How to Prune a Lemon Tree

How to prune a lemon tree
GregMontani /

Having a lemon tree in your garden is not only aesthetically pleasing, but it also yields lemons, which you can use in the preparation of meals or drinks! But to have a healthy tree, you need to be aware that pruning is an essential part of the process. In this blog post, we’ll show you how to correctly prune a lemon tree in Australia.

Does the type of lemon tree matter for pruning?

Before we get more in-depth on how to prune your lemon tree, you need to be aware of the different types of lemon trees out there. This is important, so you can correctly identify the one you have in your garden or on your property and take care of it the right way.

Types of lemon trees

Australia is home to a variety of lemon trees such as the Eureka, Lisbon and Meyer. The latter is a dwarf type and is well-known for its compact and versatile nature. It’s ideal for growing indoors, as hedges in your backyard, alternatively, in your garden. An interesting fact about the Meyer variety is that it is a hybrid between a lemon and a mandarin orange!

How to prune your lemon tree

We now come to the nitty-gritty of pruning a lemon tree. First, make sure you’ve got the right tools at hand to help make the process seamless.

What you will need:

  • Pruning shears
  • A hand-held saw
  • Gardening gloves

Step 1: Create a solid frame

Start by addressing the canopy of your lemon tree. Make sure there is a balance between the root system and the top of the tree. Avoid permitting branching on young trees until they reach between 50 cm and 60 cm. A good rule of thumb to remember is that there should be at least 20 cm of space between the roots and the first branches. By adhering to this height, you’ll avoid problems with skirting later.

Step 2: Stagger main scaffold branches

These branches should be staggered because too many in one spot can lead to crowding and weakening further on in the future. Aim for about eight main branches as the dominant limbs. Once established, prune subsidiary branches from the main ones to ensure there’s no competition between them. Horizontal shoots should be selected as fruiting wood. Prune branches at a 45-degree angle.

Step 3: Thin out branches

This applies to the canopy of the tree. You should consider pruning the branches in the top to ensure enough light gets in to maintain fruit production within the canopy.

Step 4: Chunk prune older trees

In this part of the process where the tree is aged and mature, you’ll need to consider removing an entire scaffold limb on opposite sides of alternate trees to enable easier fruit picking. This step will also ensure that more light gets within the canopy, reaching the fruit within it better.

Step 5: Skeleton pruning

Pruning the skeleton should be done in autumn. This entails cutting back all shoots, leaving only the main scaffold branches. Paint these branches in watered-down white acrylic paint to protect the bark from sunburn.

Step 6: Don’t forget skirt pruning

The process of skirting refers to the removal of branches and limbs which hang down towards the ground. Do this as quickly after a harvest as possible. For mature trees, consider skirting to a height of at least 75 cm as this will allow the branches to drop lower when the fruit develops.

How to prune a dwarf lemon tree

Although the name implies that the lemon tree is small, it doesn’t need any less attention, sun, water or nutrients to continue growing and maturing in a healthy way. Therefore, here a few rules you need to follow when pruning your dwarf lemon tree:

  • When pruning, it’s important to look out for any dead, diseased or damaged branches and then remove them.
  • Stick to between three to four main branches to encourage “good branch architecture” and keep the canopy in a vase shape. This will ensure that the sun and air will reach the centre of the lemon tree, too.
  • Any shoots that come off the main trunk under the graft should be removed.
  • The best time for pruning is when these trees are dormant, which is during the winter months.
Tip: Note that watering is essential, as well. The leaves of lemon trees are usually shiny, glossy and smooth. If they start losing this texture, you may need to water them. Watering the foliage at night will help with water retention. In addition, consider mulching and fertilising, although the latter should not be overdone so be careful.

How to prune a potted lemon tree

Root suckers are a problem for potted lemon trees, which need to be controlled. This can be done by clipping them as far down below soil level as possible. Pruning these can be done at any time during the growing season.

The next step on how to prune a potted lemon tree is to get rid of diseased, broken or dead branches. This should be done consistently throughout the year.

Water shoots need to be clipped off back to the parent branch. This shot type grows quickly and usually grows straight up from sturdier branches. At best, they crowd healthy branches, and they rarely grow into productive branches. This can be done throughout the year.

Another element to look out for is rubbing or crossing branches. These need to be removed to encourage outward growth with an open centre. The perfect time to do this is in late winter before new growth begins.

When should you prune the lemon tree?

Ideally, lemon trees, whatever their varieties, should be pruned after the harvest season. This will enable them to recover and yield new growth over the next season.

However, as we mentioned earlier, it is important to follow the right practice based on the type of lemon tree you have in your home or backyard. This will guarantee the tree’s healthy growth and you can be sure that you will stimulate instead of damage your tree.

Learn when to prune other trees from: The Fantastic Guide to Tree Pruning

Why is it important to prune your lemon tree?

There are many reasons to prune your lemon tree. Some of these include the following:

  • Keeps your trees within their allocated spaces
  • Allows you to manage their sizes
  • Prevent crowding of main scaffold branches
  • Remove branches which cross each other
  • Permit enough light to enter the canopy
  • Improve the quality of blossoms
  • Boost the fruit size and yield
  • Avoid fruit damage due to limb rubbing
  • Better access to the trees, enabling for better management
  • Permit air circulation and access under the trees


Lemon trees are a wonderful addition to your home or garden. Whether you have potted lemon trees or grow yours outside in your garden, keep these pointers in mind:

  • Control the size of the canopy
  • Maintain a few solid scaffolding branches
  • Get rid of water shoots
  • Prune dead, diseased or broken branches
  • Water and fertilise when needed

Get in touch with your trustworthy gardening professional!

Fantastic Gardeners Melbourne offers specialised tree pruning and other gardening services!

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