Deciduous fruiting trees need to be pruned to improve branch set, reduce the possibility of breaking from heavy fruit, increase aeration and light availability, and to improve the overall quality of the fruit. Like other fruiting trees, cutting back lemon trees will foster healthier fruit. The question is, how to prune a lemon tree and when is the best time to prune lemon trees?
About Lemon Tree Pruning
While pruning lemon trees back will engender larger, healthier fruit, citrus wood is strong, and thus, less likely to break under the weight of a bumper crop than other fruiting trees. Citrus trees can also fruit throughout the tree, including shaded areas, so cutting back lemon trees to improve light availability is not necessary. That said, lemon trees should still be pruned on occasion.
Young trees should have any sprouts removed and any weak limbs pruned out. Adult trees should also have sprouts regularly pruned out, as well as any dead wood or crossing limbs. The lemon may also need to have its light penetration improved by pruning the lemon tree back.
When is the Best Time to Prune Lemon Trees?
It’s important to prune at the right time, lest you risk losing the year’s yield. Lemon tree pruning should occur after it has produced the fall harvest to give it plenty of time to recover prior to the next season’s harvest.
If you live in a warm climate, you have a bit more leeway on exactly when to prune; just don’t do it when it’s roasting hot. For everyone else, February through April are the best pruning months. On the whole, however, you can prune any time the tree is producing flowers.
How to Prune a Lemon Tree
When cutting back lemon trees, be sure to use very sharp clean pruning shears or saws, and gloves are helpful to protect you from thorns. While the wood of citrus is very strong, the bark is thin and easy to damage. Always make any pruning cuts with the blade toward the tree to reduce nicking the tree.
Don’t cut the branch flush with the trunk or larger branch. The goal is to preserve the branch collar (the area around the base of a large limb that appears as wrinkled or ridged bark). This area is called the “branch defense zone” and contains cells that activate the callus tissue (wound wood) that grows over a pruning cut and defends the tree against decay.
You should use a three-cut system for any branches that are bigger than an inch to prevent damaging the bark.
- To begin, start with an angled cut 10-12 inches out from the branch union.
- Cut a third of the way through the branch from the other side – an undercut.
- Finally, move a few inches up the length of the branch and cut from above, severing the branch.
Never prune more than one-third of the tree in a year. Begin pruning the lemon in its first or second year to train it to grow how you want it. Trees should be kept around 8-10 feet in height to make it easier to harvest and care for. Don’t be hasty and prune out healthy branches. There is no need.
Pruning container grown lemon trees is much the same as those grown in the orchard. Be judicious with the pruning in either case and only remove branches that are crossing, diseased or dying limbs and spouts.