante, AZ; et al. (October 2008). “Singlet oxygen quenching by anthocyanin’s flavylium cations”. Free Radical Research 42 (10): 885–91

Lotito SB; Frei B (2006). “Consumption of flavonoid-rich foods and increased plasma antioxidant capacity in humans: cause, consequence, or epiphenomenon?”. Free Radic. Biol. Med. 41 (12): 1727–46

 Lotito SB; Frei B (2006). “Consumption of flavonoid-rich foods and increased plasma antioxidant capacity in humans: cause, consequence, or epiphenomenon?”. Free Radic. Biol. Med. 41 (12): 1727–46

 

Tarocco Blood Orange taste:

  • The Tarocco Blood Orange is one of the tastiest oranges you will ever have.  Most all agree it is the sweetest of the blood orange group.  The fruit also has a bit of tang and a fruity overtone that is well balanced and blends wonderfully.  However, I don’t appreciate the stronger raspberry flavor in the Tarocco Blood Orange that I taste in the Moro Blood Orange.
  • The flesh is delicate and melting.
  • The individual fruit from one tree may have very-few seeds or no seeds.
  • Note, as with all citrus, the acidity of the flesh decreases with the advancing maturity of the fruit… and if picked too late the fruit of any citrus can taste flat, musty or rotten.
Tarocco Blood Orange cultivation

The beautiful and delicious Tarocco Blood Orange.

Fruit Use:

  • The fruit can be used much like any other orange.  However, the exotic color and delicious flavor this fruit adds will take any culinary offering to a new height.
  • It is not easy to peel the Tarocco Blood Orange the way you might peel a navel orange or mandarin. Since the skin tends to cling, and the flesh is relatively delicate, peeling this orange can result in a bit of a mess… though a delicious mess. The best option is to slice it with a knife and enjoy it fresh that way.
  • In southern Italy the fruit is often added to salads. More specifically, “At home Sicilians love blood oranges in a salad with red onions, olive oil, salt, pepper, and often, fresh fennel” (referenced from a 2007 article by David Karp).
  • Some also use blood oranges to make blood orange cake, gelato, marzipan, as well as candied and dried orange rind treats.
  • Of course you can also juice this fruit.  However if you do juice blood oranges, be warned that it should be consumed the same day.  In the juice form, the pigments undergo rapid chemical changes that over time turns the juice brownish-red and cloudy.

 

Tarocco Blood Orange fruit season: 

  • In my Southern California test garden, the fruit tends to ripen from late December to February/March.
  • Like many other citrus, I tend to wait till the fruit gives a bit when squeezed before picking. That soft squeeze is a great sign for me to know the fruit is optimally ripe to pick. This can take some tasty-testing to dial it in.
Young Fruit tends to be a bit oblong when developing

Picture taken in mid May: Tarocco Blood Orange Fruit tends to be a bit oblong when developing

Growing Tarocco Blood Orange

Picture taken in late November: Tarocco Blood Orange starting to turn yellow/orange.

Landscaping: 

  • The Tarocco Blood Orange is a beautiful evergreen tree with medium to large sized leaves and dense foliage.
  • However, there are some really long thorns on this tree that look more like they belong in an dart for an Amazonian blowgun.  These thorns tend to emanate out from the center of the tree and are mainly a nuisance for the occasional fruit that gets in its way.  As a result, the thorns can scar or dig into fruit.  However, since most of the fruit grows on the outside of the tree, and most of the major thorns are on the inside of the tree, this thorn-fruit interaction is relatively uncommon.
  • The tree gets fairly large (several meters tall)… Like you would expect for a standard sized orange tree.
  • The fruit tend to hang well on the tree for a long time and this adds a nice splash of orange color to the landscape.
Tarocco Blood Orange cultivation

Thorn damage to the fruit (large thorn entering the picture from the right side)

Growth speed:

  • Like many plants, the speed of growth depends on many factors.
  • For example, I was growing a Tarocco Blood Orange in a container for about a year.  Regardless of my efforts, the tree slowly declined and eventually looked like it was going to die. I am sure it quickly became root-bound. However, when I finally found a place to plant it in the ground, tree almost immediately took off growing. Now, the tree grows about as fast (or faster) than my other established citrus trees.
  • Overall I would call the growth of this tree as vigorous.
  • The tree takes a few years (5 ish years) to reach fruiting maturity,  but when it finally gets to that age it fruits fairly prolific.
Growing Tarocco Blood Orange

Prolific Tarocco Blood Orange

Flowers:

  • The flowers smallish and white; basically what you would typically expect for oranges.
  • In my Southern California test garden, the tree flowers around February/March.

 

Soil:

 

Water:

  • Tarocco Blood Oranges seem to need about as much water as a standard citrus of similar size and age. For established trees, this basically means watering around 2x a week in the summer (after the tree is established).  Of course, I water more if it is really hot-dry and before the tree becomes established.
  • For established trees, I also cut way back on the watering in the winter… to basically nothing.  I do this mainly because winter is usually our wet-cool season in Southern California and there is no need to waste the tap water on soil that is already moist.  Of course that strategy changes if we happen to have a dry winter with no rain.
  • Covering the ground around the base of the tree with a nice layer of wood mulch will help to retain moisture in the summer and help to keep the roots cool.

 

Sun:

  • Tarocco Blood Orange trees do great in full sun.

