How to cut lemon tree

How to prune a lemon tree

(Image credit: Getty Images)

It’s important to know how to prune a lemon tree if you want a healthy plant abundant with zesty fruit.

Lemon trees are a popular addition to patios, and make delightful house plants in conservatories and sunny living rooms, and give a Mediterranean flavor to kitchen garden ideas. 

A slow-growing fruit, lemons can take up to a year to go from bud to edible fruit. So patience is key – invest some time pruning your lemon tree now, and you will lay the foundation for a bountiful crop later on.

Whether you have grown lemon from seed or bought it from a garden center, it’s essential that you don’t neglect it and allow it to become overgrown and unproductive.

(Image credit: Future/Brent Darby)

How to prune a lemon tree – step by step guide

Lemon trees should be pruned from their second year onwards, otherwise they can become very leggy, overcrowded with branches, and out of shape.

First, make sure you have the right tools for the job. ‘The most important part of pruning a lemon tree is to use very sharp pruners that have been disinfected with rubbing alcohol beforehand,’ says Joseph Marini, principal of At Home with Joseph . 

'Cuts that cause tears can introduce disease or stress, and pruners that have been previously used on diseased plants can cause cross contamination to your lemon tree.’

However, for branches you may need a more substantial tool. 'Typically your lemon tree will be better served with a clean, sharp hand-saw or pole-saw (for higher branches), which will make much more precise, and neat incisions,’ advises Andrew Gaumond horticulturist, botanist, and director of content at Petal Republic .

  1. ‘To start with, remove suckers or basal shoots at the base of the lemon tree,’ says Marini. Suckers are very fast growing and often their leaves look different from the grafted part of the tree. If you don’t remove them flush at the base, they will steal water and nutrients from the rest of the tree, so do this as soon as you notice them.
  2. Next, remove any dead, diseased or damaged branches. ‘Any growth that appears discolored, diseased or has been invaded by any pesky insects (such as scale or mealy bugs) should be removed immediately as and when they appear throughout the year,’ adds Marini.
  3. Thin out branch structures. ‘Over time lemon tree branches will often start to compete with one another for light and nutrient sources,’ says Gaumond. ‘Thin out overlapping branches, and the overall structure of the tree so it has sufficient aeration and access to light. More mature branches shouldn't be cut flush to the trunk or parent branch – instead, leave at least 5 inches of branch in place, which will better enable the tree to recover from the shock of pruning.’
  4. ‘Where there are double shoots that run almost parallel upwards, cut off the inside shoot,’ advises Sigrid Hansen-Catania, author of Success with Citrus Fruit .
  5. Hansen-Catania also recommends removing shoots that grow horizontally into the crown (cross shoots), making it denser, as well as any weak shoots that hang downwards – these should be cut off at the base.
  6. When pruning a lemon tree, it’s important to think about the shape. ‘A citrus plant is particularly attractive with a shaped crown, and the round crown is characteristic. ‘To do this, target the left side and cut off selected shoots,’ says Hansen-Catania. ‘Do not take any notice of flowers or fruits. The point where you cut should always lie above a leaf.’
  7. Finally, be careful not to cut off too much. ‘Never prune more than a third of a tree in one year,’ says Marini. 

(Image credit: Raimond Klavins/Unsplash)

When should lemon trees be pruned?

Ideally prune lemon trees in late winter or early spring. ‘The trick with all citrus trees is to avoid pruning or cutting back during the flowering and fruit producing season in summer when the tree is at its most virile,’ says Gaumond.

‘Citrus trees will enter a natural period of dormancy post harvest – typically late fall through winter – which is the best time to consider pruning. Typically, I'll assess a lemon tree in the very early spring to assess what needs pruning before the growth cycle reboots for the season.

(Image credit: Future / Mark Bolton)

Pruning potted lemon trees

Potted lemon trees should be pruned in exactly the same way as other lemon trees, but you should be conscious of keeping them to a manageable size. 

'Although you can prune the branches to achieve the needed size of the lemon tree, it’s not enough. Lemon trees can grow up to 20-25 feet, but you don’t want them to do that inside your house,’ says experienced botanist Ronnie Collins, who also founded Electro Garden Tools . 

‘Make sure to stop providing the plant with larger pots as soon as it reaches four feet tall. It’s an optimal size for fruiting in a pot. A pot of the right size will prevent the plant from growing larger.’

Hard pruning citrus trees

Occasionally lemon trees need a hard prune to rejuvenate them. ‘A radical cutting back is the last-ditch means of healing a citrus plant,' says Hansen-Catania.

