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You only need to prune your lemon tree minimally. However, doing so does help them to grow strongly and to increase the fruit yield. Here are the various times and growth stages in which to take a close look at your tree and decide what to prune.
Prune the lemon tree in early spring
The lemon tree is coming out of its dormant winter stage in the spring and starting to grow, so now’s your chance to reshape it to a visually pleasing form. If your tree is “leggy” with long spindly branches, cut these back by up to two-thirds of their length. This encourages them to grow in a more bushy way. Check also if the branches are overcrowded and all pushing in together. If so, choose some to remove to give the rest a chance at the air calculation and some more growing space.
Prune in summer
A few times during the summer, look for the branches and stems growing the fastest. Pinch back the growth on their tips of these. You can squeeze the green growth between your thumb and pointer finger and pull it off. This encourages better flowering and hence more lemons.
Look for water shoots
Once your lemon tree has been around for a few years and has matured, it may produce what are known as water shoots. These are fast-growing shoots that take up a lot of the lemon tree’s energy. As such, you should remove them so lemons have a chance to develop. Remove those you see by cutting close to the branch; you’ll especially find them on the middle stem of the tree or in the middle of the plant. If there are water shoots at the ends of the branches, just shorten these to keep them in check.
But always remove the water shoots that appear below the graft point on the main stem of your tree.
Tall or bushy
How you prune the main stem of the lemon tree depends on the shape you want it to take. Keep the main stem cut short to encourage the tree to be short and bushy. But let the main stem grow tall if you’re encouraging your lemon tree to grow tall and up a trellis.
Prune the lemon tree fruit
Pruning the fruit is not something most people think about. After all, your own lemons are why you have this tree. But too many lemons on a small tree split up the tree’s energy in too many directions and none may develop very well. Remove any excess fruits (20 lemons should be enough to keep) to give the remaining ones the best change of growing to their full potential.
Sanitise your pruning shears before, after and during the pruning session. Use a commercial cleaning product or make your own by mixing white vinegar and water. This stops any disease from spreading between plants and also throughout your lemon tree.
And make clean, sharp cuts. Having to go over the same cut several times because your shears aren’t sharp traumatises your plant.
For more information about how to care for your lemon tree, check out my How to look after a lemon tree article. You can also read my guide on how to prune lemon trees as well as why your lemon tree might have sticky leaves or yellow leaves here