I spent the weekend pruning our lemon tree, not to mention the lime, the crab apple, the overarching ceanothus, my Albany woolly-bush and a raft of other trees and plants. The rain clouds had dissipated long enough to show the sun for most of it so it was a real joy being outside again.

The middle of winter is a great time to prune a lemon tree or any type of citrus. It’s the small window of opportunity you get with citrus trees where most of the fruit has become harvestable and it has only just started blooming new buds. If you wait any longer then the tree will be covered in new buds and if you prune any earlier then you will lose most of the still immature fruit.

When pruning citrus you will have to forego some of the fruit as there will always be some unripe ones left. Yet this is a small price to pay for the abundance of fruit you will yeild next season after your tree has been pruned properly now.

So, how do you go about pruning citrus? Here are some starting points;

  1. Cut out any dead or diseased wood. Often branches will have snapped during the growing season either due to the weight of the fruit or from extreme weather conditions, or both. This kills the branch yet still leaves it hanging from the tree. If you don’t cut these limbs off then it can become an entry point for disease.
  2. Prune any branches that are becoming a hazard. If your lemon tree is on the edge of a path like mine is then invariably it will grow branches that hinder your travel. Many times I’ve been crowned by a bunch of green fruit and apart from being dangerous these limbs can just be downright annoying.
  3. The next step is to reduce the remaining limbs by about 1/3 in height. This does two things; (1) it allows the tree to bush rather than continue its journey heavenward, and (2) it allows next years fruit to be accessible.
  4. Once the above steps have been completed you will be able to stand back and consider the plant’s balance. Any criss-crossing limbs or branches that grow inwards should now be pruned to open up the canopy and allow light and airflow into the tree. This enables the fruit to ripen better and helps avoid future disease.

Now that your pruned citrus is finished it’s time to mulch the removed limbs for your compost and then fertilise your lemon tree with a generous dose of urea and a well-rotted sheep or cow manure. This will get your tree back up and sprouting new growth in no time and it will certainly reward you for your effort.

The above listed steps will work for any citrus tree whether it be mandarins, limes, grapefruit, oranges or cumquats. The main consideration when pruning citrus is that your tools are clean and sharp and any cuts made on a limb are one action without damaing the branch.