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Why Oranges Split on the Tree and How to Prevent It

We have an orange tree and every now and then it gets a split fruit. After doing some initial research we found this to be a common problem for many orange tree growers. While we don’t have many orange fruits that are splitting, it prompted the question–why do oranges split on the tree, and what can be done about it?

Oranges split on the tree when sugar and water go up too quickly from the roots to the fruits. The rinds can’t immediately handle the increased pulp in the oranges, so it ends up cracking and bursting open. Split oranges should be removed to prevent mold from spreading to the rest of the tree.

This article will discuss why oranges split in more detail, including the different factors contributing to this phenomenon. We’ll also cover how to avoid this problem so you could harvest perfectly ripened fruits. Let’s find out more!

What Causes Oranges to Split?

Split oranges occur when a fruit takes in water and sugar too rapidly for the rind to keep up. With the rind too weak or thin, it cannot handle the pressure from the growing pulp. As a result, the rind splits, exposing the fruit inside. Changes in humidity and temperature also contribute to splitting oranges.

Because of splitting, some oranges will spoil before they become mature enough for harvesting.

You’ll notice the first signs of splitting on the navel of the rind or at the bottom of the fruit. The crack will then run vertically upwards. The size of the split varies, and it may or may not open to expose the pulp.

Young orange trees are reportedly the most prone to fruit splitting, especially those with the most massive crop load. 

Factors That Contribute to Splitting

If you’re like me, you might be wondering why some oranges split while others don’t. After all, the oranges at the grocery stores aren’t split, so what are they doing differently? The answer lies in several factors.

  • Weather
  • Temperature
  • Wind
  • Tree care
  • Nutrition
  • Irrigation

Let’s break it down a bit further and find out why these factors can cause oranges to split.

Weather and Temperature

First, weather and temperature affect the amount of water the orange tree can get. For instance, in hot and dry weather, the soil can get dry and have little moisture. That means there’s not enough water for the tree to distribute to the fruit, which causes it to split.

Cold weather can also make the rind shrink and combined with overwatering, the increased pressure in the oranges can make the fruit split open.

Wind

Additionally, hot and dry wind causes stress to your orange tree. This is called drought stress. The tree eventually takes moisture from its fruit to provide water to the drier leaves and the rest of the tree. Borrowing the water content from the fruit will cause it to shrivel.

As soon as the orange tree gets watered again, the water will go to the fruit too quickly, causing the fruit to swell and split.

This is why it’s important to initially provide the tree with light watering in times of drought until the moisture content is more stable.

Tree Care

Dwarf varieties and young orange trees with shallow and small root systems are also prone to splitting. Young trees are the most susceptible to oranges splitting because their root area isn’t wide enough to gather the proper moisture.

The same thing goes for trees planted in overly porous or sandy soils. This is because these mediums don’t retain moisture, which simulates a type of drought. When the tree gets watered, it then takes in too much too quickly.

If you need to fix your potted citrus tree’s soil, consider amending and repotting the soil.

Nutrition

When an orange tree has a potassium or calcium deficiency, the rinds of its fruits tend to be weaker. 

Potassium levels also drop with a high amount of fruiting. So, the more oranges a tree has, the less potassium goes around, and the more the fruits will split.

So, if orange trees have the proper amount of nutrients in the soil, and don’t overbear fruit, the less chance they’ll have to split. See more about how to fertilizer your orange trees below.

Irrigation

An example of an orange tree getting overwatered is if the soil is dry due to the hot weather. When the tree doesn’t get enough water, the fruit shrinks and the rinds become rigid and less elastic.

A lack of water can also cause leaf loss. With a sudden heavy rainfall or watering, the tree’s roots will overcompensate and take up too much moisture too quickly. The fruit will then quickly swell and burst if the rind is weakened.

Because the rind isn’t elastic and unable to stretch along with the pulp’s swelling, it will split at its weakest point. You can expect the same thing when you irrigate excessively or overwater your tree after a long period of leaving the soil dry.

The Top 3 Ways to Keep Oranges From Splitting on the Tree

two of our oranges, one with scars
We don’t have any splits on our oranges currently, but there are some scars from where the rind was weaker.

Since split oranges happen when the orange tree goes through a period of drought and then gets a large amount of water, the best way to prevent oranges from splitting is to slowly and gradually increase the water after a period of drought.

While the primary way to prevent oranges from splitting is by gradually supplying more water after a drought, there are a few other solutions that you should consider as well. Let’s take a further look at irrigation along with the two other methods.

1. Practice Proper and Consistent Irrigation

First, make sure you allow the soil to dry before you water it next. From there, apply a light watering session, just to moisten the soil a bit.

Additionally, providing a layer of mulch will help retain water and prevent the sun from baking and drying the soil. For mulch, you can use leaves, bark, grass clippings, or other organic materials. Make sure the soil is covered and keep the mulch from touching the base of the tree.

Slowly increase the amount of water you provide over the next 2 weeks, and your oranges should have enough time to expand the rinds at the same rate that they take in water.

Once your orange tree is adjusted to its normal watering routine, start training it with deep watering to help it grow deeper roots and better prepare it for times of drought.

If your orange tree’s leaves are also turning yellow or falling off, check out my post on how to fix it.

2. Fertilize and Feed Correctly

Provide your orange tree with sufficient fertilizer at least once per growing season. Choose a fertilizer that has twice the nitrogen to phosphorus and potassium (NPK).

This will also provide enough potassium so the rinds can remain healthy and elastic. After feeding your orange tree, make sure to water it deeply. However, if the soil is dry, you can water before feeding, then water again right after.

For my best recommendations on fertilizer, check out my post on the best orange tree fertilizers you can buy. If you aren’t a fan of synthetic or commercial fertilizer, I also have a post on how to make your own homemade citrus fertilizer.

3. Reduce Crop Load

The best way to reduce the amount of fruit and prevent overbearing is to prune off branches regularly.

Because trees with heavy crop loads are more prone to fruit splitting, controlling the amount of fruit your tree bears can go a long way. Keep in mind that it’s quality over quantity.

Can You Eat Split Oranges?

Split oranges are technically still edible, but these fruits are normally not ripe enough to taste good or sweet. What’s even more concerning is that some of these fruits are also prone to molds and rotting. So, while split oranges can be eaten, they’re best left for the compost pile.

Since they have a higher chance of mold, split oranges break down quickly, and they would drop from the tree eventually. It’s a best practice to remove the split orange from the tree to prevent mold and disease from spreading to the branches and other fruits. When the fruit starts to rot or decay, they also draw bacteria, fungi, insects, and other pests.

Does Split Fruit Happen to All Types of Oranges?

A lot of citrus fruits, including lemons, split open given the right conditions. This includes when it’s too dry and hot, and it gets watered too quickly.

However, navel oranges are the most susceptible to splitting, given the indent in their fruit.

Valencia, mandarin, tangerines, and blood oranges sometimes split as well.

On the other hand, there aren’t many reports of grapefruits splitting open, so this might be a good citrus tree to grow if you have inconsistent rainfall or watering in your area.

Final Thoughts

After we found out some more information about why some of the oranges split, we started watering our tree differently and saw quite the improvement! While there’s the occasional split orange, it’s much less common, which means we get to enjoy more of them!

Remember to provide your orange tree with proper watering, nutrients, and pruning, and you’ll find you’ll get much less split fruit.