How to prune citrus trees in pots

Potted lemon trees: care, pruning and re-potting

Potted lemon trees are an excellent citrus to grow at home. Care from re-potting to pruning helps boost lemon harvest and prevents appearance of diseases.

Key potted lemon facts

NameCitrus limon

Height – 3 to 10 feet (1 to 3 m)
Exposure – full sun
Soil – well-drained

Foliage – evergreen
Flowering – March to July
Harvest – November to March

The climate in most of our regions isn’t well suited to growing lemon trees directly in the ground, but growing them in pots is perfectly possible.

  • Health: health benefits and therapeutic properties of lemons

Re-potting potted lemon tree

Potted lemon trees cannot extract the nutrients they need from the ground.

So the pot and soil you have put in it are their only source of food for them to stock up and grow. Re-potting is thus critical.

  • Re-pot every 2 or 3 years in spring.
  • Choose high-quality citrus-specific or planting soil mix.
  • Double-check that the bottom of the pot has a hole drilled in.
  • Place a bed of small pebbles or clay pebbles at the bottom of the pot to ensure excellent drainage.

For larger pots, repotting becomes difficult. In this case, increase nutrient availability by topdressing the top of the pot with rich, fresh soil mix.

Pruning a potted lemon tree

Pruning isn’t really needed but if you don’t prune your lemon tree, it will quickly grow very large.
In pots, it is best to control your tree’s growth with very regular pruning.

Shorten each new shoot back to more or less half its length, taking great care to cut just above a leaf.
This will result in your lemon tree keeping a nice, tight shape.

  • You might need to do this several times a year.

Remove dead wood regularly and clear the inside branches of your lemon tree to let light penetrate to the center.

Watering potted lemon tree

In pots, lemon trees dry up much faster than if they were planted in the ground.
In summer, frequent watering is required, whereas watering can be reduced in winter.

  • Water as soon as the soil is dry, without flooding the pots.
  • Avoid all heat sources such as nearby radiators, because this could dry your tree out.

Every two weeks, during the growth phase, add citrus-specific fertilizer to boost fruit-bearing. You can do this while watering your lemon tree.

Potted lemon tree in winter

Growing these trees in pots is most adapted, because it makes it possible to bring the lemon trees to a well-lit spot where it doesn’t freeze in the winter.

Lemon trees aren’t indoor plants, and can’t bear staying in a heated environment all year round. They need relatively lower temperatures from October to May.

It is important to place them in an unheated greenhouse for instance, where the temperature never drops below 32°F (0°C).

  • If you’re looking for citrus plants that cope well with growing indoors, check calamondin trees out.

Harvesting lemons

Harvest season is usually November to March.

  • You will ensure the lemons mature best by protecting the tree from freezing, and keeping the soil around it slightly moist.

In the northern hemisphere, lemon fruits start forming in spring and slowly mature over the winter.

  • Protecting the lemon tree from the cold and from intense indoor heat is important at this point.

If ever you have to absolutely bring your lemon tree indoors to keep it from freezing, do your best to keep the air moist.

  • Best ways to create indoor air moisture

Common potted lemon tree diseases

  • European brown rot – lemons rot while still on the tree
  • Citrus foot rot – root infection by phytophthora
  • Scale insects – whitish masses colonize leaves
  • Aphids – leaves curl up and fall off
  • Thrips – leaves and fruits marked with silver-white blotches. Note: fruits are still edible, even though they don’t look nice.

Learn more about citrus plants:

  • Background information on citrus plants
  • Planting lemon trees directly in the ground
  • Other Citrus worth growing: clementine, orange, grapefruit

Smart tip about the lemon tree

Pick the lemons as soon as they easily break off from their branch.

This shows that the fruit has matured enough for the seeds and flesh to be fully developed, without yet being over-ripe.

Credits for images shared to Nature & Garden (all edits by Gaspard Lorthiois):
Lemon tree in pot by Wolfgang Claussen under Pixabay license
Lemon Seedling by an anonymous photographer under Pixabay license
Picking a lemon by Martin Belam ☆ under © CC BY-SA 2. 0
Lemon harvest by Ulrike Leone under Pixabay license

How to Prune Potted Citrus Trees – Couch to Homestead

When I first got my potted Meyer lemon tree, I had no idea how to prune it or even knew that I needed to. But after finding out the benefits of pruning and with some practice, it’s almost a necessary skill when growing citrus trees. So, how do you prune citrus trees in pots?

