Lemon trees are a welcome addition to any home garden. The brilliant yellow citrus fruits are favored for lemonade and add a touch of zest to your cup of tea. To ensure an ample supply of tart fruits, you’ll need to learn how to prune your lemon tree correctly. 

Pruning a Lemon Tree for Health and Conformity 

It is essential that you prune your lemon tree to ensure productivity and to keep it healthy. However, pruning a lemon tree is not like other fruit-bearing trees such as apples, apricots, nectarines, cherries, or peaches. 

Reasons for pruning a lemon tree vary:

  • Hard pruning to restore vigor to a neglected tree. Left untended, lemon trees grow enormous and can easily reach 13 meters tall by 13 meters wide. 
  • Stimulates renewed growth and helps you form the tree and ensure that it has a sturdy structure for abundant fruit production. 
  • Allows light to reach the tree’s interior to maintain foliage health and encourage a more significant crop. 
Lemon Harvest

When to Prune a Lemon Tree 

You should start pruning your lemon tree when it reaches two years old to prevent the tree from becoming leggy, out of shape, or overcrowding. 

Young lemon trees also develop sprouts which should be removed. Sprouts at the base of an older, established tree can indicate poor health and must always be promptly cut away. 

Always prune a lemon tree after it has produced its fall crop so that it has ample time to recover before the following season. Most people prune lemon trees from February through April for best results. 

If you live in an area that suffers cold winters with frost, then avoid pruning in the fall, or the tree could sustain damage from the adversely wintry weather.

Pruning in the summer months can also put the tree at risk of sunburn. Avoid pruning if the weather is overly hot.

Do not prune the lemon tree if it is actively producing flowers. 

Any time you see deadwood on the lemon tree, remove it. Cutting away damaged or dead branches will not harm the lemon tree regardless of the season. 

You can prune once or twice a year, depending on if you feel the tree requires it or not.

Some lemon trees will undergo excessive growth and might require biannual pruning, but others are slow to recover, so once per year works well. 

Prune a lemon tree

Pruning Tools Needed  

If you plan to prune your lemon tree, then you’ll want to make sure you have the necessary tools on hand to carry out the task. 

Sharp Pruning Shears or Handheld Saw

A pair of sharp pruning shears and a hand-held (or pole saw) saw all work well to maintain the tree’s growth. Dull pruning shears can cause tears instead of making a clean cut. The tears put the tree at risk of developing disease and cause undue stress. Be sure to disinfect the tools prior to use to prevent the spread of disease.

Gardening Gloves 

Pick a pair of gardening gloves that let you move your hands freely while protecting you from any thorns or sharp broken branches. 

Systemic Herbicide 

Make sure you have organic herbicide on hand to apply following the pruning. Citrus trees, especially lemon trees, often get weevils, gall wasp infestations, and snails. They are extremely susceptible after pruning to damage because the tree is slightly weakened. 

How to Prune a Lemon Tree 

Examine your lemon tree and make a mental plan on how you will prune the tree. Look for any unhealthy or stray branches. You will want to tackle problem areas first when pruning.

  • Remove the tree’s deadwood. 
  • Cutaway thin branches, so the tree focuses on development of the larger branches.
  • Prune at a 45-degree angle and make the cuts clean.
  • Remove suckers (also called water sprouts) from the base of the tree. Suckers will ‘suck’ the nutrients from your main lemon tree and cause a poor crop production, so they must be removed regardless of the time of year. 
  • Thin the tree’s branch structure to allow improved light and airflow throughout the tree. Focus on overlapping branches. 
  • Never cut mature branches flush to the tree trunk – instead, leave at least 12 centimeters from the trunk to prevent shock and help the tree recover from the pruning process. 
  • Remove the bottom branches so that the tree prioritizes fruiting in the top portion of its canopy. Skirting the tree by removing the lower branches also prevents the foliage from touching the soil, which can spread disease. Ideally, y0ou should have about three meters from the ground to the tree’s first branches to keep back pests and disease. 
  • Lightly prune the tree in a rounded symmetrical shape. 
  • It is okay to prune away one-third of the tree but never prune away more. Excessive pruning will stress the tree. 

You can prune a potted lemon tree in much the same way that you prune a lemon tree planted directly in the soil.

Growing lemon trees is remarkably rewarding, and regular pruning is a natural way to ensure the tree’s continued health and vigor for decades.