Bergamot orange is relatively unknown compared to other citrus fruits. In this article we reveal how to plant and care for the bergamot tree and the best ways to enjoy its fruits.
The bergamot orange is closely related to lemons. Despite their shared ancestry, however, Citrus bergamia is not nearly as well-known and widespread as its relatives.
Bergamot orange: origin and characteristics
The bergamot orange (Citrus bergamia) belongs to the Citrus plant genus in the rue family (Rutaceae). Like the lemon, the bergamot orange was originally cultivated as a hybrid of the citron (Citrus medica) and the Seville orange (Citrus x aurantium). Its geographical origin has not yet been clearly established. We do know, however, that it has been cultivated in Italy since the middle of the 17th century. At that time, the bergamot fruit was first given the name Citrus bergamia. Even today, bergamots are grown almost exclusively in Italy, more precisely on a narrow strip of land about 100 kilometres along the coast of Calabria. The special climate in this area is ideally suited for growing bergamot oranges. Bergamot plants are also cultivated in some African and South American countries.
The evergreen bergamot orange trees reach heights of up to 2.5 metres, depending on the variety. They are usually sold grafted onto semi-dwarf rootstocks. The elongated bergamot fruit leaves are dark green, smooth and glossy. In spring, the pure white bergamot flowers appear and give off a pleasant fragrance. The individual bergamot plants are made up of four or five elongated petals. In winter, the bergamot oranges finally ripen, reaching a weight of about 100 to 200 grams. The round, somewhat pear-shaped bergamot fruits have a slightly rough, shiny and often ribbed skin. There is a small bulge at the end of the citrus bergamot fruit. Their colour changes from deep green to lemon yellow during the ripening process.
How to grow a citrus bergamot tree in a pot
The bergamot orange plant does not tolerate frost and can therefore not survive the British winter. Much like other citrus plants, the citrus bergamia is not suitable for cultivation in our gardens. However, bergamot trees can be cultivated pots if you keep it outdoes on your balcony or patio in the summer and move it to a frost-free location during the colder autumn and winter months. Depending on the weather, the bergamot can stay outdoors from April/May to October/November. The citrus plant needs a sunny, sheltered and warm place location. Before the temperature drops into single digits, bring the plant back indoors and leave it in a bright place at about 15°C during the winter.
Choose a sufficiently large pot for the bergamot plant with a drainage hole so that excess water can run off when watering. For optimal development, the plant needs a slightly acidic, nutrient-rich soil with good water permeability. Specially adapted citrus soils can be bought in your local garden centre to meet these conditions. Alternatively, you can simply mix a suitable soil yourself. Choose a peat-free potting soil, for example our Plantura Organic All Purpose Compost, and mix it with some sand. Then place the root ball in the pot and fill it with your soil mix or citrus compost.
How to look after your bergamot orange plant
Bergamot orange is adapted to the Mediterranean climate. If healthy and well-established, the plant can survive longer periods of drought. However, as the soil in pots dries out quicker than ground soil, it is important to water your plants regularly, especially younger ones. Be careful when watering and avoid pouring or splashing water onto the leaves and flowers.
Bergamot orange trees require lots of nutrients, so make sure to fertilise regularly during the growing season from March to October. A liquid fertiliser such as our Plantura Liquid Citrus Food is ideal for this. This plant food provides your bergamot plant with all the nutrients it needs to produce an abundance of orange flowers and fresh bergamot orange fruits, as well as supporting healthy root development. Apply fertiliser every one or two weeks with 3 to 5 millilitres of fertiliser per litre of water.
The bergamot plant grows very slowly and therefore only rarely needs to be repotted. When the soil in the pot is fully rooted, transplant it into a larger pot. The best time for this is when new shoots are beginning to appear in March or April. Choose a pot with a drainage hole to avoid waterlogging.
To maintain a compact and densely branched shape, prune your bergamot fruit plant regularly. Cut back the shoots that are growing out of shape at any time. More extensive pruning should be carried out in late winter after harvesting the citrus bergamia fruit, to encourage new, healthy shoots. It is also important to remove dead and poorly growing shoots.
Top tip: To protect your bergamot orange tree from pathogens, sprinkle and seal larger pruning wounds with charcoal ash.
How to harvest bergamot orange fruits
The bergamot orange fruits ripen in the winter months and are ready to be harvested between November and March. When their skin has turned a lemon-yellow colour, you can carefully pick the citrus bergamot oranges.
What to do with the bergamot orange?
The peel of bergamot orange contains valuable essential oils. The extracted citrus bergamia essential oil is used in the cosmetics industry as well as in the food and drink industry for making boiled sweets and aromatic teas like Earl Grey.
The most common uses of bergamot:
- Bergamot essential oil (many uses including flavouring teas, fragrance oil)
- Bergamot juice for flavouring food, pastries and drinks
- Bergamot orange marmalade
Bergamot orange is not the only little-known citrus fruit. You can find more curious species and varieties in our guide to special citrus fruits.