'A lemon tree, for example, that has been overwintered in a room that was not sufficiently bright and too warm will react to these unfavourable conditions with increased loss of leaves. Cutting back will then be the only way to renew the plant and help it to grow healthy shoots. 

'Cut the plant back by about half and at the same time try to bring the crown into shape. The best time to do this is in the spring, before a new growth spurt begins.'

(Image credit: Future / Michelle Garrett)

Can you over prune a lemon tree?

It is possible to over prune a lemon tree, which will impact its fruit production, and potentially kill it. Don’t cut it back by more than a third unless you are attempting to renovate a failing plant, in which case you can cut it back by up to half its current size.

How do you prune a Meyer lemon tree?

A Meyer lemon tree is a hybrid variety from China that is a cross between a lemon and a mandarin. It produces smaller, smoother, sweeter fruit with a thinner skin. You can prune Meyer lemon trees in the same way as other varieties.

Should I cut the thorns off a lemon tree?

Many lemon varieties are bred not to have thorns, especially grafted varieties, so check to see whether the thorny branch is in fact a sucker. This will be growing from the rootstock below the graft. If so, remove it.

If you have a thornier lemon tree variety, you can remove the odd inconveniently located thorn without risk of harming the plant. However, there is no benefit to removing all of them, and you may cause damage to the plant by doing so.

Can you top a lemon tree?

You should not cut the top off a lemon tree and expect it to survive. If the plant requires a hard prune to renovate it, you should cut the branches by no more than half.

As editor of Period Living, Britain's best-selling period homes magazine, Melanie loves the charm of older properties. I live in a rural village just outside the Cotswolds in England, so am lucky to be surrounded by beautiful homes and countryside, where I enjoy exploring. Having worked in the industry for almost two decades, Melanie is interested in all aspects of homes and gardens. Her previous roles include working on Real Homes and Homebuilding & Renovating, and she has also contributed to Gardening Etc. She has an English degree and has also studied interior design. Melanie frequently writes for Homes & Gardens about property restoration and gardening.

Pruning lemon trees: when and how to trim your citrus tree

  1. Home
  2. Garden

Why it's important to prune at the right time, the right way. - by Rhys McKay


Life doesn’t simply give us lemons – we actually need to grow them first! Pruning is a necessary part of caring for lemon trees. It stimulates growth and gives them the sturdy structure they need to give you a generous yield.

Here are all the tips and instructions you need if you want a sweet (or sour) harvest every season!

Should lemon trees be pruned?

Absolutely! In fact most lemon trees benefit from regular pruning, especially in the first two years of their life. Applying controlled stress to the plant signals new growth, telling it to focus more energy on developing the remaining buds. This prepares it to produce bigger and better lemons as it ages.

Before pruning, you’ll notice a lot of volume and foliage going in different directions and after pruning, the fruits should be balanced and the leaves can receive more air and sunlight. 

The tiny growths are trimmed off more often in young trees as they gradually lessen during maturity. Regular pruning of the plant keeps the size manageable for minimum effort and maximum results!

When is the best time to prune?

Depending on the climate, people prune during spring or autumn.

  • Baby lemon trees aren’t encouraged to bear fruit until they're older.  
  • Young lemon trees are pruned as often as needed to shape their structural framework. 
  • For mature lemon trees, the best time to prune is after every harvest once or twice a year.


Types of lemon trees

There are different types of lemon trees found in Australia such as the Eureka and Lisbon varieties. The Meyer is a dwarf lemon tree known for its versatile and compact nature, making it popular among home gardeners and farmers alike.

Fun fact: the Meyer lemon is actually a hybrid between a lemon and a mandarin orange! Much smaller compared to its other relatives, it’s perfect for growing indoors, in your garden, or as hedges in the backyard.

The tools you’ll need

It’s always important to gear up. Have a trusty pair of pruning shears or a small hand-held saw depending on the size and age of your tree. Disinfect your tools and always use protective gloves when working.

For preventive measures, you’ll also need some organic herbicide that you can apply after the pruning job. All citrus trees are notorious for getting weevils, snails, as well as gall wasp infestations that can cause problems and ruin your crop.


How to prune a lemon tree

If you see weak branches and small growths near the base of the trunk, it’s a tell-tale sign that you need to prune ASAP.

Here’s a pro-tip for easy maintenance: whenever you see deadwood, you can remove them at any time. Just take note not to prune during summer or winter, since they could be damaged by sunburn or frost.

