Q: How do I prune my Meyer lemon?
A: This articles from the Meyer Lemon Tree website explains it all.
Meyer Lemon Tree Pruning
In your gardening experience, you’ve likely heard references to “suckers”. Suckers are shoots that arise from below the soil surface or below a graft union. They are usually undesirable, because they rob valuable resources from the main plant. In the case of grafted citrus trees, suckers are actually rootstock and not the budded portion of the plant (notice the rootstock sucker emerging from the Improved Meyer Lemon in the photo). If left to grow, suckers will surpass the main plant in height within a few months. Ultimately, suckers reduce fruit yield and adversely affect the shape and overall health of the tree. The good news is that suckers are easily identified and removed. A newly emerged sucker is bright green in color and it will usually appear several inches below the graft union. Additionally, sucker leaves are double-lobed (unlike most citrus varieties). In most cases suckers can be removed by gently breaking them from the trunk. Suckers that have developed woody tissues can be removed with pruners, grape shears or household scissors, by cutting flush with the trunk.
You cannot really go wrong with any type of pruning on a lemon tree. In the southern California groves, they prune lemons right down to stumps and large branches. This is because they want strong branches to hold the fruit up and control the size of the trees. The way that you prune your Meyer Lemon Tree depends on what you want; a nice hedge or a fruit-producing tree. Or both…
Wait until the tree is 3-4 feet tall before pruning.
Meyers will usually set and ripen the most fruit in winter. So wait until most of the lemons have ripened before you prune your Meyer Lemon Tree. Then when you are ready to prune your tree, pick all (or most) the remaining ripe fruit off. Then prune any dead, damaged or diseased stems right to the base. Then start the longer task of pruning back the long wispy stems. Weak stems do not hold fruit well. Cut any that are smaller than a pencil. Once that is done, cut any remaining smaller/medium size stems that are intercrossing the plant. You want to open the plant up to improve airflow, reduce disease, and make it easier to pick future setting fruit.
Now when that is done, step back from the plant and look at the balance and shape. Is it the shape that you want it? If it is too high, cut all the branches and stems that are above the height that you want it. Remember that it will grow a lot on the top, so cut it shorter than you want it to be. If the plant is growing all to one side, remove stems and branches to balance it out. If you want a more open look, remove more branches and stems growing in the middle of the plant and clear the lower few feet of branches of side stems. If you want a more compact tree from a larger open one, cut the stems and branches back pretty hard. You can also prune to shape it round or square or oval or whatever. You can even use hedge trimmers to do that.
Traditionally a single citrus tree should be pruned so that it is smaller at the top, and bigger at the bottom. You could do this with a hedger so that you get an even shape. This allows for more surface area to receive sunlight. It may also be a good idea to skirt the tree (take off about the bottom foot of foliage) just to keep it tidy looking and make it easier to maintain.
Meyer Lemon Trees are encouraged to bear lots of large fruits, pruning trees to develop a strong branch system capable of withstanding the annual load of ripe fruit is also critical. Prune Lemon trees to allow ample sunlight to reach into the middle of the tree, otherwise fruits will not ripen properly and will lack good color. That can mean removing many more lateral branches and stems than might make the most pleasing-looking, bushy plant. Such pruning also allows for good air circulation through the crown, and that prevents disease. A citrus tree allowed to bear all the fruit it sets in the spring will produce scads of poor quality fruit, or it will produce well only every other year. For consistently good crops you must thin clusters of young fruit to a single fruit. Do this when the fruit is still small (marble to golf-ball size). Each fruit should be six inches or more from its neighbor. Such thorough fruit thinning is time consuming, but you will appreciate the effort when Harvest arrives.
Article and top photo courtesy of Adam J. Holland
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