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When to Prune Citrus Trees in Melbourne

Garden advice
When to Prune Citrus Trees in Melbourne
All Green
All Green
January 9, 2023
minute read

There is a common misconception that citrus trees do not need to be pruned like other fruit trees such as apple, apricot or pear trees. Pruning to remove branches and tree limbs is essential to produce fruit and maintain productivity. 

A citrus tree, with correct pruning, can harvest significant amounts of yield and quality fruit compared to an established citrus tree that has not been pruned correctly. While many people think they can get away without pruning their trees, as your tree grows, pruning will become vital to harvesting fruit more often and combating pests and diseases.

Pruning an old or young tree is vital in order to: 

  • Maintain the size of the tree
  • Maintain the tree shape
  • Increase blossom quality
  • Increase fruit size and yield
  • Prevent fruit damage from limb rubbing
  • Remove pests and signs of disease

While pruning is a great way to promote fruit growth and maintain the health of young trees, over-pruning can lead to negative side effects for the tree. Removing too much of the tree canopy will reduce the tree’s growth as well as fruit production. If the entire canopy has been removed the citrus bark can easily burn when exposed to the sun.

All citrus trees benefit from pruning, especially in the first two years of their life. Lemon trees, mandarin trees, lime trees and orange trees are all fruits that will need pruning. 

We recommend that you prune to remove unhealthy or unwanted offending branches. Moderate to light pruning should be done to promote new growth of leaves and branches as well as healthy growth of fruit.

Lemons ripening on a low-hanging branch of a tree.

The best time for pruning citrus trees

The best time to prune will depend on the maturity of your tree. Younger trees can be pruned often in early spring, late winter, summer or autumn. Young trees should be pruned as often as needed depending on their shape. Mature trees should be pruned once or twice a year after every harvest.

Pruning a young lemon tree or citrus tree 

When you have a young citrus tree, the aim is to establish a good shape and encourage the most productive growth of your tree. As your young citrus tree grows, you want to remove crossed or tangled branches to help create an evenly spaced out tree.

Quite often, lemon trees and other citrus trees will begin to have branches that grow upwards. These are known as water shoots and absorb the bulk of the plant’s energy. They also produce very little fruit. It is best to cut these back and encourage slower horizontal growth.

Citrus trees can also develop a growth known as a sucker where the inner branches begin to grow underneath the graft. In order to maintain your desired shape and allow the tree to bear fruit, you want to cut off these branches as soon as they appear. 

Finally, if your tree has a lot of fruiting wood (or fruiting sites) and nis producing lots of fruit, you will want to thin out the branches. Thinning out the outer foliage and inner wood will allow your tree to focus on establishing a strong canopy and root system. In turn, benefiting next season’s crop.

Pruning an older and more established citrus tree

Lemons ripening on an older tree.

The major fruiting locations for a citrus tree occur on the outer reaches of the canopy. If you cut back the entire tree you will lose all of the fruiting sites. We recommend that you cut back 20 per cent of the canopy each year leaving the rest of the fruiting sites intact. 

Any branches you prune will return to production the following year. If you do this over five or more years, it is possible to prune the entire tree without sacrificing fruit production. The aim is to allow the tree to maintain its production of fresh fruit while also controlling its shape.

Pruning should be done by cutting back the longest branches that are impacting the overall shape of the tree. You can also prune branches that hang in the path of other branches or nearby plants. Tall upright branches should be cut back to manage the height of the tree.

You also want to lift or trim any branches that are touching or close to touching the soil. Citrus trees can also develop a thick layer of foliage at the bottom of the tree. Without good airflow through the canopy, the tree can develop fungal problems and diseased wood.

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