Pruning Citrus Trees

All about pruning citrus trees. Lemon tree pruning information. Pruning lemon tree branches. Fruit tree pruning instructions for when to prune citrus trees. How to prune an orange tree.

Sheared citrus trees at Pinewood Estate. Sheared citrus trees at Pinewood Estate in Lake Wales, Florida.

People tend to worry about pruning citrus trees.

When do I prune my tree?

How much should I cut off?

This is unnecessary. Citrus is extraordinarily forgiving. It will quickly outgrow any mistakes you make, so relax.

Lemon Tree Pruning

How to Prune an Orange Tree

For the purposes of citrus pruning, lemon and orange trees are the same. So are limes, calamondins, citrons, tangerines or any other type of citrus tree you may have. The same fruit tree pruning instructions apply to them all.

The truth is, you can prune citrus trees any way you want to.

If you want a tree shape, remove the lower limbs while the tree is young. You can start this type of pruning once the tree is at least two or three years old and well established in the ground.

You can continue removing limbs as the tree grows taller if you want a tree you can walk under.

Citrus trees planted in a lawn.

These trees have been topped to keep them low enough for easy harvesting. The trees are sheared off at the desired height and then trimmed to shape periodically.

Notice that the grass has not been allowed to grow close to the trunks of the citrus trees but a buffer zone has been cut out to keep lawn maintenance equipment a safe distance from their tender bark.

This is a fine example of how to plant citrus trees in a lawn.

A more popular way of pruning citrus trees is to prune them into bushes. This is also the easiest way to prune citrus trees. This is how you do it:

  1. Do nothing until the tree is as tall as you want it to get. Under ten feet is best.

  2. Top the tree when it reaches the desired height. This just means to cut straight across the top. This forces the tree to branch out and become bushy.

  3. Trim the tree to maintain the bush shape every year just after it fruits.

    These bushy little lemon and orange trees produce tons of low hanging, easy-to-pick fruit.
    Etrog citron kept low by pruning.

    This etrog citron has been kept low by pruning.

    Grapefruit tree. This grapefruit tree has been limbed up so that, even when bearing a heavy crop, no fruit touches the ground.

    The owners also top it to keep it short enough to harvest easily.

    When To Prune Citrus Trees

    You can prune citrus trees whenever it is convenient for you to do so if you are not concerned about the following year's crop.

    By pruning only after the tree fruits and before it flowers you preserve as much of the next crop as possible. You will lose some fruit no matter when you prune. Unless you trim your plants into topiary or use them for hedges—both of which can be done with citrus—it won’t be enough to matter.

    Do not prune outdoor trees in the fall if frost is a concern where you live. You want the trees to go into winter with some extra “bulk” to allow for any frost damage that may occur.

    Tools To Use When Pruning Citrus Trees

    You can prune citrus trees with long handled loppers if you only need to head back a few branches.  Or, if the tree needs an all-over shaping, you can use electric or gas shears.  I have a rechargeable Black & Decker Hedge Hog that I use as long as the branches are still thin. 

    Gas trimmers are more powerful and will slice through older, thicker branches with ease.  Any branch much more than half an inch thick will have to be cut with a pruning saw or chain saw.   If you prune your trees regularly, you will probably never need a chain saw.

    You can use a hand shear for pruning citrus trees into topiary or keeping citrus hedges neat.  However, a power shear  will make the job go much more quickly.

    Citrus trees make dense hedges.  They could be just right for an area where you want privacy.  If you use plants  that are grown on their own roots, they will be thorny.  This can be a help with keeping a neighbor’s dog out of your garden.

    Pruning Indoor Citrus Trees

    Grapefruit tree growing indoors at Longwood Gardens.

    Prune potted trees according to the same rules as in-ground trees. They will not grow as vigorously and, therefore, will not require pruning as often. Indoor citrus trees can be pruned at any time of year.

    Buy Citrus Trees

    Tangelo - Minneola
    from: Nature Hills Nursery, Inc.
    Lemon - Meyer
    from: Nature Hills Nursery, Inc.
    Lime - Mexican Key Lime
    from: Nature Hills Nursery, Inc.
    Grapefruit - Rio Red
    from: Nature Hills Nursery, Inc.

    More Citrus Flavor Right This Way:

    Dwarf Citrus Trees

    Lemon Tree Care Guide

    Go from Pruning Citrus Trees back to Fruit Tree Pruning Instructions

    Return from Pruning Citrus Trees to Plant Guides Home Page

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Your plant guides,

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