Step 1) Planning

Before getting started, you need to plan and prepare everything. This means taking a good look at your lemon tree for any unhealthy parts and stray branches. Gather your gardening gloves and your clean pruning shears.

Step 2) Pruning

Start by removing the deadwood from the branches of the tree. Take out any thin branches to give the bigger ones a boost! Any cuts you make should be at a 45-degree angle, making sure not to damage the main stalk. This video shows you precisely how to prune correctly and explains how cutting the wrong part of the branch could badly affect your plant.

Removing ‘suckers’, water sprouts and basal shoots are just as important! These small leafy growths come from the base near the roots, and sometimes indicate that the soil bed is too shallow. Prune them off so they don’t suck the nutrients from your lemon tree! 


Step 3) Skirting

This term refers to getting rid of the bottom growth to prioritise fruiting at the top of the canopy. As wasteful as it may seem, you may have to get rid of any underdeveloped fruit if you want the top batch of buds and lemons to be healthier!

Skirting also helps prevents the leaves from touching the soil and getting contaminated by fertilisers or herbicides. Having your tree a few feet away from the ground keeps pests from climbing onto the tree and spreading diseases.

Step 4) Topping

It’s time to give your plants a little bit of a chop at the top! Don’t overdo it, though. This is more for an aesthetic concern than a practical one. Make sure that the ratio of branches matches the density of its roots, so try to give it a more rounded, symmetrical shape.

Step 5) Stopping

Never over-prune! Part of the pruning process is knowing when to stop. It’s perfectly fine to chop off one-third of the tree, but not any more than that. If you prune too much, you could overstimulate and stress the plant.

Once you’ve followed all the steps, you can appreciate the results of your hard work!


Growing lemon trees is fun and maintaining them is worth all the extra effort. Whether indoors or outdoors, they make a delightful addition to your home and garden. Just remember that regular pruning is the key to a happy tree. With these tips we’ve given you, you’re sure to get the fruitful harvest you deserve.

You might also like 

How to grow citrus trees in your backyard

How to fix curling leaves

How to get the most out of your citrus plants

  • Garden
  • Backyard Ideas
  • Front Garden Ideas

Treat yourself to a subscription-Save up to 25%

Plus, your chance to win

Subscribe Now

Treat yourself to a subscription-Save up to 25%

Plus, your chance to win

Subscribe Now

rules, deadlines, recommendations in 2022 at GoodGrunt


  • Why is pruning necessary?
  • General rules
  • Timing
  • First pruning
  • Subsequent pruning
  • Pruning scheme
  • Challenges
  • Secrets
  • Rejuvenation 9005

    Lemon is a beautiful plant that can be grown at home. To make the tree look neat and well-groomed, you should properly prune the indoor lemon, which will help give its crown a decorative shape.

    Why crop?

    There are several reasons why a plant should be pruned.

    • It helps to keep the crown even and neat.
    • The procedure helps to rejuvenate an old tree.
    • If the plant is not pruned, it will grow up and not bear fruit.
    • Pruning reduces the risk of tree diseases.
    • A properly formed crown will increase the life of the plant and the duration of fruiting.

    It is necessary to give the crown an even shape even if there is no goal of obtaining fruits, otherwise the tree will look untidy.

    General Rules

    In order for the pruning of a lemon tree not to harm it, the following rules must be observed.

    • It must be done when the plant is dormant. This is the period from late autumn to early spring.
    • If the plant is mature and already bearing fruit, all fruit should be removed from the plant.
    • Shoots of the first level should be removed 25 cm, the second - no more than 10 cm. All subsequent branches - only 5 cm.

    It is necessary to understand that the procedure is simple, but it must be approached responsibly, because incorrectly performed pruning will set the tree in the wrong direction of growth. You can correct mistakes after an unsuccessful procedure only by removing a large number of branches, which is why it is important to act clearly in accordance with the recommendations of experienced lemon tree owners.


    Experts are divided on the best time to prune indoor lemons. Most believe that the most suitable time for this is the beginning of spring, before the formation of new shoots. However, in winter, you can slightly thin out the crown. To improve fruiting next year, pruning the tree should be in late autumn.

    First cut

    At home, the first pruning of the tree should be done in time; if it is carried out correctly, you can count on the fact that the houseplant will bear fruit. The procedure is carried out in the first year of the life of a lemon, the trunk is cut off at a height of about 20 cm, but it is very important that 3-4 developed buds remain, from which shoots will form - this will allow the side branches to develop. Pruning is done with a pruner.


