How to prune your lemon tree

The basics of proper pruning

In order for it to grow healthily and produce lots of flowers and fruit, you’ll need to regularly reach for your scissors and prune your lemon tree. There are a few things to keep in mind, but don’t worry: the lemon and its relatives are not fans of heavy pruning. So you won’t have a lot of work pruning your lemon tree.

Cut lemon tree: As much as necessary, as little as possible

The lemon – small but mighty

Lemon trees are simply great plants for our balcony or terrace. Although they cannot be cultivated outdoors because of their sensitivity to cold, they are compact enough for even the smallest balcony. The pretty foliage, fragrant flowers and yellow fruits of the lemon simply take every heart by storm!

The fact that lemon trees here in Central Europe remain rather small and grow only very slowly has several reasons. On the one hand, the sun is simply much weaker here than in their warm homeland. This means that our lemons grow more slowly. On the other hand, lemon trees have to be cultivated in tubs here. This means that the roots have less space and the tree grows very slowly. Normally, lemon trees in our country do not grow higher than 2 meters, but in Asia or the Mediterranean region they can grow up to 5 meters!

Cut lemon tree – yes, but please in moderation

Lemon trees are not very pruning tolerant in themselves and especially in our latitudes they do not like to be cut back heavily at all. The lemon tree takes quite a long time to regrow, which requires a lot of strength. Therefore, there is no need for heavy pruning, on the contrary. So this time we can rejoice, because less is more in this case and the small size of the lemon tree also makes the job really easy.

Grab your scissors: How to prune your lemon tree

Pruning the lemon tree: a few basics

Roughly speaking, the lemon tree should only be pruned to either shape the crown or/and remove dead wood as well as water shoots. This will stimulate growth and flower formation.

What do I need to prune my lemon tree?

In the long run, pruning should ensure that an even and stable crown is created and maintained. All you need for this is a pair of pruning shears or loppers that are as sharp as possible and gloves if needed, as well as a bucket or similar for the pruning waste. The pruning is optional and not compulsory, but the maintenance pruning is.

How do I prune my lemon tree?

If you want to prune your lemon tree, you should always start with the scissors where the branches or twigs fork or at a leaf base. Do not leave any branch stubs, otherwise the tree will not be able to close the cut on its own. This allows diseases to gain access to the inside of the tree. For this reason, pruning must be done as smoothly as possible and vertically, from top to bottom.

When should I prune my lemon tree?

The right time depends on whether you want to do a nursery or maintenance pruning.

Generally, it is best to prune your lemon in late winter or spring (February, March). Especially if you want to do a nursery pruning, you should definitely use this time window for it, or if in doubt, rather do without it and wait until next year.

If you prune your lemon tree during the growing season, it will lose too much vigor and may react with all sorts of bitching. In addition, it takes a long time for the lemon to get back on its feet. If you only want to do a very light maintenance pruning and thin out the tree a bit, you can do this all year round.

heading pruning vs. maintenance pruning

As already mentioned, we distinguish between training and maintenance pruning. The training pruning is rather form-giving and must be carried out (if at all) only very rarely, the maintenance pruning, however, regularly, because otherwise less and less flowers and fruits are formed.

Maintenance pruning

This involves removing all dead, diseased and frozen branches as well as water shoots and thinning out the crown as a whole. If branches are only partially dead, cut back to the healthy wood in any case. Branches that protrude too much from the crown, growing inward, vertically upward or crosswise should also be removed, or shortened.
How to do it:

In the case of crossing branches, simply remove the weaker one each time so that the stronger one gets enough space and sunlight again. Be sure to remove the branches all the way to the base. In the case of forked branches, you should also remove one of the shoots so that only one remains.

What are water shoots?

Like other woody plants, lemon trees can develop water shoots. These form from dormant eyes (or buds) in old wood and do not bear flowers or fruit. They grow steeply vertically upward, resembling the shoots of decaying plants. You can also easily recognize them by their soft tissue. Since they rob the plants of their energy, they should be removed. Other names for them are water sprout or water vines.

Heading Pruning

Especially with young lemon trees, it is important to perform a careful pruning, so that a stable, strong and uniform crown is formed. As the lemon tree gets older, you will need to prune less and less. The crown hardly gets out of shape due to the weak growth.

Often you get “ready” grown little trees in stores, but with very young plants this is not always already the case. Our Bloomify lemon and all other citrus are already grown and have a pretty little crown when they move in with you.
How it’s done:

Lemon trees do not have a uniformly round crown. It is usually only slightly branched, very bulky and by nature rather irregular-loose in growth. Therefore, a semi-circular shape that tapers towards the top is more suitable.

  • If your lemon tree has more than one leading shoot in the center, again select the strongest one and remove all other shoots down to the base. This shoot will then form the leading branch as it continues to grow. It should be shortened by about a third at the end, or cut back so that it is only about 15 cm longer than the side shoots. If the tree is still very delicate and not very stable, you can also tie it to a long pole so that it grows as straight up as possible.
  • Depending on the size of your lemon tree, select 3 to 5 of the strongest side shoots. If they grow too steeply upwards, you can also tie them down to achieve the most horizontal alignment possible. Remove all other side shoots and shorten the remaining side shoots by about one third or one quarter of their length.
  • Remove shoots that grow inward, cross, grow vertically upward, or otherwise compete with the side leader shoots and the vertical leader branch. It takes about 2 years for the crown of your lemon tree to become established. After that, no more educational pruning is usually needed, and except for maintenance pruning, you usually don’t need to do any other pruning.
How to prune your lemon tree
Young lemon trees have not yet developed a crown and education pruning is necessary

How to cut other citrus trees?

By and large, the basics on the subject of “pruning lemon tree” can be transferred almost one-to-one to the relatives of the lemon. They are all more or less alike in growth and have relatively similar care requirements in other respects as well. The low pruning tolerance is common to them all, as well as the rather slow growth.

You should just keep an eye on the crown shape. Our calamondin orange, for example, is a small exception and, in contrast to lemon, kumquat, lime and tangerine, grows nice and dense. As a result, it is also possible to achieve the familiar circular spherical shape of the crown with it by pruning.

With all citrus trees, refrain from more severe pruning and/or educational pruning when the plant is already resprouting and in its main growth stage. The timing of this varies a bit. For lemon, early spring is a good time, but for lime this is more likely to be the case (November, December). With the kumquat you have even less work than with the other members of the citrus family: apart from cutting out dried and dead twigs and branches from time to time during the main growing season and shortening branches that are too long, there is not much to do.