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How to prune citrus trees

Garden advice
How to prune citrus trees
All Green
All Green
January 9, 2023
minute read

Did you know that pruning a citrus tree is actually going to encourage it to thrive? Especially young trees, which if pruned correctly, will produce more fruit in the long run. Not only will the tree have more fruit, but it will also have bigger fruit since cutting it routinely sends signals to divert energy for “new growth”. 

Citrus trees benefit from pruning regularly early on in their lives. By pruning thoughtfully within the first 2 years, you can create a tree that is free of weak branches, has strong outer foliage and lots of fruiting sites! As it matures, you will be able to see plenty of new stems come through but still keep the desired shape and size specific to your backyard’s requirements. 

While we all want bigger fruits for our labour, pruning is also a great way to structure the tree shape too. Keeping it trim allows for balance, giving all the branches to have a chance at absorbing sunlight and air more evenly. This boasts another benefit too — once your tree is blossoming, it won’t be lopsided or strained when carrying fruit. Turns out pruning looks good too! 

The main advantages of pruning include: 

  • Yielding more and bigger fruit 
  • Maintaining the size of the tree
  • Preventing damage and diseased wood 
  • Maintaining tree shape 
  • Prohibiting low growth quality

Luckily, there are many different types of citrus trees that come in a huge variety of sizes. Some include dwarf varieties so if sizing is a problem, this could be the tree type for you. Choosing the right type of citrus tree will not only enable you to cater to your specific constraints but still end up with plenty of fruit! 

At All Green, we have a multitude of citrus tree options to pick from, so if you’re feeling stuck, just speak to one of our friendly team members. They can help you decide on the best fruit for your space and overall gardening goals.

Pruning citrus trees 

If you’re new to growing a citrus tree, then this is for you. There are lots of things to consider when nurturing a citrus tree and that includes figuring out the best way to shape and prune. 

Shaping refers to maintaining compact growth to avoid slipping shoots, and removing sprouts and crossed or fallen branches. It keeps the tree from going beyond your desired size, making it easier to manage as it develops. 

Pruning is much the same, with more emphasis on maintaining the health of the tree. By removing excessive shoots and dead or sagging branches, the tree will have a better ability to gain sustenance from its environment. This includes sunlight or air which can penetrate the tree canopy more easily. 

For example, if there are a lot of dead branches hanging from or trapped in the tree, it’s still using energy to maintain them. This may also block valuable sunlight and air from the healthy parts of the tree. 

A good time to prune most citrus trees is in late winter as the fruit season ends. This helps prevent damage due to cold or frost and encourages growth for the following year. 

You can also prune in late spring or early summer before the season begins to further bolster the tree to produce fruit. This also prevents damage from sunburn in the peak of summer. You are likely safe with either strategy in the Melbourne climate! 

For established and large trees, the pruning strategy becomes a little different. You can aim to prune once or twice a year, but the key is how much to take off when you prune. You will want to avoid over-pruning and sabotaging the fruiting sites for next season. 

A good rule of thumb is to remove about 20% of the entire canopy, as most fruiting sites appear on the outer tree canopy. This leaves 80% of the branches to grow next year while still refreshing the tree and stimulating new growth.

Oranges ripening on their tree in the golden sunlight.

How to prune overgrown citrus trees 

An overgrown citrus tree may not sound that serious, but it could be impacting the quality of the fruit. Allowing the tree to have excessive inner branches or dead and weak branches can significantly affect how well the tree grows. Many people get away with not pruning regularly, but if you care how much fruit you’re getting and how it tastes – then you’ll want to prevent overgrowth. 

It’s advisable to prune a new tree fairly heavily in the first few years. When it matures, you can fall back to once or twice a year unless it becomes a bit unruly. It is possible to trim the tree when it’s flowering but as we mentioned earlier — try to stick to removing only 20% of the canopy to avoid removing healthy fruiting sites. The best times are generally in late winter or early autumn. 

Not sure how to prune overgrown citrus trees? Planning is essential. First, take a look at the overall tree and see what can be removed. This might include clearing any unusual swellings, side shoots, water sprouts and visible pests. 

Extra shoots take away important nutrients from your tree so make sure you don’t let them suck it all up! You can also get rid of any dead wood, infected leaves and excessive canopy that might be blocking sunlight.

Removing gall wasp 

Gall wasp is a pest most commonly found in citrus trees, where wasps have created an abnormal growth. As the wasp escapes, it can leave tiny holes in the branch which over time can make it weak. If a large number of the branches become compromised, then the scaffolding branches may collapse. 

It’s important to remove old wasp damage as soon as you notice it, even if it means cutting the tree back to bare. It may not seem like much is left, but pruning away the damage is ultimately going to be far better for the tree’s health.

Helpful tipes for pruning your citrus trees 

While citrus trees often require a lot of work as a youngling, they also need some TLC in their older age. If after many years they have been neglected and are in poor health, don’t worry — they can be revived. 

You can do this by doing some severe pruning in early spring and essentially reducing the tree down to a single trunk and healthy branch stumps. Removing the dead wood, entangled branches, twigs and unproductive canopy will restore its former glory! It will also allow the tree to flourish with new growth and fruiting wood. Ensuring you do this at the right time, however, will prevent the heat or cold from damaging the newly exposed wood and avoid shocking it. Otherwise, you will likely kill the tree.

Bright yellow lemons ripening on the tree in the sun.

Pruning lemon trees

Lemon trees are some of the most commonly requested citrus trees to this day. They are some of the easiest to grow with their fruits being one of the most versatile to use. Lemons can be used in cooking, drinks, as garnishes or preserves and if you’re brave… a very sour treat. What’s not to like? That’s why we have some specific pruning advice for lemon trees.  

As a young tree, lemon trees are often not encouraged to bear fruit. Typically they are pruned for structural reasons but they do benefit from regular pruning in the first 2 years. This prevents excessive tiny growths and focuses efforts on the bigger buds. Doing so also keeps the tree-size manageable and prevents smaller, unviable fruits from growing on outer branches. 

Once your lemon tree is more mature, you can focus on pruning a couple of times a year. Depending on the climate, older lemon trees should be pruned at the beginning or end of the harvest season. Generally, this means in winter to early spring right after the fruit grows or at the beginning of autumn when the tree is about to begin producing fruit. Doing so will prevent damage from frost if pruned too close to the height of the cold. Pruning right before harvest can also direct energy to the most prominent buds, flowers or already growing fruit. 

Choosing your tree

Have you decided you want to add a citrus tree to your home garden? Then All Green Nursery & Garden can help. We have a large range of citrus trees to choose from, including:

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