Citrus Trees Are Sensitive. Here's When To Prune Them (& When Not To)

Every gardener knows the value of pruning, but it takes more than nonchalantly snipping away at errant branches to benefit the species growing in your backyard. This is especially true for citrus trees, which are sensitive by nature and need a little extra thought and care to go into their maintenance. Their branches are brittle and thin, therefore it's easy to damage the tree even unintentionally. 

Still, pruning is an essential part of their care requirements, but it's not something that should be done year-round. Knowing the right time of year can help prevent unnecessary problems, damage, and diseases. Pruning citrus trees in the summer should be avoided, and light pruning in the winter should be limited. Spring-time pruning is best, but it depends on when the last frost occurs in your area. Here's why heavy pruning outside of this season should be avoided and pruning tips for keeping your potted citrus trees thriving as well as any larger citrus trees in a yard or orchard. 

The best times of year to prune citrus trees

The safest bet for pruning citrus trees is late spring. This answer is based heavily on when your area gets its last frost, which can vary if you live in a warm climate or a place with extended winters. While it's a big time frame, it's usually between February and April. During this time frost won't wreck branches, sunburn can't scald new growth, and there's no risk of losing fruit yields. You can do the most pruning during mid to late spring, getting rid of diseased or damaged branches, larger limbs, and anything hindering the growth or making the tree look scraggly.

Because citrus trees are sensitive, make sure your pruning tools are sharp and clean. This could be secateurs and shears for smaller pots of citrus plants or saws and chainsaws for larger trees. The wounds caused by pruning will have more time to heal before summer hits and will be clear of unexpected cold fronts. The wounds can be dressed with the popular kitchen spice cinnamon to help kill off fungi, which can get into the tree and wreak havoc. 

When to avoid pruning citrus trees and why

Topping and pruning our citrus trees is a genius gardening hack for limes, lemons, oranges, and other fruits that'll improve their health and lead to more fruit production, but there are certain times of year when this shouldn't be done. First and foremost, any major pruning shouldn't happen during summer. It can lead to the exposure of branches that can't handle heavy sun, which may die off. Instead, aim to whitewash branches and trunks with paint during the hottest months to prevent sunburn. 

Heavy-duty winter pruning is also a major no-no. Trees slow their branch growth in this coldest season, meaning any open wounds will struggle to heal when it's frosty and freezing cold. If pruning triggers the tree to produce fruit, these fresh buds and growth will be susceptible to dying in any upcoming frosts later in winter or early spring. It's better to do very few cuts and only remove minor branches if any. The same can be said for early spring. Pruning often boosts fruit production and if another frost hits, you can lose out on fresh citrus and harm your tree.