Pruning Citrus Trees – Prune Lemon, Orange Trees

A lot of people are wary of pruning citrus trees because they think it will be difficult, or they might damage the tree. Quite often, citrus trees are neglected and left to grow into a wild state, in the mistaken belief that they will look after themselves. This causes the quality of the fruit to deteriorate, the quantity of fruit to decrease and allows certain diseases to infiltrate the tree. Some regular pruning is therefore necessary.

Here are some easy to follow steps to guide you through that process. We look at when to prune, the essential tools you will need, then how and where to prune so that your citrus trees will stay healthy, be less prone to certain disease, look great and most importantly produce more good sized, well shaped and tasty fruit.

Frequency of Pruning Citrus Trees

All citrus trees apart from lemons only need pruning once every two years or so to keep them looking good, healthy and within bounds. This can be carried out any time between March and August, but is best done before flowering begins early in the year. Lemons need to be pruned more frequently to keep them within bounds and make fruit picking easier, as they grow more quickly than other species of citrus. In any event, all citrus trees should be inspected annually for any disease or infestation and abnormal growth (see the note on suckers, below).

To simplify the task of pruning citrus trees, these are the important tools you will need. Heavy duty gardening gloves are essential to protect your hands as many varieties of citrus tree have nasty thorns. A pair of good quality bypass secateurs (hand pruning shears) is necessary for the accurate and clean pruning of smaller branches and deadwood. Long handled loppers are necessary to prune thicker branches while a pruning saw should be kept at standby in case an extra thick branch needs to be removed.

Pruning Citrus Trees

Inspect the tree from all angles starting from low down on the trunk. First of all, identify the graft joint. In layman’s terms this is the point where the growing shoot of the tree species was joined with the rooted stem of a stock variety. It is usually found on citrus trees between one and two feet (0.3 and 0.6 metres) from ground level and looks like a slightly swollen lump, although it is not always obvious. Above the graft joint is where the main branches of the tree are seen to branch out. If there is strong new growth starting from low down on the main trunk below the graft joint these are suckers that must be removed.

Pruning Citrus Trees – Dealing with the Suckers

Suckers are new shoots produced by the donor rootstock and will not be true to the variety of tree. They will often be extremely thorny and will grow strongly but produce no edible fruit. They sap the strength from the tree and will severely reduce fruit production, so it is very important that they are removed as soon as they are noticed. Use your hand pruning shears to cut them off as close to the trunk as you can get with a clean vertical cut. If they are very thick, use the long handled loppers to prune them. A vertical cut is essential to allow moisture to run away to prevent rot setting in and to allow the trunk to heal and absorb the wound quickly.

Pruning Citrus Trees – Finishing Up

Once all the suckers are removed, pruning of the main canopy can begin. It is important that the center of the tree is opened to allow sunlight and air to penetrate. As you prune, walk around the tree several times if necessary to get different viewing angles of your work. Prune out any branches that cross in the centre and remove all thin, spindly twigs by cutting hard to the main branch. Also cut out any dead wood to prevent infestation by wood boring beetles. You can prune quite brutally when opening out the centre of the tree’s canopy, leaving as few as three main branches to grow outwards evenly from the centre with smaller fruit bearing branches growing outward from them. To keep the size of the tree in check to ease fruit picking, prune tall branches back to keep the height of the tree to below eight feet (2.5 metres). All length shortening cuts should be made at an angle where possible.

These easy to follow steps will simplify the process of pruning citrus trees. You will see that it is easier to prune than most people suppose and will protect the trees from disease and infestation, liberate them from strength sapping suckers, encourage new, fruit bearing growth to appear and will ensure better quality fruit and result in healthy, good looking trees.

For more in-depth info, get the “Pruning Made Easy” book. It’s simply the best book on pruning citrus trees – Buy it on eBay cheap here.

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