You can prune potted citrus trees by identifying any dead, diseased, or overcrowded branches. From there, sterilize your pruning shears and make a clean cut close to the trunk. The goal with pruning should be to allow enough light and air in the canopy but still have enough healthy branches to grow and fruit.

While pruning can help citrus trees, do they really need it? If they do, when and how do you prune, and do you need to prune the roots at all? Let’s answer all of these questions.

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Do Potted Citrus Trees Need Pruning?

Pruning potted citrus trees ensures new growth and healthy fruit while reducing the chances of the disease spreading or overcrowding the limbs. Pruning is essential to the health of the plant and also keeps the size and shape manageable while growing in a smaller space.

Pruning is the practice of cutting and removing branches and limbs from a tree. Typically, this is done after a harvest to ensure further growth.

Here are several reasons why you should prune a citrus tree:

  • Make access to the tree easier during harvesting and management
  • Allows for better light penetration through the canopy
  • Can increase fruit yield by focusing the tree’s nutrients
  • Allows for better air circulation
  • Will reduce fruit bruising by allowing more space from the limbs
  • Prevents overcrowding and over-fruiting

When pruning, first look for unhealthy limbs or ones that are stuck or poorly positioned. Too much pruning can damage or weaken the tree and affect fruit yield.

Although potted citrus trees do not need to be pruned to prevent overcrowding, they do require regular pruning to:

  • Encourage fruit production
  • Control the tree height (if kept indoors)
  • Remove dead or unhealthy limbs

Cutting individual healthy limbs is known as ‘applying controlled stress.’ This practice signals to the plant that it needs to create new growth and focus growth on existing buds. It is good practice to keep shoots short and slightly compact so that they can easily hold the fruit’s weight and so they can fit in the growth space.

How to Prune Your Potted Citrus Tree

To start pruning your potted citrus tree, take your disinfected pruning shears and cut any dead or excess branches. Remember to also remove the suckers or sprouts growing out of the base of the tree. Generally, pruning should be done in the early spring or after harvest.

If you keep your potted citrus tree outside, you may find that most of the pruning you’ll perform is cutting back unhealthy limbs to encourage new growth. For trees in an enclosed space, such as a greenhouse, it’s often necessary to prune to save space.

Gather Required Tools

Before you begin any pruning, it’s vital that you thoroughly sterilize your tools. Disease or unhealthy cells can spread from plant to plant if the tools are not properly cleaned between use. 

Since potted citrus trees are usually smaller than those found outside, most pruning can be done with a pair of shears. However, as the tree matures, it may require the use of loppers, which look like bolt cutters. The longer handles provide better leverage which makes cutting thicker branches much easier. 

It’s also possible to buy disinfectant designed for the cleaning of garden tools, but it is also easy enough to make your own solution:

  • Vinegar – vinegar is often an underrated cleaner. It’s very effective at disinfecting and doesn’t require any added chemicals. Since vinegar is made from fruit, it’s extremely environmentally friendly. I use a 50/50 water to vinegar spray as a multi-surface cleaner and shear disinfectant.
  • Isopropyl alcohol – with a 70-100% concentration, tools can either be wiped or sprayed with this solution to be immediately sanitized. 
  • Household cleaners – common cleaners found in the home, such as Lysol, can be used to clean gardening tools, though they are more expensive and harmful to plants and animals. Some can also be corrosive to tools and should be used only when diluted.

Aside from the cleaners, having a good pair of gardening gloves is recommended when using tools and handling larger plants and citrus trees. 

Assess What and Where to Trim

Before you make any cuts, take a thorough look at the whole tree to assess what and where pruning would be beneficial. Note any dead or unhealthy branches, any limbs that may have crossed over or look to be overcrowded.  

Look for Root Suckers

The first step is to look for root suckers. Chances are, your potted citrus tree was grafted from two separate trees. This is standard practice for most fruit-bearing trees. However, if you find small roots growing from beneath the graft line, they will overgrow and overpower the tree itself. These should be removed as early as possible and checked year-round. 

Find Unhealthy Limbs

If you find unhealthy looking branches or damaged limbs, cut at least six inches into the healthy wood. Otherwise, cut the branch just before it joins the rest of the tree. Always remember to thoroughly sanitize between cuts to prevent spreading any diseases that may have caused the issue. 

Remove Water Sprouts

Like root suckers, water sprouts grow at the base of the tree. But where root suckers tend to grow from beneath the ground level, water sprouts grow above ground from buds that haven’t sprouted. 

Although they don’t smother the tree, they grow tall, can crowd the fruit-bearing limbs, and should also be removed early.  

Prevent Overcrowding

Ideally, the canopy of the tree should allow for ample light to reach all the branches. With that in mind, cut back branches that may have crossed over or in areas that appear too thick. This should be done after harvesting before the next growth begins.

Similarly, trim any long branches just above the bud. Your tree will produce better fruit and have a better shape with shorter branches.

When pruning, take care to avoid thorns! To see which citrus trees have thorns, check out my other post here.

When Should You Prune?

For most climates, the ideal pruning time to prune potted citrus trees is February through April. However, in warmer temperatures, harvesting may occur earlier or later in the year. In general, the vast majority of pruning should be done after harvesting before any new growth begins.

On the other hand, pruning water shoots and root suckers should be done year-round. These are not fruit-bearing limbs and will not affect the harvest. Clip these growths when you see them to prevent them from growing too large. 

Do You Need to Prune the Citrus Tree’s Roots When Repotting?

Citrus trees never go fully dormant, meaning they should keep their leaves year-round. This makes repotting a challenge. However, root binding is a common issue with potted citrus trees, and repotting is necessary every 2-4 years.

Although citrus trees can thrive in containers, they will continue to grow, sucking all the soil’s nutrients and packing their roots into dense circles. This causes stress on the tree and can ultimately kill the plant.

In the video below by LogeesPlants, you can see how to identify root rot and what healthy roots should look like:

When it comes time to repot your citrus tree, follow these steps to successfully repot your tree and reduce the chance of transplant shock.

  1. Choose a time during which the growth of the citrus tree is at its lowest. This is often during the winter months, after harvest, and before new development. 
  2. Find a pot that’s the same size or slightly larger. Using a slightly larger pot will allow the roots to regrow into the new space. 
  3. Place some soil into the container. This will act as a base onto which your established plant will sit.
  4. Using your pruning shears, remove the roots that look to be the unhealthiest. Using the video above, you can see the difference between healthy roots and those that should be cut away.
  5. Repot in the new container and add soil up to 0.5-1 inch from the top rim
  6. Add a layer of fresh mulch to the top of the pot. Straw, leaves, or other organic materials make for a great mulch.
  7. Deeply water your newly potted tree.

Final Thoughts

When I first got my potted Meyer lemon tree, I didn’t know much about pruning. However, this article is everything I’ve learned about pruning to help your potted citrus tree remain healthy and bear a lot of fruit.

Remember, pruning your potted citrus tree should be done with sanitized tools after the fruit is harvested. Before the next growth cycle, cut back on unhealthy limbs or sections of the tree that may have become overgrown. Pruning in this way will encourage new growth and promote healthier fruit!


  • Agriculture and Food Division: Citrus Pruning
  • Gardening Know-How: Cold Hardy Citrus Trees
  • Wikipedia: Loppers
  • Gardening Know-How: Pruning Tools Sterilization – When Do You Need To Clean Garden Tools
  • Garden Zeus: Growing Lemon Trees in Containers
  • YouTube: Logee’s Plants

Shaping a citrus crown

Shaping a citrus crown is a fun process that requires patience. Sometimes necessary to get a fruit-bearing tree. Fruiting in most lemons begins only after the formation of branches of the fourth order in the crown (more on this below). Branches of the first, second and third orders of fruit do not give. But the Meyer lemon bears fruit on the branches of the second and third orders.

I must say that citrus fruits have a rather stubborn character. They do not always want to grow the way we need - a compact tree. Therefore, we will try to formulate instructions for detailed formation. And the most important thing here is the beginning, when the sprouted seed, the rooted cutting or the young graft has just begun to grow. But before talking about formation, let's touch on the issue of physiology.

Features of the development of citrus fruits

The growth and development of citrus fruits in nature and on our windowsills differs significantly from other indoor plants. The specificity of development is due to the cyclical nature of the growing season. From spring to autumn, these plants have three peaks of development:

First growth, spring, from about mid-March to June. At this moment, new shoots and leaves grow powerfully. But suddenly the growth stops and the lull (lack of growth) lasts until the young shoots mature.

Shoot maturation is one of the phases of the growing season, and it consists in preparing the plant for a dormant period. In nature, ripening begins with a significant reduction in growth processes: a decrease in the length of the day, an increase in daily temperature fluctuations, and in cultural cultivation, in addition to pruning. When ripe, the deposition of nutrients in the shoots increases, the green bark becomes woody, becomes brown and dry, the leaves acquire a darker shade.

The second wave of citrus growth during the month in the middle of summer. Again we observe intensive growth of leaves. In August, it stops again and the maturation of recruits begins.

The third wave of growth usually falls on the Indian summer - the beginning of September and can last until the end of October.

What is noteworthy: often at the end of the growth phase, citruses dry out the apical bud (growing point) at the end of the shoots. Thus, the natural formation of the crown in nature occurs. Those. thanks to this mechanism, fruit trees have a spreading crown.

I must say that the timing of growth spurts is not rigid, they are dictated primarily by weather conditions. For example, last year Calamondin began to grow rapidly in mid-March, this year - at the end of February. And an orange in another room (at lower temperatures) last year - at the end of March, but this year it has not yet begun. In addition, if the spring is early and sunny, the first growth may be more rapid and long than the second, or vice versa, the spring is cloudy and the summer is sunny, then the second growth is longer and more productive. Sometimes there are only two growth waves in a year, or vice versa four.

Off topic about formation, but speaking of growth peaks. During the intensive growth of green leaves and flowering, citrus fruits gain a huge amount of buds. Sometimes they bloom like our apple trees - all the branches are strewn with flowers, then the formation of ovaries begins. But suddenly a part flies around, and after a couple of weeks, it flies around again. A significant part of the citrus fruits that have set are discarded on the instincts of self-preservation, so that exhaustion does not occur, there are enough nutrients for a new cycle of growth and flowering.

The first time I saw this sight, I almost made a terrible mistake. The fact is that the massive flying around of the ovaries - they are pouring like peas, immediately causes the thought that, probably, the plant does not have enough water. Gotta water! But waterlogging is detrimental to citrus fruits - this is certain death. And if you do not know physiology, you can ruin the plant, trying to stop the shedding of flowers and ovaries with watering. Therefore, first, check the soil in the depth of the pot, whether it is dry enough.

Well, now let's move on to formation.

Topic on the form about the formation of citrus fruits

Formation of the crown of citrus fruits grown from seed

Step one

After the seed germinates, a seedling or rooted cutting forms a shoot, it is called a zero-order shoot. In this single-stem seedling, while it has not yet become woody, we pinch the crown (growth point) so that the height from the ground is 25-30 cm. This process is called tweezing.
After pinching, the growth of the zero shoot stops, it begins to ripen.

Step two

When the null shoot is finished, the citrus is ready for new growth, and we cut it to the desired length. Traditionally, it is recommended to leave 15-20 cm, some gardeners cut it even shorter - leaving about 10 cm. In any case, it is desirable that at least four leaves remain on the zero-order shoot.

Third step

New shoots begin to grow from under the remaining leaves on the shoot. Usually, when pruning a zero shoot, a bud of the topmost leaf or two buds starts growing, less often than all three. For the formation of a richly fruitful tree in the future, it is necessary to ensure that three, in extreme cases, two new shoots start to grow. These will be the shoots of the first order. If they do not want to grow, only one new shoot stubbornly climbs, we break it out (breaking out differs from pruning in that the shoot is removed completely under the base). We are waiting for the rest of the kidneys to wake up. If they do not want to start growing, then again we break out the leading shoot.

And so, until we get the simultaneous development of two or three shoots of the first order. Ideally, it is better to get four first-order shoots, but in reality this does not always happen.

Fourth step

If we managed to get three shoots of the first order, we allow the one above to grow upwards, two we direct to the sides. Those. you can fix the shoots in certain directions with a flexible wire, but make sure that it does not injure the bark.

If we managed to get four shoots of the first order, then we send them like a fan, in different directions, pushing them apart so that the shoots do not interfere with each other, do not block the light. Very often, the shoots stretch up all in a crowd so that from the outside you can’t make out where which branch is and what order. At the same time, young citrus fruits are formed very easily with wire.

Step five

The branches of the first order grow, and can grow thin and long for a long time, so when they grow 25 cm, we pinch them again. When the branches ripen, we cut off about 5-6 cm below the place of tweezing, so that four leaves are left on the shoots of the first order, no less. When pruning, we make a cut directly above the kidney, facing outward, and not inside the crown (figure above).

The final part of the crown formation

If you have mastered the formation of shoots of the first and second order, everything else is not difficult. Everything happens according to the same scenario. We grow shoots to a certain length, pinch, wait for ripening, cut.
The length of the shoot at which the top of the shoot is pinched depends on the order of branching - with the next order they are shortened.

Approximate dimensions:

  • zero order shoot 15-20 cm
  • shoots of the first order 20-25 cm
  • shoots of the second order 10-15 cm
  • shoots of the third order approx. 10 cm
  • shoots 4th and beyond approx. 5-10 cm

On shoots of the fourth or fifth order, the formation of skeletal branches ends. If the shoots begin to bloom before the crown is formed, it is better to cut off the buds, since there will be no growth on such branches, the formation will be delayed for a long time. And only with the formation of shoots of the fifth order, citrus fruits can be allowed to bear fruit.

The first difficulty: to achieve development after pruning not one kidney, but two or three at the same time. If a single shoot begins to grow at the place of pruning, it is necessary to break it out, sometimes repeatedly. Those. do not let it grow, but break it out under the base until shoots from the lower located buds go.

The second difficulty: the appearance of tops. These shoots are also called fattening, they will not bear fruit, but differ in that they grow vertically upwards and grow much faster than future fruit branches. If they are not broken, they draw off a lot of nutrients and thicken the crown.

Forming the crown of a fruit tree

If you already have an adult, grown lemon tree (and other citrus trees), then you can cut branches and form a crown throughout the year, but better in spring (April - May). Shoots grow constantly, tops grow especially vigorously - these shoots need to be cut out regardless of the season (if you do not want to use them in the future - this is also possible).

The formation of an already mature large plant with branches of 5 and 6 or more orders is carried out as your soul tells you. Stand back and evaluate the shape of the crown from the side. Usually it is cut so that the lemon or orange really looks like a miniature tree. Some citrus fruits, such as calamondin (citrofortunella), due to genetic characteristics, do not grow as a tree, but as a bush. Then your task is to maintain an even shape of the bush, cut branches that grow inward, not outward.

If you have grafted on a fruit tree or wild game grown from seed, after a successful union, you need to properly guide the graft. The shoot that grows after vaccination, so that it grows straight, is tied to a stick stuck in a pot. It is necessary to trim the growing scion at a length of 12-15 cm. In the future, form it in the same way as described above, counting the order of the branches of the scion, and not the rootstock.

Lemon trees, propagated by cuttings, layering or grafting, bear fruit on branches of the 4th or 5th order, going to the side. When using a low-stem form in a tree grown from a cutting or cutting, branches of the 4th–5th order are formed by the end of the second year of life. Such plants bloom in the third year and can bear fruit. On three-year-old lemons, half of the buds are first removed, and then 2-3 fruits are left from the remaining ovaries, on a 4-5-year-old plant - 6-7 fruits, on a 6-7-year-old plant - up to 10 fruits. With this rationing of the crop, the proper development of the lemon tree is ensured.

Formation of a stem tree

Depending on the height of the stem (trunk), trees can be:

  • high stem trees - the height of the stem reaches 30 cm
  • medium standard - height up to 20 cm
  • low stem - stem height 10 - 15 cm

To form a low stem lemon of grapefruit, lime or any other citrus, after the young plant reaches a height of 15-20 cm, before the start of its next growth (late February - early March), cut off the top, leaving 4-7 leaves. After that, 4-6 shoots will begin to develop from the lateral buds. Of these, you need to leave only 3-4 shoots going in different directions (shoots of the first order). When these lateral branches have completely finished their growth, their tops are also cut off, leaving 3–5 buds on each of them in the axils of the leaves. The last kidney should not look inside the crown, but outside. From the lateral buds, the growth of twigs will begin again (shoots of the second order).

Further pruning is carried out until branches of the fourth order are formed.

Rejuvenation of old citrus trees

Rejuvenation of a lemon tree at the age of 14-20, when its fruiting decreases. By this time, the plant is already quite powerful, dense, the branches are quite thick. Not every window sill will fit such an instance, but even in the room, lemons and oranges are quite spread out - fruit shoots do not grow up, but to the sides.

In addition, large trees often outgrow all available containers. The root system is limited to pots (bucket, tub), and may not overpower the nutrition of a large dense crown, especially hung with fruits. To observe a certain proportionality of tops and roots, the crown of old trees is shortened.

Pruning should be done in spring (March-April): all branches up to the 4th or 5th order are cut, thus causing an increased growth of dormant buds. Rejuvenated plants are transplanted into new dishes or old ones, while the root system must be shortened by one third, cutting off the roots from the periphery of the root ball. In no case should the roots be disturbed inside the root ball.

Natalya Rusinova

Propagation of citrus plants, pruning and replanting

Author: Elena N. indoor plants reprinted: Last amendments:


  • Cutting citrus plants - pinching
  • Fruits of citrus fruits - we grow
  • Useful Comments

We discussed the main points of caring for citrus plants in the previous parts of the article. If you haven't read them, links to them are below.

Now let's figure out how to properly prune citrus plants. We will also consider how and when citrus fruits are transplanted, and in what way they can be propagated. Well, since citrus fruits can be eaten, and many flower growers grow them for this, we will also raise the question of the fruits of citrus plants.

And now let's go through these points.

Pruning citrus plants - pinching

To form a beautiful citrus tree, you need to correctly alternate pinching and forcing. As soon as the young sprout reaches a height of 15-20 centimeters, pinch the top - this will give the growth of side shoots. And then just watch. If you see that some shoots are stretching too much, pinch again. If there are many young shoots, prune as well. The first (or even second) year of the life of a citrus will go exclusively to the formation of a tree. As a rule, at this time the plant does not bloom. But if suddenly the flowers appeared - do not regret, pluck them. They will not give fruit, but will only take strength from the plant.

Read the first part of the article about the types of citrus plants. Read...

Our main task is to shape the crown. And frequent pruning only promotes the growth of citrus fruits . After such "bullying" you will get a beautiful tree that will bloom with unusual flowers. They are so fragrant that the atmosphere of the southern countries will immediately appear in your home. In addition, the leaves of all citrus fruits emit phytoncides into the air, which have an antimicrobial effect - a great way to deal with our domestic viruses.

Citrus fruits - growing and harvesting

Every amateur grower who starts a citrus plant expects to get fruit. But for this you need to be patient. Not all flowers can form a fruit. In flowers grown from a stone, fruits appear late, in those grown from a cutting - a little (1-2 years) earlier. But the timing is still big. You will be able to taste lime and lemon in 2-4 years. Tangerines, oranges - after 5-7 years, and pamelo - 7-10.

The easiest way to get fruit is on a grafted tree. The graft, as it were, receives the memory of an already adult plant and expels flowers and fruits earlier. But they can be hybrid. But before fruiting, you can enjoy the flowering of these unusual plants. And when a tree begins to bear fruit, it does so almost every year.

Read the second part of the article about caring for citrus fruits. Read...

In order for a citrus plant to produce flowers and then fruit , it must be provided with a dormant period from November to February. The temperature should be 12-15 ° C, watering is very moderate without top dressing. You need to spray, as dry air can damage the foliage.

Transplantation and propagation

Partially about propagation of citrus fruits I have already mentioned - best of all by cuttings or grafting.

  • Aichrizon at home (tree of love)

Cuttings should be taken at the beginning of the growing season - from April to June.

Learn more