    It is best if the kidneys are placed at the same level, but on different sides of the trunk.

    When pruning a young lemon, all vertically growing branches are removed. The best time for the procedure is February.

    Plant height depends on where the lemon pot is located. So, if the tree will grow on the windowsill, it should not be too high. This must be taken into account when forming the crown.

    Post trimming

    The first stage of crown formation is the most important, it determines whether the tree will bear fruit. In the second year of life, lateral branches form in the seedling (they are called branches of the first order), there should be 3-4 such shoots, which is why it was necessary to leave 3-4 buds during the first pruning. In order to form shoots of the third order, pruning is also carried out. Further, the tree itself will form a crown, and will begin to bear fruit after the appearance of branches of the fourth order.

    Two removal methods are commonly used:

    1. partial - shortening of the fattening branches by 25 cm;
    2. complete - this is how most often dead or old branches of a tree are destroyed, which can cause disease.

    Shoots are removed when they interfere with each other's development. At the same time, the strongest shoot is left, and the weak one is cut off.


    If the shoot is strong, but growing vertically, it should be removed, leaving a weaker one, but growing horizontally. At the top of the plant, the shoot growing upwards is cut off first.

    Cutting pattern

    Tree pruning scheme is as follows.

    1. In the first year, only the trunk is trimmed, this will encourage the formation of side shoots. If this is not done, the lemon will begin to grow up and will be an unattractive "stick". Plant height should be 25-30 cm from the ground.
    2. In the second year, side branches are pruned. It is necessary to ensure that 3 new shoots begin to actively grow and develop. If only one grows, it should be completely removed to stimulate the growth of others. This process is called breaking out.
    3. Next, the branches of the third order are pruned.
    4. The formation of the crown is completed by pruning the branches of the fifth order, after which the tree can be allowed to bear fruit.

    The main task is to give the crown a fan-like appearance.


    If one of the young shoots grows vertically, you can not cut it, but give it the right direction by carefully wrapping it with wire and fixing it in the required position.


    Some difficulties may arise when pruning lemons.

    • Often only one shoot begins to actively form at the place of pruning, while it is necessary to achieve the development of three or four. In this case, it is completely removed (breaks out) under the base, sometimes this procedure has to be repeated several times.
    • So-called tops may appear, growing vertically upwards and incapable of fruiting. Their growth rate is much higher than that of fruit branches. The easiest way to deal with them is to remove them. Some experts use 25 cm pruning.

    It should be remembered that the pruning of a lemon tree must be carried out carefully, it is very difficult to correct the result.


    In order for the formation of the homemade lemon crown to be successful, it is important to adhere to the following recommendations of experienced flower growers.

    • After pruning, be sure to treat the sections with a garden pitch. However, if very thin branches were removed, then there is no need for such processing.
    • Annual pruning of the tree will help to form a beautiful crown of a homemade lemon: all weak shoots are removed, as well as those that grow in a vertical direction.
    • Worker shoots need to pinch off the top so that they begin to form fruits. This should be done after the appearance of 6-7 leaves.

    Often there is a need to correct the crown of an already mature tree growing in a pot. In this case, pruning should be carried out in April or early May - at the time when shoot growth begins. The formation of the crown of an adult plant is done primarily for aesthetic purposes, to make it attractive. It is also very important to remove dead and diseased branches.


    It is necessary to cut tops as they appear, throughout the year.

    If your house tree is many years old, regular pruning will help rejuvenate it. After shortening the old branches, new shoots will begin to develop more actively.

    Flower removal

    If the purpose of growing indoor lemon is to produce fruits, then removing excess flowers will allow you to control the process. With the help of this procedure, it is possible to ensure that the forces of the tree will be directed to the full development of the ovaries from the remaining flowers.

    The number of buds to be left depends on the age of the young tree.

    • If the lemon is three years old, remove half of the buds, then leave 2-3 fruits.
    • For a 4–5 year old tree, the number of fruits is increased to 7.
    • When the lemon has reached 6-7 years, you can leave up to 10 fruits.

    Remove the weakest flowers. If the whole branch does not bloom well, you can cut it completely.


    The more empty flowers and weak flowers are cut off, the more ovaries will remain on the branches and, accordingly, the harvest will be richer.


    When a lemon tree is 15-20 years old, pruning can rejuvenate it. This will not only improve the appearance of the plant, but also increase fruiting.

