How to Prune Indoor Citrus Trees (Essential Tips)

Whether you’re growing a Meyer lemon tree in your living room or a kumquat in your office, pruning is an essential part of keeping your indoor citrus tree healthy and enjoying all its benefits. While pruning may seem like an intimidating task, it’s quite simple. We’re going to cover all you need to know about when, why, and how to prune indoor citrus trees.

How to Prune Indoor Citrus Trees (Essential Tips)

Pruning Indoor Citrus & Fruit Trees – The Essentials

Pruning indoor citrus trees creates a proper tree shape and improves plant health. The best time to prune your tree is during the late winter or early spring after you’ve harvested the fruits. Always use sharp and sanitized tools, and never remove more than 25% of a tree at one time.

Pruning and Plant Health

Pruning and Plant Health

While most trees will survive without pruning, selective removal of branches and stems will improve plant health and growth. Pruning helps develop a proper tree shape which increases plant health.

More specially, pruning:

  • Creates proper tree shape
  • Helps maintain desired tree size
  • Allows for increased airflow
  • Allows for better light penetration
  • Makes harvesting easier
  • Encourages the production of new growth

Growth Expectations

Indoor citrus tree growth depends on the type of tree as well as the environment.

Most indoor citrus trees are dwarf varieties that rarely grow above six feet when planted indoors in a pot.

The growth rate depends on environmental factors including temperature, sunlight, water, soil, and fertilizer. In general, indoor citrus trees grow less than a foot per year.

Are All Types of Indoor Citrus Trees Suitable for Pruning?

Are All Types of Indoor Citrus Trees Suitable for Pruning?

Yes, all types of indoor citrus trees can benefit from pruning.

However, you should be careful when pruning young trees. Since young trees aren’t as large, it’s easy to over prune. Remember to never remove more than 25% of a tree at one time!

What’s the Best Time of Year to Prune Indoor Citrus Trees?

The best time to prune indoor citrus trees is in the late fall or early spring (a good time to consider repotting indoor citrus trees as well). The goal is to prune after you’ve harvested your fruit but before new flowers have formed.

With that said, it’s okay to perform minor pruning at other times of the year. For example, if one of your tree’s limbs becomes damaged, it’s fine to prune it off.

What Are the Essential Tools for Pruning Indoor Citrus Trees?

What Are the Essential Tools for Pruning Indoor Citrus Trees?

A sharp pair of pruning shears is the best tool for pruning your indoor citrus trees. These tools are developed to make sharp, clean cuts that minimize plant stress.

It’s important to clean your shears before you prune. This will decrease the spread of disease.

Wash your shears in hot, soapy water, and then wipe them down with isopropyl alcohol.

How, When, and Where Should I Cut Indoor Citrus Trees?

How, When, and Where Should I Cut Indoor Citrus Trees?

While proper pruning will keep your citrus trees healthy and productive, improper pruning can injure and even kill trees. Therefore, it’s important to know what material you should remove.

As we mentioned above, the best time to prune your indoor citrus tree is after you’ve harvested its fruit. This will typically occur during late winter or early spring.

When it’s time to prune, you should look for growth that is inhibiting your plant and use best practices to remove it. When you prune, you should never remove more than 25% of your plant’s tissue.

Another important note is where to cut branches. If you’re trimming branches from the trunk, you should avoid cutting flush with the trunk.

Instead, you should cut at the branch collar. The collar is the raised portion where the branch attaches to the trunk. Maintaining the collar will allow for proper healing.

Check for Tip Dieback and Prune

Tip dieback, also known as flagging, is a sure sign that you should prune your citrus tree. This is one way a tree tells you it can’t support new growth.

All of the following are signs of flagging:

  • No leaves on the tips of new growth
  • Shoots are dropping leaves prematurely
  • Shoots are turning brown

If you notice all the shoots on a branch are experiencing tip dieback, you can prune the branch where it attaches to the rest of the tree. Use your pruning shears to make a sharp cut at the branch collar.

If only a few shoots on a branch are exhibiting tip dieback, it’s best to prune individual shoots. Simply use your pruning shears to cut the shoots where they attach the larger branch.

Remove Cross Limbs

Sometimes branches will produce limbs that grow into the trunk or other branches. As these limbs grow, they can damage the part of the tree they are growing into.

To keep your tree healthy, remove these cross limbs. Use your pruning shears to cut the limbs at the branch collar.

Prune Off Old Growth

When and how to prune old growth from indoor citrus trees

When pruning, you want to think about helping your tree send its energy to foliage and fruit-producing limbs. With that in mind, you should remove old, woody growth that doesn’t have many buds or leaves.

If you notice a woody branch with only a few leaves, it’s probably a good idea to remove it. After you remove this branch, your tree can send more energy to branches with more leaves.

To remove old growth, use your shears to make a clean cut. If you are cutting the branch where it attaches to the trunk, make sure to make the cut in line with the branch collar. In other words, don’t leave little stubs.

Remove Rootstock Suckers

Many modern citrus trees are actually two different varieties grafted together. The rootstock provides disease resistance and vigor while the scion (top portion) produces fruit.

Sometimes trees will start producing suckers from their rootstock. These are unnecessary to plant health and should be removed. Cut these suckers at their collar.

Top Your Tree

Topping involves removing the tips of shoots. This sends a signal to your tree to focus on new growth.

To top your tree simply remove an inch or two from each twig. However, use your best judgment! If topping your plant will remove more than 25% of your plant’s leaves, don’t do it.

How Do You Shape Citrus Trees?

How Do You Shape Citrus Trees?

If you’re hoping for a specific tree shape, pruning is essential.

The first part of shaping a citrus tree is establishing your tree’s overall form. To do this, follow these steps.

  1. Identify a central leader, aka the main trunk.
  2. Look at the branches and identify a few that emerge from the tree at a wide angle. Keep these branches and prune off other branches that grow out at a narrow angle.
  3. Remove any stems that are growing into the remaining branches.

The second part of shaping involves maintaining your tree’s form. Along with following the pruning methods outlined above, you can also prune to maintain the size and shape of your tree.

If your tree is becoming too large, you can remove the tips of shoots. This will encourage lateral rather than vertical growth.

Caring Indoor Citrus Trees After Pruning

While pruning will improve your tree’s overall health, it also causes short-term stress (which can lead to pests and diseases). After you prune your tree, make sure to water it well.

Wrapping Up

Pruning your indoor citrus tree will encourage healthy growth and fruiting. Remember to think before you cut, and never remove more than 25% of growth at once.

For more, see our in-depth guide to the meaning and symbolism of citrus trees and whether citrus trees are pet friendly.

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