When to trim orange trees?

The orange tree is a fruit tree of the Citrus genus, which is part of the Rutáceas family. It is a medium-sized tree although in optimal cultivation conditions it reaches up to 13 m high, perennial, large, round or pyramidal, with oval leaves between 7 and 10 cm of entire margin and frequently stipulated and branches in occasions with large spines (more than 10 cm). Its white flowers, called orange blossoms, are born isolated or in clusters and are extremely fragrant. Its fruit is sweet orange. In this article we will study when and how to prune an orange tree, we will also see some interesting facts about this peculiar citrus.

On this website we have already analyzed the pruning of other citrus fruits (lemon tree, tangerine tree), if you analyze these articles you will find great similarities with this one in which we will see the pruning of an orange tree, this is why the treatment of all citrus against pruning is practically the same. We could have simplified and write only one article that talks about pruning critics, but we consider that this way is clearer for readers.

Note: Please note that the advice given here is general, this blog is consulted from many countries in the world, with totally different characteristics, what not all tips will be adapted in the same way in all cases. Once you finish reading the article it will be necessary to analyze all the information and apply what you have learned in the best way. If you have any questions, remember that you can contact us to make your inquiries.

Table of Contents

1. Interesting facts about orange tree

I know that you have entered this article to know everything about the pruning of the orange tree, in the same way I invite you to invest some time in reading the following data about this tree, I assure you that more than one will surprise you.

  • Varieties: Some 600 varieties of oranges grow worldwide, including sour oranges, sweet oranges, blood oranges (with red pulp) and seedless and easy-to-peel naval oranges.
  • Name: The English word comes from the ancient Persian “narang”. It meant “bitter” and referred to the bitterness of the shell. Merchants spread the fruit to Arab Spain, where “narang” became “orange.” In ancient French, the narang fruit became “orenge”, which was collected in medium English. It became the modern term “orange”, which refers to both fruit and color.

Orange tree

  • Health: Did you know that oranges are highly beneficial for your health? Among the many benefits we can name; It helps fight cancer, helps kidney function, promotes healthy blood sugar levels, is good for your cardiovascular system, etc.
  • World production: Oranges dominate the citrus list in terms of their world production. Its production quantity is followed by tangerines, lemons, grapefruits, etc. The largest producer is Brazil, followed by the United States and the European Union.
  • Go Greeen: One of the orange varieties, that is, Valencia orange, remains green even after ripening because its skin tends to reabsorb chlorophyll in warm weather. Although, it may seem raw to your eyes; It tastes the same as a ripe orange.

2. What tools to use for trimming orange tree

There are several tools available for trimming your orange tree, you will have to choose between one or the other depending on several factors, the most important is the age (height) of the orange tree. Among the tools you can use are the following:

  • Hand Pruning Shears: Stems up to half inch in diameter can be pruned with hand shears.
  • Lopping Shears: It is suitable to use on stems between half inch and 2 inches in diameter.
  • Saws: A number of pruning saws are available. These saws come with either curved or straight blades and of variable lengths and points. Curved blades that cut on the draw stroke are easy to use.
  • Chainsaw: for the thickest branches the most recommended is the use of these saws with motor, in adult birches you will surely need them.
  • Elements of personal safety: Among them we include elements such as gloves, eye protection glasses, etc.

Keep in mind that you must disinfect all the tools before pruning. This will help prevent disease transmission, you will have to do it before you start pruning and every time you change plants.

2.1 Necessary care for pruning tools

If you want to extend the useful life of your pruning tools there are some basic care.

  • Use the right tool for a job and avoid twisting or straining it.
  • Clean and oil tools regularly by wiping an oily cloth on blades and other surfaces.
  • Keep cutting edges sharp by regularly using an oilstone.
  • Wooden handles should be varnished or regularly treated with linseed oil to keep them from cracking or splintering.

Carry out the previous care on a regular basis and you will be saving good money on tools. 🙂

You may also be interested in knowing about pruning:

  • Loquat tree
  • Guava
  • Avocado tree
  • Pomegranate tree
  • Walnut tree

3. Objectives to trim an orange tree

The objectives we wish to achieve in the tree after pruning are the following:

  • Development control and shape of the tree: For a number of reasons (foot, variety, soil fertility, planting frame, etc.) the orange trees grow irregularly. Then by pruning branches will be removed in the most developed part of the tree, in order to form balanced trees.
  • Increase of fruit quality: when we can act eliminating branches that hinder good lighting, unproductive branches, dry branches etc. In this way we will obtain results such as a better distribution of the fruits in the tree, an increase in the average size of the fruits, and some fruits of better presentation. In short we will be improving the quality of oranges.
  • Alterations of crops: There are plantations that have an alternation of abundant crops followed by other scarce ones. The years of abundant harvests the tree has an exaggerated consumption of nutrients, leaving very limited reserves in different organs of the plant, reserves on which the harvest will be based the following year. Pruning can be used so that there are no large production differences from one year to another, without completely eliminating the alternation.
  • Reduction of expenses in the crop: a pruning carried out in a correct way will allow us a greater efficiency in phytosanitary treatments, a more comfortable collection and greater ease of pruning year after year.

4. How to prune orange tree

Depending on the stage of life in which our orange tree is going to be, the pruning it will need will be different, being able to recognize the following three stages:

1st. In its first stage, first years of planting, it is necessary to try to form a strong and vigorous frame, thinking about the harvest that has to support and that does not hinder the different cultivation operations. We will call it TRAINING PRUNING.

2nd. In the next phase, a balance between vegetative and productive development must be sought. The operations that are carried out constitute the MAINTENANCE AND FRUCTIFICATION PRUNING, although borders cannot be established between the previous stage and this one.

3rd. Another phase is that in which due to climatic accidents (frosts), diseases, age, abandonment of trees without pruning, etc. we must intervene more vigorously. The set of these actions, in order to recover the tree for normal production, will constitute the so-called RESTORATION OR REGENERATION PRUNING. Normally these more severe actions are used to make a change of variety or make room within the framework of plantations.

