Touch-Up Pruning for Lemon Tree Health

Reader Contribution by Joshua Burman Thayer and Native Sun Gardens
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Many properties across the Bay Area region have lemons that have stood fast for decades, still producing decent yields. When most people think of tree pruning, often they will think of winter time (i.e. apples, pears and cherries).

However, citrus has a sub-tropical heritage and thus is best pruned when there is no threat of frost or rain. Here in the Bay Area, you can do some light touchup pruning to that lemon or lime for optimal health.

Easy June Pruning Steps

Step One: Prune out any dead wood. Generally with lemons and limes, dead wood is obvious and often looks like grey pencils. After you have taken out the dead wood, look inside the center of the tree. Trees that are too dense inside can often succumb to mites, scale, whitefly thrips, and mold. By pruning out and reducing, you can allow light and air to penetrate all the branches and allow more fruit to set inside the tree.

Step Two: Find the non-fruiting, non-flowering branches. Lemon trees can be happily flowering and fruiting throughout much of the year. By slowly gazing and scanning, you can find the occasional small branches that have neither flowers, nor fruit. Again: go slow! You will begin to see that perhaps one out of 20 branches is a small shoot of leaves with no fruiting nor flowering parts. By thinning out these less vigorous branches, you are supporting the branches that the tree is choosing to put fruiting energy into. The end product of this light pruning is more airflow and light penetration.

Notes: Only prune pencil-thick branches. Thick branches will often send the tree into defense mode. When big branches are suddenly removed, it can lead to the big, straight, spiky branch. This is an ancestral shoot, which is not fruiting but full of spikes!

For cold climate readers, if your area is too cold in winter for lemons, try Kumquat. For those readers in small spaces, try ‘Dwarf Beaer’s’ lime and ‘Dwarf Meyer Improved’ lemon.

Joshua’s Foliar Spray Recipe

Have Mites, Scale, Whitefly or thrips persisting on your citrus even after pruning? Try my foliar spray recipe.


• 10 drops of peppermint essential oil
• 750 ml water in a Spray Bottle


Spray down citrus once each week just before sundown. The aromatics and stickiness of the peppermint will deter the pests.

Joshua Burman Thayer is a landscape designer and permaculture consultant with Native Sun Gardens. He is the Urban Agriculture Supervisor for Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation in San Francisco, Calif. Find him at Native Sun Gardens and read his other MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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