Questions and Answers about Citrus Trees

Question:
Should I wait until late winter to prune our Lemon tree, which is just now ripening with fruit?

Answer:
You are lucky, in the warm climate where you live; lemon trees can be pruned at any time of the year. Try to avoid very hot weather. This also applies to other citrus trees such as limes, oranges and grapefruit.

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Question:
How do I prune a one-year-old dwarf Lisbon lemon tree to shape it?

Answer:
Before I answer your specific questions, I would like to recommend you check out our article on pruning citrus trees. It may answer some of your questions.

It would be a good idea to start pruning your lemon tree now. Choose three or four upper laterals to be the main branches. These branches should be about equal in length, and they make crotch angles of at least 40 degrees to the main stem. Shorten these leaders to about 12 inches in length. You also need to pinch out the low shoots that develop on the stem. Don't worry about single leaves that develop on the stem.

As your tree develops further, you will need to shorten the branch leaders by one-third of their growth. Then tip-prune the strong side shoots by three or four leaves. You will need to cut off side shoots that grow across other shoots or into the center of the bush. Again, remove any shoots that develop on the main trunk.

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Question:
The branches of my large tangerine tree are close to the breaking point due to too much fruit. How and when should I prune it? I live in central Texas and just picked all the fruit.

Answer:
The best time to prune a tangerine tree is just before the start of spring growth.

To rejuvenate the tangerine tree and get it back to a reasonable size, you will need to do some drastic pruning. Keep in mind that this may delay fruiting in the next couple of growing seasons. Cut all major limbs to 1-foot long stubs. Then remove any twiggy growth that remains. Be sure to paint all the newly exposed bark white to prevent sunscald. As the tree starts to grow back and reaches the size and shape you want, be sure to do regular pruning (just before spring growth begins) to maintain the appropriate size.

For more ideas on pruning citrus trees, check out our article on pruning citrus trees.

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Question:
Can you give me information about pruning lemon tahiti, mandarin and orange trees?

Answer:
Citrus trees usually need little pruning except to remove broken, dead or weak branches and to thin twiggy growth. It is possible to rejuvenate an older, established citrus tree.

Citrus trees usually respond well to hard pruning, when necessary. For trees having some fruit on the branches year round, prune when there is the least fruit on the tree. Start by removing dead, injured, diseased and crossing branches, suckers and branches growing downward. When removing dead branches, reduce the chance of disease by cutting back into living wood. At the next pruning, remove weak branches and overcrowded growth. Never remove more than one-fourth of the tree at one time. Keep in mind that, most citrus trees have a limited supply of carbohydrates in their stem tissues. Excessive pruning at one time may set back growth and fruiting.

After the tree is back in good shape (it may take a couple of years), continue to thin as needed. You can also cut back long branches at the tips to promote shoots nearer the center of the tree. If more than one shoot arises around a cut, choose the one or two best placed shoots to develop as the main branches.

The bark of citrus trees may be susceptible to sunburn. If your pruning exposes the main branches or trunks, to sunlight, paint them white for protection. Use standard tree paint or a white latex paint (thinned 50 percent with water).

Lemon trees have a rather gawky growth habit, naturally growing long stems that easily break under the weight of fruit. Harvesting is also difficult due to the interlace of stems. Lemon trees need frequent pruning by lightly thinning and shortening stems.

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Question:
Could you tell me about caring for a dwarf Lisbon Lemon tree--frequency of watering and fertilizing?

Answer:
As far as watering and fertilizing goes, keep in mind that citrus trees'roots are fairly shallow and extend quite a bit beyond the spread of its branches. In your dry climate, you will need to give the roots a good soaking on a regular basis, not just a steady trickle. Citrus trees also thrive with a good nitrogen supply. Use a top dressing with compost; well-rotted manure, blood meal or cottonseed meal also works well. You can also use a low-release organic fertilizer several times during the year. If your lemon tree is in a sandy soil, you will need to provide a heavier feeding because in the sand the nutrients leach out easily. In dry climates, they also many not leach out fast enough. Avoid using an inorganic fertilizer whose residues may accumulate and may make the soil too alkaline.

As with most trees, it is important to keep the area around your lemon tree free from weeds that may compete with the roots. Even mowed grass bordering too close to the tree may steal nutrients away from your lemon tree's roots. Consider using a ring of mulch around the base of your lemon tree to hold in the moisture. Do not place the mulch right around the trunk because brown-rot gummosis may develop. Be sure to protect your lemon tree's delicate bark from sunscald by applying a layer of white latex paint or using a tree wrap. This is especially important out in the desert.

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Question:
I have a mature tangerine tree (more than 30 years old). I would like to get a cutting or start from the tree to grow in another area. How is that done?

Answer:
Is it too late to get seeds from the fruit? Starting with seeds may be your best bet for starting a seedling. Squeeze the seeds out of the fruit and them wash them free of pulp and juice. Dry the surface and then plant the seeds in a container or else store them in an airtight container with pulverized charcoal to plant after a short period of time. Do not allow them to dry out completely, or they will not be any good.

If you want to also try with cuttings from the tree, cut off a four to six inch twig evenly across the base. Keep only the three or four upper leaves on the twig. You will need to dip the cutting in a root-inducing hormone. Then stick half of the length of the twig in clean sand. Once roots have developed, the seedling can be transferred to a larger pot.

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Question:
How do you prune orange trees? Where do you cut the branches? What time of the year should it be pruned? Should the tree be grafted and if so how do you do that?

Answer:
Orange trees do not require much pruning. If you must prune, do it before active growth begins in late January/early February. Always remove water sprouts and suckers as soon as you notice them. Remove dense branches that are near the base and center of the tree. This will allow the base to receive the maximum amount of sunlight. Also remove branches that arch downward toward the ground or inward toward the trunk, and branches that are weak, twisted, dead or diseased. When cutting, go back to the branch of origin. Cut just outside the branch collar, not flush with the branch.

For more ideas on the care of citrus trees, check out our article on pruning citrus trees. Notice in the article that it says to do your pruning a little at a time, as 'most citrus trees have a limited supply of carbohydrates in their stem tissues. Excessive pruning at one time may set back growth and fruiting.'This is a key element to a healthy citrus tree that bears fruit.

As far as grafting goes, you only need to do this if you want to start a new tree. For information on grafting, check out this website.

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