4.1. Pruning a young orange tree (Training)

During the growth stage, the pruning of the orange tree is limited to give shape and mechanical strength to the tree. That is to say, that it is sought to form a skeleton or framework that resists the blow of the winds and that endures the weight of the branches and the fruits during the seasons of high production.

It should be pruned before or immediately after the transplant to the definitive soil, when the graft exceeds 35 centimeters in height from the pattern-graft junction.

This practice consists of detaching 10 cm from the tree, with this it is possible to sprout the buds of the sides. From the branches that form on the sides, three or four are chosen that are well distributed around the plant. These will be the main branches of the tree. When they are about 20 centimeters long, they stand out about 5 centimeters so that they also sprout from the sides. From the new shoots, two or three branches distributed around each bud are selected again.

Pruning a young orange tree

If several single-point outbreaks occur, the strongest or best position should be selected and the rest of them removed. At the end of its formation, the tree will have 6 to 12 branches well distributed.

Outside of the pruning of formation that we already said, other cuts or pruning, it should be light at this stage of development, because if a strong pruning is done, what is achieved is a lot of growth of leaf buds, which delays the entrance to production.

In addition to the initial emergence, we must eliminate the “pacifiers” that originate in the trunk. It is best to do it manually when they are tender; in this way the wound that remains in the trunk, because it is very small, does not require any protective measure. A pacifier removed at the wrong time will compete with the main structure, in addition to producing large wounds when cutting it. Wounds that we must cover with paste cut-covers.

With this pruning of the orange tree we also have to eliminate branches when they are very close or crossed. Being advisable to eliminate the thinnest or that grow to the center or down.

4.2. Pruning adult orange (maintenance)

By pruning this citrus in its adult stage it is intended to correct the defects caused by the vegetative development of the tree and maintain the selected pruning system. We will also seek to regulate production and favor lighting.

If we have carried out a correct pruning of orange tree formation and we timely correct any defect in the vegetative development, the necessary pruning is minimal. Limited to a simple thinning of branches.

Therefore, when we have our well-formed orange tree, we will only have to keep it with the following:

  • Suppress dead, diseased or severely injured branches
  • Cut misdirected and / or misplaced branches.
  • Respect main structure.
  • Lift skirts to about 50 cm.
  • Perform a thinning of twigs.
  • Cut off any pacifier that is in the center of the cup.
  • Maintain a certain distance with nearby trees, at least 50 cm.

You should understand this orange tree pruning as a light pruning just to maintain the structure. It is not good to perform strong pruning frequently in this fruit.

4.3. Pruning old orange (Rejuvenation)

When the orange tree is several years old it begins to significantly reduce its number of fruits and its size. At that time a strong pruning can be carried out seeking to restore its vigor. This pruning is known as pruning of rejuvenation or regeneration.

Pruning so energetic is a great imbalance, between the aerial and underground. For this reason it will be necessary to reduce the work of fertilizacion, irrigation etc. taking into account this imbalance, decreasing, as far as possible the flow of sap to the aerial part.

Finally, thick pruning cuts should be painted with special pruning paste. Thus preventing attacks of diseases and fungi.

5. When to prune orange tree

There are several criteria to define the pruning season; the most common are the following: the age of the orange tree, weather, season of least activity in the garden, economic availability and labor of the producer. Generally the producer considers all these criteria to determine the pruning time. The first two are indicated below:

  • Age: In young trees, pruning training can be carried out at any time, provided there is no danger of low temperatures. To eliminate branches of importance will be done in times where the vegetative activity is minimal. In adult trees, it should be pruned after passing the risk of frost and fruit collection. In the event of lower temperatures, pruned trees suffer more than those that have not yet been touched.
  • Depending on the weather: Unlike the subtropics where it is not advisable to prune at the end or after the fall due to the risk of frost during new growth, in the tropics, where winter is not cold, it can be pruned at any time of the year. However, the cup recovers faster when it is pruned in late spring and summer than in autumn and winter.

Since it is not always possible to prune our orange tree when it is wanted, it is more advisable to delay pruning than to advance it, since the danger of an early pruning is more serious than that of the late one.

6. Special cases

There are several particular cases that can occur when we talk about pruning an orange tree, cases that cover different varieties, different climates or seasons, etc. For this article we will analyze two of the most consulted cases that are:

  • How to prune a potted orange tree?
  • How to prune a Calamondin orange tree?

Potted orange tree – Image source

If you believe that the particular situation of your citrus has not been addressed in this publication, do not hesitate to contact us to leave your inquiry. 😉

6.1 Calamondin orange tree pruning

The calamondin orange tree is a hybrid developed by crossing a mandarin orange and a kumquat. It is a citrus dwarf with small fruits quite gray, but edible. It is mainly used for ornamental purposes and, often, as a bonsai specimen.

With regard to pruning this particular citrus we can summarize it to the following tips:

  • Cut the dry branches every time you detect one.
  • Prune the calamondin to control the size and shape if necessary. The right time for pruning is after harvest. Trim each of the tallest branches on a side branch at least one third of the diameter of the cut branch. Never take more than 25 percent of the tree canopy.

In general terms the pruning of this orange tree is simple and does not leave the common pruning of any other citrus.

6.2 Pruning orange tree in pot

There is no single reason why you can have an orange tree in a pot, it is more quickly the following four ranks come to mind:

  • You are waiting for the platter to grow to transplant it.
  • You don’t have much place in your garden, so you control the size of your citrus inside a pot.
  • It is a bonsai orange tree
  • That it is a variety of dwarf orange.

In the first case it is not necessary to prune the orange tree, it will be enough to give it the basic care so that it develops healthy and strong. You must also ensure that the development of the plant is with a single main trunk, something normal in the natural growth of any citrus.

If your case is the second, you can apply the same concepts that we have seen so far in the port. That is, you must perform pruning training, maintenance and if you need regeneration.

For the third case, orange bonsai, pruning is quite different from what has been seen so far, so different that you would need a special article to develop it. I owe you an explanation of this situation in a future post.

For the last case I will not extend here since it is a situation very similar to the previous section (6.1).

