Many dooryard fruit growers have asked me this Fall: When is the correct time to prune citrus? How do I prune Citrus right now? The answer may seem obvious, but when we delve into the question further, we find out that it is not.
Two different pruning strategies exist depending upon the citrus plants age. When training young citrus plants, it is essential to develop three to four main scaffold branches with wide crotch angles. This is done by selecting branches growing different directions that intersect with the trunk or each other at the widest angle possible. Other branches need to be pruned off and these need to be left alone to develop into the main scaffold. Once the branching system has been developed, traditional heading back, as seen in peaches and apples, is unnecessary.
There are several instances in which pruning mature citrus trees is beneficial. First, branches should be pruned approximately one foot off the ground so developing fruit is not sitting on the ground. This also helps with weed control and fertilization. Next, it is important to remove growth that is positioned extremely upward or inward to promote an open, vase-shaped habit. Finally, it is necessary to remove any dead wood resulting from winter dieback.
Many growers are eager to remove branches that have been bent downward by heavy citrus crops. This is not necessary; they will bear well in subsequent years.
The last pruning item to consider is removal of suckers from below the rootstock. If the tree is grafted, this is necessary so that the rootstock does not overtake the scion cultivar. Trees propagated from seedage or cuttings will not need this type of pruning since root suckers will be true to type.
It has been noticed that when trees are not over pruned, they exhibit greater cold hardiness. Keeping that in mind, any pruning of citrus should be done at the beginning of March or later, not in the fall or early winter. With proper pruning practices, gardeners should expect healthy trees with bountiful harvests. For further information please consult the publications listed below or contact your local Extension office.