Trimming Your Backyard Citrus Trees

A backyard citrus tree provides an attractive and fruitful addition to your landscape. These trees only require light trimming, whether it's a small lemon tree in a pot or a larger orange tree providing shade and fruit in the yard.


The best time to prune your citrus is right before they begin to flower or right after they finish flowering. This is because most citrus varieties are highly fertile, so they drop a certain amount of fruit each year during the early stages. This ensures the tree only keeps developing the amount of fruit it can support. If you prune before fruit drop, the tree will adjust so that it doesn't drop too much fruit.

Pruning Necessities

When it comes to citrus, there are only a few necessary pruning cuts you need to make. If your fruit tree is a grafted variety, you will need to keep an eye on the graft union, which sets near the soil surface. Cut off any whip-like branches, called suckers, that try to emerge from below the graft union.

You also need to check the canopy of the tree for any crossed or rubbing branches. Prune these back, otherwise they will eventually become damaged from rubbing, which can lead to open wounds in the bark that may invite disease or pests.

Shaping Options

Beyond the above, all other pruning tasks are generally optional. For example, you can remove lower limbs on your citrus tree to raise the canopy, if desired, or you can allow the lower branches to grow in and you can shear your citrus to resemble a hedge.

Espaliering is a popular choice in small gardens. Simply grow the tree near a wall with a trellis attached. Train the branches horizontally along the trellis, and trim off any excess branches to maintain the framework.

Pruning Tips

When pruning your citrus trees, use a pruning saw for branches thicker than your thumb, and bypass pruning shears for the smaller branches. Dipping your saw or shears in a solution of one part bleach to nine parts water before trimming each tree minimizes the chances of spreading pests or disease.

Citrus pruning wounds typically heal quickly, but the newly exposed wood can suffer sunscald in hot, sunny areas. To prevent this, mix equal parts white latex paint with water, and then paint it over the cut. There are also commercial tree wound paints you can purchase and apply. For more tree trimming advice, talk to a professional.