7. Video about how to prune orange tree

As is the custom of this blog we like to close the articles with a video material (in this case ehowgarden channel), where you can review more graphically and practice many of the concepts seen so far. 😉

You may also be interested in knowing about pruning:

  • River birch and Silver birch
  • Iris plant
  • Birch trees
  • New Zealand Flax
  • Escallonia hedge

So here we are, I hope that everything was clear about how and when to prune orange tree, and do not have any doubt at the moment that you should take your scissors and trim.

When to prune

In the coming months it will be time to start thinking about pruning. Phil Dudman takes you through the process for citrus trees.

Photo: Natsky

Unlike other popular fruit trees such as apples and peaches, citrus don’t require a highly thought-out pruning technique in order to maximise production. In fact, some say that citrus trees don’t need to be pruned at all. To a certain extent, that’s true; if you never prune your citrus, they will continue to produce fruit. The problem is that over time your trees will grow too big, making it difficult to harvest fruit and treat the plant for pests and diseases.

In many cases, the rate of fruit production drops off when citrus trees become overgrown, tired and poorly managed. Eventually, you are left with no other option than to give the trees an almighty chop. That’s okay, but it means you have to forfeit a crop for a year or two while the tree canopy regenerates. A better approach is to prune your citrus regularly – at least once a year when established. This will keep your trees healthy, compact and in constant production for many years.

In warm frost-free zones, the best time to prune is from late winter to early spring, immediately after harvest. That’s when the flowers that will produce next season’s crop are appearing, so it enables you to decide with ease what growth you should retain.

In cool frost-prone areas, hold off until mid to late-spring when the risk of frost has passed. That way you avoid exposing the resulting new growth to frost damage.

Pruning an established tree

The major fruiting sites on a citrus tree tend to occur on the outer reaches of the canopy. If you give the tree an all-over haircut, you will remove all of the fruiting sites, literally sabotaging your next crop. A more practical approach is one that was introduced to me by citrus expert Peter Young from Birdwood Nursery in Queensland. The aim is to selectively remove just 20 per cent of the canopy each year, leaving 80 per cent of the fruiting sites intact. Any wood that is pruned in a given year returns to production in the following year. Over five or so years, it is possible to have pruned the entire canopy without ever sacrificing a crop. In addition, this annual selective pruning ensures that the tree maintains its vigour, continually producing lots of fresh growth and fruiting sites. See photos 1-4 for how to do it.

When choosing what to prune each year, always focus on the longest and most offending branches. These will be individual branches that impinge beyond the desired size or shape of the canopy. Include branches that hang over pathways or impact on surrounding plants. Tall upward-growing branches can also be cut back to keep the canopy to a manageable height.

At the lower end of the canopy, it’s important to ‘lift’ or trim any branches that are touching – or almost touching – the soil (referred to as ‘skirting’). Over time, these form a thick blanket of foliage which can prevent air movement through the canopy, leading to an increase in fungal problems.

Fruit that forms on these low branches are also more susceptible to disease due to increased moisture and fungal activity close to the ground. Prune this low growth to lift the ‘skirt’ to around 1m high. You do not need to make cuts at any specific points on the branch, you just need to ensure they are clean with no ragged edges.

1. An established tree in need of reshaping

2. Remove long side branches that
impinge beyond the desired shape

3. Stand back regularly to assess
what needs to be removed

4. Shaping complete

Pruning for health

Once the desired shape and size of the canopy is restored, look over the outer foliage for any unusual swellings in the stems. These are most likely to be the result of the pest citrus gall wasp. The adult wasps lay eggs in the new stems, and galls form as the larvae develop. It’s important to remove these galls before the end of August. That’s when the next generation of wasps will hatch and reinfect your tree. Prune them off and burn them, or seal them in a plastic bag and put them in the bin.

If you see tiny pinholes on the galls, then it’s too late; the wasps have already emerged. There’s no need to remove these particular galls unless they show secondary symptoms such as peeling bark or rotting.

Finally, examine the inner branches of the tree and prune out any dead, damaged and diseased wood, as they are useless and only serve as a breeding ground for unwanted pests and diseases. Also, thin out any heavily congested branches, particularly those that are crossing and rubbing one another. Over time, the bark at these sites will wear away, exposing the inner wood to pest and disease attack and potentially causing dieback.

Training a young tree

The aim in training a young citrus tree is to establish a good shape and encourage the most productive wood. As the tree grows, remove crossing and tangled branches to help create a framework of evenly spaced, outward-growing branches. Beware of overly vigorous upward growths known as watershoots. These absorb a lot of the plant’s energy, but produce very little fruit. Cut these back hard. Always encourage slower-growing horizontal branches and side shoots, because they provide the best fruiting wood.

Similarly, pinch off any growth (known as ‘suckers’) below the graft as soon as they appear. If you have lots of fruit developing in the first two to three years, thin them out to allow the young tree to focus its energy on establishing a strong canopy and root system.

Reviving an old tree

If you have an old, rangy or overgrown citrus tree that is unproductive and generally of poor health, it is possible to reshape the tree and bring it back into full production using a severe pruning technique called ‘skeletonising’. This removes all of the entangled branches and twigs, including unproductive, dead and diseased wood, leaving just a single trunk – about 1-1.5m tall – and a skeleton of healthy, evenly spaced branch stumps.

It takes one to two years for the new canopy to fully develop, after which you will start to see a return to full production.

Very soon, the bare stumps respond with a flush of healthy growth, forming a dense new canopy. It literally liberates a tired old tree, giving it a new lease on life. However, if you live in a frost-prone area, don’t prune until after the risk of frost has passed (late spring) to avoid seriously damaging the new growth.

Dismantling a big old tree requires care so you don’t hurt yourself, the tree or surrounding structures. Large branches carry a lot of weight so remove them in small sections at a time.

Always use a sharp pruning saw when dealing with thicker branches. Make a lower or undercut first, at least one-third of the way into the branch, then move outwards at a distance of about one to two times the thickness of the branch to make your top cut. This allows a lateral branch to fall without the bark ripping down the trunk, creating a huge wound (see photos on page 40).

Using a similar technique on vertical branches enables you to put down the saw and use two hands to physically snap the pruned section away. Once the bulk of each branch has been removed you can easily handle the remaining stub and finish it off with a clean cut.

Stubs from unwanted side branches, as well as branches that are lower down on the trunk, should be cut back hard to the trunk or corresponding leading branch, otherwise they will reshoot in unwanted places.

The place to make your final cut is just beyond the branch ‘collar’, a section of slightly raised bark at the base of the branch. This is where the tree will naturally form a callus over the exposed cut, protecting the inner wood from the elements. Sometimes it is difficult to see the branch collar, but you can usually detect it by feeling around the base of the branch.

Some experts recommend applying a commercial wound dressing or acrylic paint to the cuts to stop the surface drying; others claim that this can do more harm than good, so it’s up to you. What is important is that you paint the newly exposed trunk to protect the bark from sunburn and splitting. It’s traditional to use a lime-based whitewash made from hydrated lime, water and oil.

Alternatively, you can mix water and acrylic paint at a 50:50 ratio (an interior flat paint is the best type to use because it allows the bark to breathe). Before you apply your wash, gently scrub the bark with an old brush and water to remove any dirt, moss and lichens.

It takes one to two years for the new canopy to fully develop, after which you will start to see a return to full production. Some of the regrowth may shoot straight upwards, becoming long whippy branches. There’s no need to prune these off as the weight of their fruit will eventually force the branches to weep downwards, creating a lower, more desirable dome-shaped tree. If you think some of these branches do need a little help, you can attach weights to their ends to encourage them to hang down.

ESSENTIAL TOOLS

  • Secateurs: For pruning light material up to 10mm in diameter. Must be strong, sturdy, clean and sharp. Choose a quality pair with replaceable blades.
  • Long-handled loppers: For cutting branches 10mm to 40mm in diameter. Also handy for internal and external cuts that are more difficult to reach.
  • Pruning saw: For cutting thick branches. Teeth are designed to cut on the pull stroke. Fold-up types fit safely and comfortably in your pocket.
  • Extendable pruner with saw attachment: Perfect for lopping vertical growth at the top of the canopy without the need for a ladder.

TOP TIP

Hygiene
Diseases are easily transferred, so it’s important to clean and sterilise cutting equipment immediately after pruning diseased material. Use a strong bleach or 10 per cent methylated spirit-water solution to thoroughly clean all surfaces, then rinse with tap water.

This article, which appeared in the July/August 2013 issue of ABC Organic Gardener magazine, won author PHIL DUDMAN a “Paper Laurel for Journalism”, at the 2014 HMAA Laurel Awards.

First published: March 2014

Pruning Orange Trees: When And How To Prune An Orange Tree

Citrus are evergreen fruit bearers that do not require as much pruning as their deciduous brethren. If left unpruned, however, growth can get vigorous and out of hand, so pruning orange trees will rein in their appearance. How do you go about trimming an orange tree and when is the best time to prune orange trees? Read on to learn more.

Orange Tree Pruning

Why should you prune citrus such as orange trees? Pruning orange trees can improve aeration and increase light through the canopy, thus improving fruit quality and yield. Pruning out water sprouts can improve productivity in some cases as well. Ease in harvesting of oranges and a reduction in potential injury due to falls from ladders are also the results of trimming back an orange tree to reduce its overall height.

Skirt pruning reduces the risk of soil borne pathogens affecting the fruit as well as facilitating weeding and mulch layering. Citrus can be trained as a sheared hedge or espalier through careful pruning. That said, orange tree pruning is not usually necessary except to remove any damaged or diseased limbs. There is no need to prune to thin out fruit unless there is just an overabundance.

Pruning potted oranges is usually not necessary either, as the size of their container usually keeps their growth in check. Again, you want to remove any damaged or diseased branches, lightly snip off suckers that arise below the

graft or bud union and keep an open canopy.

When to Prune Orange Trees

If you do decide to prune this citrus tree, plan to do so just prior to bloom time or just after fruit set. For instance, in warmer regions, prune in the spring between February and April; in cooler areas, delay the pruning until late February or March.

Small trimmings, such as removing sprouts, can occur at any time except late in the growing season because it stimulates new growth, which can be damaged by frost. Once you have pruned, protect the area with a 50:50 white interior latex paint and water mixture.

Be sure to sterilize pruning implements in case they have previously come in contact with a contaminant or disease. Now that you know when to prune, the question is HOW to prune an orange tree.

How to Prune and Orange Tree

Sprouts are easy to remove by hand when they are small. If they are too big to easily snap off, use hand pruners. Keep up on removing the sprouts; they should never get so large that you need loppers or a saw to remove them. If you do have to remove a sprout with loppers, remove it at its base, retaining the branch collar. The collar is the swollen area of trunk that surrounds the base of a branch and protects the tree from decay.

Always use sharp, sterilized shears. If you lack the gumption to keep up on sprout removal, the trunk can be wrapped with white cardboard to inhibit their growth. Keep the lower 10-12 inches of the tree free from sprouts.

To remove branches, you will need hand pruners or even a saw. Prune the branch flush with the collar, not the trunk. This gives the tree the best chance to heal completely and minimize sprout growth.

If the branch is larger than 1 ½ inches across, use a three-part cut.

  • First, select an area 6-12 inches out from the collar for your first cut. Saw through one-third of the branch starting on the underside. Known as the undercut, this keeps the bark from tearing.
  • Make your second cut about 3 inches further out from the undercut. Cut all the way through the branch this time until the limb falls away.
  • Lastly, cut the resulting stub back to the branch collar. If the cut is smooth, the tree will heal itself and no pruning paint or sealant is needed.

When you are done with your three-part cut, inspect the wood to be sure it is healthy. It should be whitish-yellow, like a manila folder. If you see any dark wood, this is an indication that disease still exists and you may need to remove more of the tree, treat it if possible or dispense with it if it is severely affected.

How & When to Prune an Orange Tree


Orange trees are beautiful as decorative plants and excellent for their fruit. They can be grown easily in warm climates or in large pots in cooler climates with access to a greenhouse for the winter. Keeping them pruned serves two purposes: It keeps the trees at a manageable size and ensures maximum fruit production.

When to Prune

The best time to prune an orange tree is when it has finished bearing fruit. Typically, this is in the late summer or early autumn. In warm climates where the tree can produce two cycles of fruit in a year, the time is a little more flexible.