    Pruning is carried out in the spring, all branches are cut up to the 4th or 5th order, this stimulates the growth of dormant buds and the subsequent emergence of young shoots. After this procedure, the plant must be transplanted into a new pot, carefully shortening the root system by about 30%. It is very important not to touch the roots inside the earthy coma.

    The crown formation process of a young tree is quite lengthy and can take up to 4 years. However, having completed it once, in subsequent years it will be enough to slightly cut the shoots so that the lemon does not lose its attractive appearance.

    How to cut a lemon at home? How to properly form a crown? Peculiarities of pruning Selo.Guru — Internet portal about agriculture

    Young lemons at the initial stage of development form only one vertical shoot, and after a while lateral shoots appear.

    Branches of the next orders develop only after several years of tree growth. It is these short shoots that serve as the place where flowers and ovaries appear.

    One of the main components of lemon care at home is pruning.

    At-home pruning features

    Lemon tree can be pruned throughout the growing season .

    Pruning is carried out according to the following principle : it is necessary to carefully shorten each branch, and you need to start work from a zero shoot. Thus, the plant will begin to bush, and the so-called fruits will appear much faster.

    A fully mature branch of the zeroth order must be shortened by almost twenty centimeters. As a result, only a pair of well-developed kidneys should remain, which are turned in different directions. After some time, shoots will sprout from them.

    The latter will also leave 4-5 branches of the first order, which served as the basis for the skeleton of the plant. Such branches should be cut so that their length does not exceed an average of twenty-five centimeters.

    All shoots that belong to the second order must be cut to about ten centimeters. Branches of other orders are shortened by no more than five centimeters. The skeleton of the crown is formed before the stage when shoots of the fourth order begin to appear. Then this process must be completed.

    When working on the formation of a suitable crown skeleton of a lemon tree, it is very important to control that not one, but several buds are formed on the shoots at the same time.

    If only one upper bud has formed, then it is better to remove this shoot immediately. However, this shoot should not be cut.

    Understand the difference between "cutting" and "deleting". Thus, pruning during the formation of an indoor lemon is not the most suitable option. This is due to the fact that the procedure is both irrational and “painful” for the plant.

    After all, in order to build the tissues of the trunk, a tree needs a lot of time, as well as a huge amount of various nutritional components, without which the normal development of the plant is impossible. Therefore, such idle work should not be carried out.


    The best option is pinching. This method is based on the removal of unnecessary shoots at the initial stage of its development from the fruit. Sometimes the kidney has to be pinched again. No less favorable effect is exerted by tweezing on the tips of intensively developing shoots.

    As a result, it is possible to significantly save nutrients in the tree, which will contribute to a more intensive maturation of the new growth of the lemon tree.

    Crown shaping

    Lately, gardeners have very often given preference to shaping the crown of a tree with a flat shape.

    This form is considered appropriate for growing a plant in a limited space.

    How to properly form a lemon crown at home? It is not very difficult to form this crown: from the very beginning, you need to direct all the branches and shoots at a certain time, breaking off and bending them if necessary.

    Then, when the size of the crown of the tree reaches the boundaries of the window opening, it is necessary to carry out a hard pinching, and in some cases, trimming. As a result, the lemon will develop well, as well as give abundant harvests.

    When shaping the crown of a lemon tree at home, it is necessary to constantly monitor that both in the crown of homemade lemons and in the lower region of their trunks, fattening shoots or so-called tops do not develop.

    Because tops grow quite intensively in the vertical direction, consuming a huge amount of nutrients, which negatively affects the appearance of the whole plant and its further development.

    Therefore, harmful growths should be removed as soon as they are noticed.


    It is worth noting that it is better not to allow fruiting until the final completion of the formation of all skeletal branches of the lemon crown.

    This is due to the fact that the branches under the heavy weight of the fruit develop very poorly. In most cases, with the premature formation of buds, they are simply plucked.

    And here is a video about how to form a crown, how to properly cut a lemon so that it bears fruit.

    Anyone who grows lemon at home will find it useful to learn about the benefits and harms of its fruits, the secrets of caring for a tree in autumn and winter, the necessary feeding, the rules for planting, transplanting and ideal soil, as well as problems with foliage and ways to solve them.

    Another method

    The method of cardinal pruning of a lemon is also practiced, when all branches are shortened to a certain length . However, it has one big drawback - the tree may not bear fruit throughout the next year.

    It is better to carry out corrective pruning, slightly shortening new growths. Usually, buds soon appear on the newly formed shoots, which grow intensively.

    Pruning a lemon - is the most important procedure in the process of forming the crown of a plant.

    Learn more