Citrus trees don’t technically need to be pruned, however, if you leave them to grow wild they will grow large as well and their branches will overtake an entire section of your garden. This will mean that dealing with pests and even collecting fruit will become difficult to manage. Therefore, pruning citrus trees annually is a better idea.
The best time for this is late winter to early spring in frost-free areas, and in areas where you do get frost, wait until the frosts have finished in late spring. This will help you keep your citrus compact, producing a high yield of fruit and maintaining a healthy tree.
Pruning new citrus trees
With a new tree, when pruning you are helping it to establish the shape that will provide you with the most fruit. Slow growing horizontal branches tend to produce the highest yield of fruit so encourage these and cut back the vigorous upward growing branches that tend to take a lot of the tree’s energy but produce little or no fruit. If you have a lot of fruit in the first couple of years, thin it out to allow the tree energy to continue to establish and grow.
For an established tree when you are choosing what to prune, keep in mind the highest yield of fruit will come from the outer parts of the tree. If you prune these heavily you will reduce your yield for that year. The best way to deal with an established tree is to look at the tree and prune the branches that are the longest and will improve the overall shape of the tree. As these branches will produce less yield this year, only prune approximately one-fifth of the branches of the tree. This will leave the other parts of the tree to produce fruit and over a number of years, you will have pruned the whole tree without overly affecting your fruit production.
When pruning, try to keep the tree to a manageable height by pruning the upward growing branches. Prune low hanging branches also as any fruit that grows on these and that comes into contact with the soil can lead to fungal activity and fruit that is diseased.
Don’t forget to keep standing back and assessing the overall shape. You are looking to achieve a half circle shape above the trunk.
Citrus tree revival
If you have old citrus that is rangy (tall and slim with long slender limbs), low yielding, and unhealthy, you’re going to need to do a bit more work. You will need to remove all the branches, leaving only the trunk and healthy branch stumps. Be careful as you do this work. Citrus is likely to have sharp thorns so remove branches in sections and make sure you are wearing protective clothing. For thicker branches, make sure you cut them using a sharp pruning saw. This will help you to reduce the chance of creating a large wound in your tree by the branch splitting and taking away part of the trunk.
Once all of the branches have been removed, you need to protect the tree from the sun so gently wash the trunk to remove any lichen and dirt and then paint it with a lime-based whitewash. You should start to see fruit returning to the tree within a couple of years.
Citrus pruning tools
Having the right tools for the job is essential for pruning any tree, especially citrus. We’ve selected a few must-haves that will make your job of pruning and looking after your citrus more enjoyable.
Anvil secateurs are ideal for pruning woody limbs. Use them up to 10mm thickness and ensure that they are sharp and clean.
Bypass ratchet lopper
This lopper is ideal for cutting branches up to 50mm in thickness. These come with extendable handles which allow you to reach branches higher up in the tree.
This saw will enable you to remove thicker branches up to 90mm. Using this saw will help you to make a clean cut, reducing the chance of damaging the tree.
Always keep your tools clean by using methylated spirits to clean the blades between plants. Disease in citrus is easily spread and this will help you to reduce the chances of this happening. Now, anyone for homemade lemonade?