 

Fertilization: 

  • I try to fertilize all of my citrus trees from late winter to mid-summer. The rational is that I don’t want to encourage young leaf growth in the winter because of the risk of cold damage to delicate young leaves.  On the other end, I don’t want to encourage excessive young-leaf growth during leaf miner season which starts around July.
  • I generally use a balanced fertilizer such as 15-15-15 on my citrus and apply it in 4 doses during the fertilization season described above. I also give a single dose of citrus-specific micronutrients in the spring.  I have been trying different brands of citrus micronutrient fertilizer, but this organic one with a money back guarantee sold on Amazon looks really great.
  • Lately I have also been adding in all kinds of other goodies as a top dressing over the root zone such as mushroom compost; grow mulch, worm castings, etc. I am getting the sense that citrus (and other fruit trees) like the variety.  See my earlier post for how to get free compost.
Growing Tarocco Blood Orange

My little garden helper taking a picture of developing fruit on the Tarocco Blood Orange tree

Temperature:  

  • In general, just about any citrus will get very cranky when the temperature drops below freezing. Established plants tend to be more resilient to lower temperatures. Some trees may die if temps drop below 27-28°F.
  • In my years in San Diego, frost protection for my citrus has not been necessary.  Sure, they don’t like the cold, and they will drop some leaves (out of protest), but they get through it without any special care. However, cold/frost protection is very important in cooler climates.
  • For more information about the lowest temperatures that you can expect in your specific area, check out my article “Climate Zones: What can I grow in my yard?”

 

Pollination:

  • Bees.

 

Citrus Pests: 

  • General:
    • Tarocco Blood Oranges are susceptible to the same pests and diseases as other citrus.
  • Melanose (Diaporthe citri):
    • A common disease reported to affect all citrus is melanose.  This is a fungal disease that causes dark brown to black spots on the foliage, twigs and fruit. Spores of the fungus develop in dead citrus tissue and are released by water and/or rainfall. The incidence of melanose usually increases as trees age and the amount of dead wood in the canopy increases. Removing the dead wood and leaves is a great prevention measure.
  • Ants and sapsuckers:
    • Other than the above, one of the most important things to do for all your fruit trees is to keep the ants out of the tree which often bring aphids, scale and mealybugs with them.  A great way to do this is to use Tanglefoot.  However, don’t apply Tanglefoot directly to the bark because the thin bark of citrus can be easily damaged this way.  Create a skirt of masking tape around the trunk of the tree (with the sticky-side out) or buy the Tanglefoot guard paper wrap.  Then add the Tanglefoot on that skirt/paper.
  • Citrus Greening AKA Huanglongbing (HLB)
    • HLB is currently wreaking havoc in Florida.  All citrus growing states are on high alert and most are under quarantine.  The disease is incurable and will usually kill a tree within several years.  The disease is spread by the insect known as the Asian Citrus Psyllid. Leaves with HLB disease have a blotchy yellow pattern that is not the same on both sides of the leaf.  If you suspect this disease, it should be reported to the California Department of Food and Agriculture hotline at 1-800-491-1899.
  • Freekin Gophers:
    • Of course gophers are a pain in California and plants need to be protected. More info on how to protect your trees roots via my article How to build a gopher cage.
Organic Citrus Blood Orange Gardening

A sap sucking Leafhopper (Cicadellidae) being eaten by a spider on an unripe Tarocco Blood Orange. Organic gardening means you have a better chance of having natural predators around like this hungry spider.

Miscellaneous:

  • According to the UC Irvine agricultural department, the Tarocco blood orange was introduced from an unknown Mediterranean country to Florida about 1880 and brought to California soon after.
  • David Karp wrote a wonderful article about blood oranges and has a lot of info about their history, Specifically he mentions that “Tarocco, the king of blood oranges, is a mutation of Sanguinello discovered around 1900, reputedly in Francofonte, and named either for the resemblance of the original strain to a toy top—it can have a “neck”, like a Minneola tangelo—or after the Italian word for tarot cards” You can read his PDF formatted article from the 2007 California Rare Fruit Growers article via this link.
  • The Tarocco Blood Orange is one of the major blood orange varieties of the world but it is relatively uncommon in the United States. According to several sources, including David Karp, the Tarocco Blood Orange is hailed in Italy as the supreme “arancia da tavola,” or table orange, and represents 60 percent of the country’s blood orange production.

 

About Thomas Osborne, MD

Dr. Osborne is a Harvard trained Radiologist and Neuroradiologist who loves to share his insight about medicine and gardening.

6 comments

  1. As usual a great artical.

  2. Great article Dr. Glad to see that your tree is looking so good. Did you get it from Clausen? I bought mine from him last May and it is doing really good with new first blooms and lots of new flush.
    Not sure if mine is a Bream, #7 or Thermal type of Tarocco. Do you know what type yours is? or what type of root stock?

    • Thomas Osborne, MD

      Hey Paul
      Thank you and great to hear from you again.

      Great questions.

      Clausen Nursery is an awesome place for citrus trees; I have bought many great trees there.

      However, I got mine at…
      Ahem… Costco.

      I know, who get their trees at Costco?
      Well, I was shopping there with the wife and of course I spent my time in the garden section.
      Then, as then they say, “one thing lead to another” and I walked out with a tree.
      Anyhow, as a result, I am unsure of the specifics.

      Best,
      Tom

  3. My Costco does not even have a garden department or I would probably be spending a lot of money there. (<: Was at Lowes last month and noticed that they were getting the majority of their trees from Clausen! Good for those guys to land a big account like Lowes!

    • Thomas Osborne, MD

      lol, I agree… I am seduced by any garden department.
      I am always rooting for the local growers too, esp the nice ones that are passionate about quality product (Clausen)

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