Why Prune?

Pruning offers a number of benefits to the tree. The tree is smaller after pruning, making it easier to harvest and move, if necessary. Lighter branches reduce damage caused by heavy fruit or high winds. Pruning encourages growth, which in turn encourages fruit production. Fewer branches mean more energy can be devoted to each branch, producing better fruit. Having fewer, lighter branches reduces the need to prop and support heavy branches before harvest.

Pruning Patterns

The typical pattern for pruning an orange tree is to thin out the high, upper branches. This new growth is where the majority of blossoms and fruit appear each year. Leaving too much of it in will result in smaller fruit that ripens slowly, making a sub-par harvest.

Young trees need less pruning than older, mature trees; young trees need more energy to establish while mature trees can dedicate more energy to fruit. For old, mature trees with relatively little past pruning, gardeners can remove whole limbs from the top and center of the tree, reducing the size and allowing more sunlight to reach the inner areas of the tree. This makes the tree shape resemble a vase or V.

How to Prune Safely

Pruning can be dangerous to a tree. It opens a wound in the bark, which allows exterior elements to enter. Rot and tree infections are common with poorly pruned trees, but such problems can occur even in healthy trees. For pruning that will cause the least amount of damage, gardeners can follow these tips:

  • Do not prune parallel to the main branch in a flush cut. This opens a larger wound than is necessary. Excess damage on this scale can kill a tree.
  • Do not prune too far away from where a smaller branch joins the larger. This leaves a stub that can gather moisture and induce rot.
  • Do not prune from the top down or the bottom up. The weight of the branch can crack healthy wood or strip bark from the remaining branch, opening a large wound and causing infection that can easily kill a tree.

The proper way to prune a branch is to make a small cut one third to one half of the way through the branch, about 1 to 2 inches from where the branch joins the trunk, from the bottom up. This prevents bark stripping if the branch falls. Then, half an inch or so further out from that cut, finish the cut from the top down. This prevents cracking the wood.

About Wound Dressings

Wound dressings are chemicals designed to be applied to the stub of a branch after it has been cut. The idea is that these chemicals prevent fungal infections and rot in the open wound. Some gardeners prefer to use them, but wound dressings are not necessary for properly pruned branch stubs. There is little evidence to suggest that wound dressing chemicals work better than the natural chemicals in the tree itself. Pruning a branch properly reduces the risk of rot or infection, and a healthy tree can handle the rest.

Photo courtesy of Food Source Information

Pruning Orange Trees

How to prune orange trees?

Pruning orange trees – here are our two orange trees, they’re a little on the small side, but compared to their yield, we feel like we own an orchard. The trees produce dozens of fruits, and I hate to admit it but most of them are left to rot on the ground because, really, how much orange pie, orange jam and orange cake can one family and their neighbors eat?? I could reduce the amount of fruit by pruning some of the blossom clusters, but when they come out and I think of the two trees and how great they look covered in fruit…. I just can’t bring myself to dilute anything.

So, if your orange tree produces a high yield, think twice before you prune it and be prepared to “pay the price” – because you’ll be baking and cooking orange everything for a long time 🙂

Word of caution, while pruning orange trees please make sure to wear your working gloves. If you’ve decided you’re pruning orange trees, you need to know you’ll meet their sharp thorny stems and shoots, and they hurt.

Pruning Orange Trees
The basics

Why it needs pruning. Here is one of my trees – you can see the density, and the many cross branches. Those of you who have a keen eye and sharp vision may also be able to see the thorny dead branches. At the top of the tree, you can see long stems that reach out above the tree’s canopy. So, what you need to do is clean things up a little. It will serve both you and the tree’s health. So, let’s prune!

When to prune? As with all citrus trees, wait until the last fruit have fallen off the tree. You can prune citrus throughout the year, including winter, and you won’t harm the tree. This is especially true for regions with a warmer climate. Plus, there’s the fact that we’re not doing hard or renewal pruning.

Where to begin? Start by creating a path. Yes that’s right. Prune your way inside the tree, it will give you a better look from inside out. Where to start? I always make my path into the tree from the north side of the tree. By clearing a path, you’ll create a natural hole, which is good and healthy for your orange tree. By making the hole in the north you’ll allow more light and fresh air to penetrate, and enable better circulation. The trunks of citrus trees don’t like too many hours of direct sunlight, so avoid making your path into the tree’s center from the south. North will serve it better.

O.K, then – let’s prune. Remove a few branches with one hand and search for the long thorny stems and shoots with the other. Some will have grown and developed high above the canopy during the season. When you see them, follow them down until you reach the point where they leave the main stem or trunk, and cut as close as you can to the main stem. Once you’ve made the cut, simply pull them out.

Your pruning orange trees lesson continues – next to be pruned are the dead branches, twigs and shoots. Prune and remove them as you come across them. Things will now become cleaner and clearer. You should now start seeing new leading stems, which were hidden only seconds ago. Well done!

Stage three – You should now prune 1 or 2 branches that will allow light to penetrate the tree’s center from the top. I always make sure to open a small “window” at the top of the tree. Don’t be afraid, find at least one branch that holds a significant number of leaves and prune. That’s right – prune it. And if it has a diameter larger than 1 inch, make sure to smear pruning sealer on the stump to prevent diseases and fungus.

What else needs to be pruned? Well, that’s obvious. As I always say, let’s talk about the height. Reduce the trees general height. It will help you train and care for your orange tree easily, and make fruit picking easy and fun. Don’t look for the right place to cut, just cut wherever it feels right. But remember, don’t prune when your tree is in full bloom because you’ll lose future fruits.

Pruning orange trees? It only takes 25 minutes, including a coffee break, and needs to be done only once a year. Throughout the year, all you need to do is routine pruning which means removing shoots, twigs, and dead or broken branches. That’s it – that’s all it takes to have a healthy happy smiling orange tree. My orange tree’s final look. I think he looks happy, don’t you?

Tools
My personal recommendation

My preferred pruning shears – As citruses are sometimes tough to prune (even the small dried twigs can give you a hard time) I suggest using bypass loppers.

When & How to Trim Citrus Trees in Southern California?

orange tree image by Svetlana Tikhonova from Fotolia.com

Southern California’s subtropical climate makes it the perfect growing region for oranges, grapefruits, lemons, limes, tangerines and other citrus fruits. Citrus ripens during winter months and waiting until the season is over to trim your citrus tree ensures you get the largest crop. Unlike other fruit trees, citrus trees don’t need pruning for shaping and benefit from very little pruning. They are susceptible to disease and wounds, so prune lightly and predominantly to remove unhealthy growth from your citrus tree.

Harvest your citrus fruit before you trim the tree, sometime in late winter to early spring. When you harvest depends on the type of citrus you grow. In Southern California, mandarins ripen primarily from October to March and Meyer lemons ripen from November to March. Pick all fruit before you attempt to prune.

Combine one part bleach with 10 parts water in a bucket. Place your pruning tools in this bucket.

Check over the branches of your California citrus tree for signs of dead, damaged or diseased growth. Dead branches will not move in the wind and will feel light or hollow. Damaged and diseased growth may have wounds, cuts, discoloration or other blemishes. You can identify it clearly as looking different from healthy growth.

Cut away any unhealthy wood using your tools. Anvil pruners cut wood up to 3/4-inch in diameter while lopping shears work on larger branches. In between each cut of the wood, dip your pruning tools back into the bleach solution to disinfect it.

Clip off suckers from the trunk of the tree. Suckers do not bear fruit and sap energy from the tree. They grow out of the trunk and from the Y-intersections between branches.

Thin additional growth from heavy areas to allow light penetration into the canopy. This helps fruit to ripen. Identify weak limbs or old limbs and trim them off at their base with your pruning equipment.

When to trim citrus, roses and more

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Question: When is a good time to trim citrus trees?

— Karen S.

Answer: Most citrus trees, which are evergreen, do not require annual pruning to keep them productive. Citrus trees develop an attractive shape with little pruning just to keep them within bounds.

You can usually see “leggy” growth that extends way beyond the tree’s natural shape.

Citrus trees are best pruned just before bloom in early spring or just after fruit set in late spring. I would avoid pruning in late summer or early fall. Late pruning can encourage tender growth to appear, and this new growth is susceptible to frost damage since it has not hardened off.

Do not expose the tender trunks to hot summer sun exposure if you can. If yours is exposed, you can paint it with a 50 percent diluted latex paint.

Q: Love your weekly Republic column and never miss an entry. My yard is undergoing a tremendous growth spurt with the cooler weather, and I need some advice. My Mexican birds of paradise, bottlebrush, roses — all are sprouting new growth. Is this a good time to cut back these plants?

— Matthew Corey

A: You can trim your roses now and do some tip pruning of your bottlebrush. I would hold off on trimming your Mexican bird of paradise until spring. Enjoy the flowers now and cut them to the ground in spring after danger of frost is past. The older growth helps protect the stems from frost damage.

Brian Kissinger is director of horticulture at the Desert Botanical Garden. E-mail garden questions to [email protected] Read previous columns at home.azcentral.com.

Garden Q&A: The best time to prune citrus trees

My citrus trees are growing too big. When can I prune them?

About half of my phone questions this week came from callers wanting an answer to this question. In an ideal world, we would plant our citrus trees and other trees that need room to grow in wide open spaces.

But, many of us, including me, have planted trees, including citrus, without much thought as to how big they will get. Even given plenty of space, we find that we can’t reach the fruit at the tippy top and think pruning might be the answer. So, if you must prune your citrus, the best time would be after the last threat of frost or freeze (late winter or early spring). It is best to select and prune out taller branches. Avoid topping the tree if possible. Depending on the amount of pruning you do, you’ll will notice a decline in fruit production for a year or more. The good news is that most citrus trees that are pruned tend to recover most of their former fruit production ability.

When is a good time to prune my traditional rose bushes?

A good rule of thumb for pruning hybrid teas, grandifloras, and floribundas (in Northeast Florida) is around the day they are seen as a fitting gift – Valentine’s Day – but not later than early March. This is the time to give your roses a hard pruning. Cut out dead canes and twigs, crossing canes and weak canes, leaving several healthy canes from which new stems and flowers will emerge.

Your first new flowers can be expected to show their beauty eight to nine weeks after pruning. Most gardeners give their plants a less severe pruning again in August. Fertilize with a rose fertilizer once a month beginning with your first pruning through mid-November. It is best to give your plants a rest in December and January.

Will it damage my grass if I do not rake the leaves this winter?

While there doesn’t appear to be much research on the issue, I think the best recommended practice would be to rake the leaves. There is some suggestion that the warming effect of the leaves on the underlying grass will promote dew and possibly lead to disease. Also, if covered in leaves, the grass will not photosynthesize (make food) which can in turn promote fungus and mold. Here is the upside to raking those leaves: It is a good form of exercise and a good source of organic material and mulch for your garden and landscape beds.

I received some paperwhites during the holidays. Someone suggested that I water them with alcohol to keep them from getting leggy. Is this recommended?

The practice of caring for your paperwhites, Narcissus tazetta, with a dose of alcohol is recognized by researchers at the Flowerbulb Research Program at Cornell University. But as with using any alcohol – moderation is the key.

If you have grown paperwhites in the past, you have probably noticed that they grow quite tall and tend to fall over because they become top heavy. The folks at Cornell have discovered that treating your plant to a diluted solution of alcohol stunts the growth of the stem but doesn’t affect the flower. The key is in the mix of alcohol to water. The recommended dose is a 4 to 6 percent solution and no more than a 10 percent solution.

You can use rubbing alcohol or any hard liquor (vodka, rum, whiskey, etc.) but not beer or wine. You should first determine the percentage of alcohol you have. For example, an 80 proof whiskey is 40 percent alcohol. To convert to 5 percent, divide the percentage (40) by 5, which gives you 8 and subtract 1, which equals 7. Use 7 parts water to 1 part alcohol and you have your 5 percent solution for your paperwhites.

When you start to see an inch or two of green growth, discard any water in the container and treat them to the diluted cocktail for its future watering needs. If you have more than one paperwhite plant, you could try your own experiment. Treat one plant to the cocktail and withhold the alcohol from the other to compare growth rates. Cheers!

Paula Lamb is a master gardener with the Duval County Extension Service and the University of Florida/IFAS.

Caring for Cara Cara Navel Oranges

Late November and early December is the peak time for one of the finest oranges available. The Cara Cara orange possesses the most unique flavor of any orange. Imagine cherry, berry and orange flavors, all in one incredibly convenient fruit. That’s the flavor of a Cara Cara orange.

The Cara Cara orange is also a nutritional powerhouse, with plenty of Vitamin C, Vitamin A, folate, and lycopene. These antioxidants give your heart a boost, and protect your cells from free radicals.

The Cara Cara is an easy tree to grow, so you can enjoy this healthy fruit from your own yard. Not only is it adapted to any landscape wherever citrus grows well, the Cara Cara can also grow up to 15 to 20 feet without pruning. For ideal picking and pest control, the Cara Cara Orange is best when kept pruned at 6 to 8 feet.

Pick them when they are firm, shiny, heavy and have a great smell.

Grow Cara Cara Indoors as a Patio Plant in Containers

The Cara Cara orange is also a perfect container tree, giving you a great patio specimen or an amazing accent container plant in the garden. Container growing allows the Cara Cara Orange to be grown in the more marginal citrus areas. This way, you can move your Cara Cara to a protected location or cover your plant to help protect against the occasional winter cold.

The Cara Cara may also be the best sweet orange variety for the extreme cold climates. This is where indoor to outdoor growing is required. The early ripening Cara Cara will benefit from being kept outdoors until the temperatures drop into the high to mid 30’s, and then is gradually brought indoors. That will allow the fruit to ripen as much as possible outdoors; benefiting from the extra sunlight exposure.

Pro Plant Tips for Growing Cara Cara Orange Trees

Standard Citrus care is applied to the Cara Cara orange. Find a location with both good draining soils and a full days’ worth of sun. Feeding is only required in soils deficient in primary nutrients. You can have a simple soil test done to determine the health of your soils.

For container growing, choose a potting soil that is designed for Azalea, Camelias and Rhododendrons. If available, add Pathway Bark to the mix for added porosity and large particle organic matter. Citrus likes slightly acid soil and fertilizing is required for container grown citrus plants. In the first 5 years, an organic acid fertilizer applied 4 times a year is recommended for your Cara Cara tree. Increase to every other month as your tree gets older.

Don’t Overwater Your Cara Cara

Watering is always critical, either in the ground or container. Your citrus will like to be on the dry side. Over watering your Cara Cara can result in common problems such as yellowing leaves, leaf drop and lack of vigor.

This is of particular concern for indoor to outdoor growers. The Citrus tree’s water requirements decrease dramatically once it is brought indoors. Be careful to become familiar with your winter water needs while indoors. Check before watering to determine if your plant needs water.

Cara Cara Orange Tree

The Red-Fleshed Navel Orange

Why Cara Cara Orange Trees?

This incredible citrus has a bright pink flesh that is as sweet as it is colorful. Once you’ve tasted the fruit of the Cara Cara Orange Tree, you won’t be satisfied with any other orange.

You can grow your compact Cara Cara in containers on the patio or plant them in ground. So, the Cara Cara is easy, too. Just place it near a sunny window, and enjoy the fruits of your labor: Sweet treats that are low in acid, exceptionally tasty, and fast-growing.

Why Fast-Growing-Trees.com is Better

Not only is the Cara Cara Orange Tree hardy, strong and hassle-free, but it’s also been planted, grown and shipped with care. We’ve nurtured each Cara Cara Orange Tree, long before the trees leave our nursery. That means you get a healthy, well-rooted tree that’s poised to perform in your own homescape.

You won’t get the same experience from your local big box. Don’t wait – get the one-of-a-kind Cara Cara Orange Tree today!

Planting & Care

1. Planting: Choose a location where your tree is going to get plenty of sunlight, 6 to 8 hours per day is best. They can tolerate some shade, but thrive in full sun. Potted plants do enjoy a daily misting for humidity but placing a tray with rocks filled with water under the plant will feed humidity to the tree as the water evaporates.

If your winter temperatures are consistently below 40 degrees, plant your tree in a container that can easily be brought outside in the summer months and inside in the winter. Choose a pot slightly larger than what it was shipped in that has plenty of holes in the bottom to allow for drainage. Be sure to plant in well-draining potting soil.

Immediately after planting, give your tree a deep watering until it flows from the holes in the bottom of the pot. Place your tree in an area of your home, preferably a South-facing window, where it is going to get plenty of sunlight.

2. Watering: After watering (usually once or twice weekly), allow the top 2 to 3 inches of the soil to dry out completely before watering again. Mulching can help retain the soil moisture and also combat competing grasses/weeds.

For potted Cara Cara Oranges, stick your index finger into the soil down to about 2 inches. If there is moisture present, hold off on watering until it feels drier at that depth. When you do water, stop once you see it escaping the drainage holes at the base of the pot.

3. Fertilizing: Feed your Cara Cara Orange Tree during the warmer spring and summer seasons with a citrus-specific fertilizer, like the one included in our Citrus Care Kit, generally once every six weeks. During the fall and winter season, ease back to fertilizing once every 2 to 3 months. Make sure to follow the application instructions written on the fertilizer bag.

4. Pruning: After the tree fruits, remove any dead wood and ventilate the center of the tree. Remove suckers as they form/grow from the base as they will steal away nutrients from the primary trunk of the tree. Pruning can be done at any time of the year for the potted Cara Cara Orange.

5. Pollination: Our Caras Caras are self-fertile, but for indoor trees, you can hand pollinate. Simply take a small, dry, fine-tipped paintbrush and stick it into the center of each Cara Cara bloom. Swirl it around and collect the pollen on the brush. Go to the next bloom and repeat the process until every bloom has been treated. Do this once daily and don’t wash the paintbrush until after the blooms have been pollinated.

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How to Prune Satsuma Mandarin Orange Trees

Satsumas are a cultivar of mandarin oranges that are prized for their juicy fruit, easy release peels and nearly seedless interiors. Like most citrus trees, satsumas thrive in sub-tropical to tropical climes and require very little and infrequent pruning. Do any necessary pruning when stress on the tree can be minimized, and when there will be the least disruption to the bloom and fruiting cycle.

Remove dead, diseased, abrading or otherwise compromised branching and foliage in the early spring before bloom, or as needed throughout the year, to prevent the spread of disease.

Cut back vertical water sprouts and suckers that develop in the interior of the tree or off of the trunk in the spring and summer. Place cuts flush with the trunk or parent branch and discard the cuttings.

Prune the tips of branches when the satsuma is outgrowing its planting location and crowding other trees, utility boxes or lines or other structures. Prune for size in the spring and remove only as much branch tissue as absolutely necessary to minimize impact to fruit harvests. Follow the natural form of the canopy and place cuts just above a leaf node or bud.

This column by Bill Finch first appeared in the Press-Register’s Garden & Home section Dec. 5, 2003.

Winter hardiness

When mature and well-established, Satsumas are the hardiest sweet citrus, and have been known to withstand temperatures as low as 15 degrees with no significant damage.

Skinny young trees, however, are not nearly as cold hardy, and may need some protection during the first two or three years. I snug several bags full of leaves around the trunks of these young trees each winter, and cover the canopy AND the leaf bags with a thick cloth or woven tarp on the two or three coldest nights each year. (Don’t use plastic sheeting by itself — it readily transmits cold to whatever it touches, and will cook the plants when the sun comes up.)

Once every two or three decades, Mobile tends to get an unusually intense cold spell that can cause significant damage even on mature Satsuma trees. The most damage typically occurs when a long period of unusually warm weather in the 70s and 80s is followed by a sudden drop to the lower teens — the Satsumas, in essence, don’t have time to gradually prepare for the cold.

During these unusual events, which often last no more than a day or two, you may need to get creative. A string of warm Christmas lights, wrapped throughout the tree, is a good start. Add some leaf bags around the trunk, and use a large tarp to blanket as much of the tree as possible — remember to take advantage of ground heat by spreading the tarp out tent-style, rather than wrapping the top of the tree like a lollipop.

Planting

Satsumas need full sun, well-drained soil that doesn’t stay wet and, ideally, a place protected from the harshest winter winds. Provide these three, plant your citrus “high” so that the base of its trunk is an inch or two above the general ground level, water well the first year or two, and you should experience few problems.

Pruning

Citrus are the easiest fruits to prune. In fact, for the most part, you shouldn’t prune them at all.

For the first two or three years, you’ll want to quickly remove all sprouts that develop on the first two feet of the trunk. Check on this two or three times a year.

You might want to tip-prune side limbs that have become unusually long or tall and threaten to compete with the central limbs. But simply removing a few inches of the tips of these side limbs will be sufficient.

After three or four years, the initially sprawling limbs should naturally develop into a thick, handsome crown, without any assistance from you. Heavy pruning of this crown will actually reduce the tree’s vigor and fruit production. So remove only those branches that are dead, damaged or “ingrown” — the ones that have turned and are growing toward the center of the tree.

Some Satsuma varieties, like Ponkan, are slow-growing and naturally smaller, and can be kept very small with judicious pruning. This pruning should be undertaken in April (and never in fall, winter or early spring).

Fertilizing

Citrus trees, unlike some fruit trees, require regular fertilization in Mobile soils. To keep it simple, I spread a good quantity of cottonseed meal or crab meal, mixed with leaf mulch, under the canopy of the tree once each year, in late winter. Three to five pounds should suffice for first-year trees, and five to eight pounds should suffice for older trees. Once every two or four years, I also add two or three pounds of wood ashes.

If you use standard chemical fertilizer, you’ll need to apply it several times each year, once the first of March, again the first of May, and again the first of July. First-year trees will need about a half pound of 13-13-13 at each application. Trees three years and older will need about one to two pounds of 13-13-13 at each application. A soil test will help you to more precisely tailor your applications.

Picking the fruit

To get good-sized fruit, and to prevent your tree from overbearing one year and bearing few fruit the next, it’s a good idea to thin the fruit in late April and May. Every spring, I remove the young fruits so that there’s only one fruit on every six inches or so of limb. As a result, I have never had problems with limbs breaking (a common complaint with fully-laden Satsumas), and I can count on a reliable crop of unusually large Satsumas every year. Don’t worry about the fruits you removed — I promise, you won’t miss them in fall, when even a ruthlessly thinned Satsuma will produce more fruit than you and all your neighbors can eat.

Most years, a good orange color in mid- to late-November is a sign Owari Satsumas are ready to eat. During relatively warm falls like the past one, Satsumas are ready to eat slightly before the peel turns completely orange. Try a few as the season progresses, so you can better judge the best time to harvest.

When the weather is warm, Satsumas don’t maintain their quality if left on the tree too long — they get excessively puffy, dry out and lose their nice acid bite. But during cool December days, Owari will remain in good eating condition as long as the fruit doesn’t freeze. To avoid tearing the tender skin when you remove the fruit from the tree, it’s better to use hand clippers or a sharp pruning knife rather than simply ripping the fruit from the limb.

Pests

Homegrown Satsumas are essentially free of seriously damaging pests.

The beautiful orange dog butterfly — the largest of the swallowtails — loves citrus trees, and will occasionally leave its rather peculiar caterpillars to munch on your citrus leaves. These caterpillars seldom do serious damage unless the citrus tree is very young and has few leaves. Remove them as you find them on small trees, and consider them an ornamental feature on your mature Satsumas.

Aphids and white flies are a minor nuisance some years, and occasionally leave enough of their “honeydew” to cause the leaves to blacken with sooty mold. Aphids are easily controlled with a strong blast of water — they fall to the ground and die. White flies can be controlled with summer horticultural oils applied several times to the bottoms of the leaves in August and September.

Birds, strangely enough, have apparently become aggravating citrus pests in some areas. Avoid bird-feeding stations, which tend to attract and encourage nuisance birds. If you see bird damage on your developing citrus — the fruit often appears to be scraped raw or pecked — consider putting up bird netting and other bird-discouraging devices as quickly as possible, before the birds get used to their bad habits.

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