How To Trim A Lemon Tree

Lemon trees are lovely and fresh-smelling species, all thanks to their well-scented leaves and fruit. Just like any other fruit tree, they also need to be properly maintained, and this will involve the use of proper pruning methods.

If you are new to this then keep reading, as I will be teaching you how to trim a lemon tree.

About Lemon Tree Pruning

Lemon fruit trees must be pruned if you want to improve the quality of their branches. A strong branch will be able to handle the weight of the fruits, as well as improve its overall health and taste.

Knowing how and when to prune your lemon tree is essential if you want to achieve these things.

Pruning your lemon tree will promote larger, healthier fruits. Being citrus, it can produce fruits all through the tree, including the shaded areas. The means trimming trees for the sake of access to sunlight is not required.

Nonetheless, lemon trees should be pruned occasionally.

You should remove sprouts and weak branches from young lemon trees, the same as the mature trees. Dead or crossing branches also need to be cut off regularly.

If you feel the need to have the shaded areas of the tree to access more sunlight, then you can slightly prune back the lemon tree.

When is the Best Time to Prune Lemon Trees?

Pruning at the wrong time would be bad for your lemon tree, as doing that can hinder proper fruit production and branch re-growth.

The best time to prune a lemon tree is after it has produced the harvest in the fall season. This will give it enough time to recover from the stress involved in fruiting.

If your tree is planted in a warm environment, you have a better pruning advantage. Be warned though, do not prune your lemon tree when the weather is scorching hot! The months of February to April are the best times to trim your tree.

As a general rule of thumb, you can prune anytime the lemon tree is producing flowers.

Here is how to choose the best time to prune other fruit trees.

How to Prune a Lemon Tree

When you are ready to prune your lemon tree, make sure the cutting tools you are using are sharp and clean. If they are blunt then you will be left with roughly cut branches, which can attract pests. Also, an unsterilized blade may carry diseases that can infect your tree.

Besides clean and sharp cutting tools, you will also need to protect your hands from thorns. This means you need to put on a pair of hand gloves.

Citrus trees usually have strong wood, but they also have thin barks. For this reason, you should prune with the blade facing the tree to avoid chipping off the bark.

Your aim should be to preserve the branch collar, this is the area around the base of a large branch which has a wrinkled-looking bark.

This area is also known as the “branch defense zone”, and it is filled with cells that trigger the callus tissue (tree wound), which grows and covers a cut to prevent tree decay.

For branches larger than an inch, be advised to the three-cut system to avoid damaging the tree bark.

Proceed with an angled cut, about 12 inches out from the branch union, then cut 1/3rd deep into the branch the other side (the undercut).

Next is to move a couple of inches above the length of the branch and cut from the top, severing the branch in the process.

Make sure you do not prune more than a third of the entire tree per year. Start pruning your lemon tree in its second year so you can train it exactly how you want it to grow.

Keep your lemon trees around 8 or 10 feet tall so it would be easier for you to harvest its fruits and maintain. Don’t be in a hurry to cut off any healthy branches, it is not necessary.

Pruning Potted Lemon Trees

Trimming a lemon tree grown in a container is pretty much the same as trimming orchard-grown lemon trees. Only remove branches that are dead or crossing, as well as unwanted sprouts.

Dwarf lemon trees grow to a maximum height of about 12 feet, so they do not require regular pruning to control their height. The main purpose of pruning dwarf lemon trees should be to promote new growth and better fruit production.

Popular dwarf lemon varieties include the “Meyer” species and “Eureka” species. They grow between 10 to 12 feet tall at full maturity.

You also need to disinfect your pruning tools when dealing with dwarf lemons. An alcohol-based sterilizer can be used for this. Make sure the tools are sharp and in good working condition before you begin cutting.

You can use bypass pruners to cut small branches that are less than half an inch in diameter. For branches that are ½ to 1-1/2 inches in diameter, lopping shears will be suitable for the cuts.

For branches larger than that, you can use your pruning saw to cut.

Remove any root suckers you come across that are growing below the graft union. Use bypass pruners for this, and make the cut as low to the soil level as you possibly can.

You can remove suckers anytime throughout the growing season.

If you have more than one potted lemon tree, then be sure to disinfect your cutting tools after using them on the first one before you use them to trim the next one. Diseases can be passed from one tree to another via cutting tools, so disinfecting them acts as necessary insurance.

Rubbing and crossing branches should be removed so that sunlight can get to the center of the tree.

For potted dwarf lemon trees, the winter season is the best time to prune them. This should be after the tree has finished fruiting for the season, and before any new growth commences.

Don’t forget to cut off any long, straight branches that are 1/4  inches above any outward-facing bud. Doing this will promote new branching. It will also cause the tree to generate healthier lemons and the overall shape of your tree will be better.

Things You Will Need To Prune Potted Lemon Trees

  • Bleach
  • Bypass pruners
  • Lopping shears
  • Pruning saw

Extra Tip

In case you didn’t know, lemon trees grow in U.S plant hardiness zones 9 and 11. For potted lemon trees, they can be grown in lower hardiness zones since they can be kept indoors and guarded against cold temperatures.

How To Prune A Meyer Lemon Tree

Meyer lemon trees are favored as ornamental trees, thanks to their lovely smell and beautiful foliage. They also have little or no thorns.

They also produce a rounder, more orange-colored fruits than every other lemon tree species. Meyer lemon does not grow more than 12 feet tall at mature height. Although they are Lim to a height of 6 feet if they are great to a dwarf rootstock.

Meyer lemons belong to the U.S Department Of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 9 to 11, and they are grown over a wider range indoors or as a potted species.

Scheduled pruning promotes a healthy fruit production and an attractive shape. Late winter is the best time to prune Meyer lemon trees.

Follow these steps to prune your Meyer lemon tree.

  • Cut off any shoot that grows out of tree’s roots and the lower area of the trunk beneath the graft union where the tree was connected to the dwarfing stock. The cuts should be made at ground level
  • Cut off any water sprouts and vertical shoots that grow out of the canopy branches
  • Cut off any dead, decayed, or injured branches, or branches that rub against each other back into the canopy, or a few inches away above the branch junction
  • Cut back any branch that appears too long or too vigorous, trimming up the tree’s canopy so it will have a well-rounded uniform look. You can also do this to reduce the tree’s overall size
  • All cuts should be smooth and no greater than 1/4 inches away from a healthy bud
  • Cut off any branches that touch the soil, the ground, or any other piece of furniture and home structure, as they can act as bridges for carpenter ants to get into your home
  • Selectively thin out the fruit by cutting smaller fruits off the junction of the stem. Doing this will leave behind well-spaced healthy fruits around the canopy of the tree
  • As a rule of thumb, you should leave one lemon fruit per 42 leaves. To promote the proper establishment, you can remove all the tree’s fruits for the first 2 years after planting and start harvesting in the 3rd year
  • Do regular inspections and check for any signs of pests or diseases around your dwarf Meyer lemon tree. If you find any diseased branches, then you should cut them off


There you have it! That’s how to trim a lemon tree. There are many varieties but most of the trimming rules apply to all of them, both the potted species and orchard-grown species.

Take care!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *