​​When & How to Prune a Lemon Tree to Keep it In Shape

​​When & How to Prune a Lemon Tree to Keep it In Shape

Pruning your trees and plants helps to encourage them to grow healthy fruit and blooms, but pruning them too much can cause them unnecessary stress. If you own lemon trees that look unruly or leggy, you might wonder if you should prune them. 

Lemon trees can benefit from regular pruning, even if you love their natural state, but you have to ensure you follow the correct techniques so that you maintain the health and fruit production of your beautiful citrus tree. 

In this article, we’ll explore what you need to know about pruning lemon trees and how to go about it. We’ll also provide some pruning mistakes you should avoid and the best time to prune your citrus trees. 

Why Should You Prune Lemon Trees?

Why Should You Prune Lemon Trees?

Pruning your lemon tree gives it a chance to direct more energy into developing its buds. The result is that you’ll get larger and tastier lemons. Pruning has other benefits, such as the following:

  • Cutting away diseased or dying branches on the tree stops the tree from putting energy into them, and it can direct this energy into healthy new growth instead. 
  • It frees up more space for greater air circulation and sunlight to reach the tree. Cutting these away is a good idea if there are bushy, entangled, or overlapping branches on your tree. 
  • If your tree is too bushy, it can make it more difficult for you to harvest lemons from it. This is especially tricky to do if the tree has many sharp thorns. Pruning the tree regularly will open up space for a quicker harvest. It also enables you to keep an eye on the fruit produced on the tree, so you can ensure it’s growing healthily. 
  • Pruning your lemon tree enhances its appearance. If you leave your lemon tree to grow without being pruned, it can become too wide, leggy, or messy. By cutting away some of its branches, you can make it look more beautiful and compact. This is especially important if you’re growing lemon trees indoors in pots. 
  • If you’re growing a lemon tree in a pot, trimming it regularly can help you to maintain its small size so it’s easier to maintain. 
  • If you prune your lemon tree, it will encourage the growth of stronger branches. This encourages the overall health of your tree. 

When Is the Best Time to Prune Your Lemon Tree? 

When Is the Best Time to Prune Your Lemon Tree? 

You should prune your lemon tree when it’s older than two years. If you try to prune it when it’s younger than that, you risk hurting or damaging the tree. During its early years, a lemon tree will be fragile and delicate, so you don’t want to put stress on it by pruning it. 

Make sure that you prune it during late winter through to early spring. But early spring is ideally the best time of year in which to prune your lemon tree.

This should be done after the last frost in your region because, at this time of year, the tree is getting ready for a new phase of growth. By pruning away diseased or dying branches, you can allow the tree to heal so it’ll have enough energy to grow during the summer.  

Bear in mind that citrus trees don’t enter a period of dormancy during the cold months of the year. They, therefore, need enough light throughout the winter season, even though you won’t see much growth on the plant during this time of year. 

If you live in an area that experiences a warm climate throughout the year, you can probably prune your lemon tree at any time you wish. However, avoid doing so when the weather is too hot, as this can be stressful for the tree.

During the fall, you can also prune your lemon tree at the end of its growing season. This will help to encourage new growth while maintaining its shape.

However, if you have a young lemon tree that you’ve planted in a pot, you should “top it” after planting it if it’s looking leggy or thin. This refers to when you cut away the top shoots on the plant so that it will have a fuller, more rounded appearance. It’s essential to do this for indoor lemon trees so that they will be easier to look after and maintain.  

With this in mind, you should avoid making some common pruning mistakes. These include the following:

  • You don’t disinfect the pruning tools properly. A 10% bleach solution is good for properly cleaning your tools. If you don’t want to use bleach, you should use isopropyl alcohol. 
  • You are pruning your lemon tree during the summer. This is never recommended because it exposes cut parts of the branches to the sun, which damages them. 
  • You’re cutting new growth. If you do this, you prevent the tree from being able to grow fruits. 
  • You’re pruning your lemon tree during a frost. You should never prune your trees when the weather is cold, or there’s frost, as this will put stress on them. Always check the weather forecast and make sure that you prune your trees after a frost has passed.
  • You make random cuts. You should use three types of pruning cuts so you can remove branches without harming the tree. Make angled cuts that are about 10 inches (25.4cm) away from the tree trunk. Then, make an undercut on the other side of the branch so that it becomes weaker – this makes it easier to remove it from the lemon tree. Finally, move three inches (7.62cm) above the branch and slice above it so that it comes off the tree. 
  • You’re pruning healthy branches. You should never cut away healthy branches, as this will just remove the potential for new growth! 

How to Prune Lemon Trees

How to Prune Lemon Trees

Now that you know when the best time is to prune lemon trees, and you know the mistakes you should avoid, you will need to know how to do it. Here’s a step-by-step guide to pruning your lemon tree.

  1. Start by cleaning your pruning tools with disinfectant. This ensures that they’re hygienic and won’t transfer bacteria or diseases from other plants in your garden to your lemon tree. 
  2. Cover your hands with strong gardening gloves. This will protect your hands against any thorns that can be growing on your lemon trees. Juvenile citrus trees usually grow thorns to protect them from predators who want to nibble on their leaves or fruit. 
  3. With sharp pruners, cut branches that are diseased or damaged. You want to cut them all the way back. 
  4. Remove any branches that are very thin, such as if they’re about the diameter of a pen. This will prevent the tree from growing spindly. 
  5. Snip off suckers. Suckers are shoots that appear on the grafting site of the lemon tree. They are bad for the tree because they reduce how many lemons will appear during the growing season. Remove woody suckers with pruning shears, but green ones can be removed by hand. 
  6. Cut off the tips of the tree’s main branches to make them grow thicker. 
  7. Step back and scrutinize the tree’s leaf canopy to check if light reaches the lower branches. If you can see that there are parts where light isn’t able to reach, remove some of the branches. 

Note that if you want to prune a dwarf lemon tree, such as a dwarf Eureka lemon tree, you should follow the same techniques that you’d use when pruning a larger tree. 

If you’ve noticed that your lemon tree contains thorns on its branches, you might wonder if you need to remove them. This isn’t necessary unless you want to remove some thorns to give you better access to the lemons during harvest.

But, these thorns usually disappear as the lemon tree gets older. To find out more, read our guide on lemon thorns.


If you’re growing a lemon tree, you might wonder if you need to prune it regularly. It’s healthy to prune your lemon tree annually, but there are times when your citrus tree can benefit from additional pruning, such as if:

  • It’s young, and you want to top off the surface branches to maintain its compact appearance. 
  • It has diseased and dying branches that are removing energy from the tree, so it can’t direct its resources into new growth. 
  • It has overlapping branches that prevent enough air and sunlight from reaching the tree’s lower branches. 

About The Author

Gina Harper grew up dreaming about farms and growing her own food. She began an urban garden to feed herself and turned it into an incredible hobby. Gina is here to teach you everything from raised beds to container gardening, how to keep plants alive and well in a smoggy city, and the works. It’s time that we carve our own piece of green earth and reap what we sow—she’s here to help you with that.