Help please! Asked to help prune citrus

Visiting our daughter in Berkeley CA and could use a little guidance pruning their lemon. It’s a well established eight-foot tall tree and seems to me to be overgrown inside. My inclination is to thin out the center and open it up, reduce the number of fruit, and of course, remove the dead wood and mummies, crossing wood and the sort. But are there particular disease and fruiting concerns I should watch for? Any pitfalls that might not occur to somebody who has only pruned apples, pears, and a little stone fruit?

Might mention that they don’t use much of the fruit, so the thing is primarily ornamental. (I’ll post a picture later but don’t have time at the moment).



marknmt, geesh the citrus forum at garden web was superb. I wish we could get them to move here. Perhaps we add a ‘citrus section’? I too have citrus but refuse to go back to the new garden web. What I have done, previously (anyone out there correct me!) I prune after fruit has ripened. I also prune all dead wood and wood that looks shriveled. My trees are between three and four feet tall, so its all easy. They are about to go outdoors.

Hopefully Hoosierquilt will join in on this to help you. As her trees are outdoor trees and mine are not inground. Mrs. G

Thanks, Mrs. G. Like you, I have avoided the GW site; I just wish Konrad would show up here! Of course, right now he’s probably very busy.

Looking at lemon trees in the neighborhood it looks like they can be pruned pretty much the way you’d prune anything if your interest was purely ornamental. Sounds like they’re looking to reduce the overall size and open up the center, which to my mind won’t hurt things a bit.

They do use the fruit a little, but it isn’t the best for that. I think getting more sun into it and reducing fruiting might actually improve the remaining fruit.

Thanks again.

I’m jealous of your daughter. I live in Berkeley too and have 2 citrus–star ruby grapefruit and dancy mandarin–that just don’t want to get established and stay healthy.

My parents live on the other side of the hills and there are several lemon trees on the street that people just trim like a hedge and produce plenty of lemons. My parents have no green thumb whatsoever and their lemon bush looks great with no real effort.

Hi Chris. The tree was well established when they moved in, so they got lucky, I guess. I gather that once they get going they do well, but it can be difficult until then. Good luck getting yours to cooperate.


Update: we tore into it this afternoon for a couple of hours and spent most of the time just removing “garbage” wood. This tree will happily send a new shoot into a dead end into the tree center, double back on it self once or twice, and, and end up coming out “somewhere”. It was full of twists and turns and tangles, clumps and clusters and deadwood and detritus. Simply straightening out some of those things made a huge difference and opened it up considerably; it’s a much more pleasing-looking tree now. I’m asking them to send me occasional photos so I can see how it progresses.

Okay, so pruning mature citrus: Definitely prune out any dead wood from inside the tree. Then, using drop crotch pruning, take the tree down in height if necessary. You may sacrifice some fruit this year, but next year your daughter will be happy. Remove any crossing branches, dead or damaged branches, avoid tip pruning. Citrus are actually very easy to prune, as you’re not really pruning for shape, but for an open inside to increase light and air flow, and for height.

Patty S.

Patty, Thank you! We didn’t try to bring it down in height but opened it up, cleaned up lots as above. Sounds/looks like we weren’t too far off track.

Dern thing fruits year around. To somebody from Montana that’s a little mind boggling.

Thanks again.


Mark, yes, lemons are the most precocious of all citrus. And the Meyer lemon being top of the “lemon” list (even though it’s not all lemon in its genetics). So, I usually double fertilize my lemons. They need it and will suffer clearly without enough fertilizing. If you continually pick the lemons, they do fruit nearly all year 'round. If they get too tall, just drop crotch them.


What exactly is a “drop crotch” pruning? I have a few indoor citrus that need some pruning.

Also, one of these citrus is supposed to be a dwarf key lime tree. It produces key limes all right, but I am not sure of the dwarf part. It is in a 16" pot and has grown to > 7’. On citrus, does one need to prune to keep the tree size down, or does the dwarf root stock handle that? I will be moving this tree to a bigger pot, but thought that pruning it down a bit in size might be good to do at the same time as well.

Steve, try this link and see if it helps on the “drop crotch” question.

Is anybody able to open the PDF link above? I saw this link come up in another thread as well. Must be a good read. Please let me know if anybody can open it. I can’t.

Can’t open it either.