Gardeners often assume that pruning citrus trees is much the same as pruning regular fruit trees, but citrus tree pruning is actually very different for a variety of reasons. For starters, citrus wood is tough, so it can withstand heavier loads of fruit. Additionally, pruning the center of the tree isn’t as critical because citrus trees are capable of producing fruit in less than optimum sunlight. However, that doesn’t mean that you can get away without pruning citrus trees. Let’s explore the basics of citrus tree pruning.
How and When to Prune Citrus Trees
Major citrus tree pruning, which controls the size of the tree, should be done after risk of freeze has passed, but well in advance of summer heat. Otherwise, uncontrolled growth results in a tree that is less vigorous and uses water less efficiently.
You may need to prune the center of the tree if it is excessively dark and no fruit is produced in that area.
Maintenance pruning, which involves removal of dead or weak branches, as well as branches that rub or cross other branches, can be done any time of year. Removal of suckers should be done frequently – as often as once every month.
Trimming Citrus Water Sprouts
Water sprouts, also known as suckers, pop up frequently, especially during the first few years. It’s best to remove suckers as they appear; otherwise, they sap energy from the tree and the thorns make harvest difficult. If suckers produce fruit, it is usually bitter and unpalatable.
Experts advise removing water sprouts from the lower 10 to 12 inches (25-30 cm.) of the tree. Often, suckers are easily snapped off by hand and doing so won’t damage the tree. However, if you allow them to get too large, you’ll need a pair of hand pruners. Be sure the pruners are sharp so they create a clean, even cut.