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Last updated on January 21st, 2020
While citrus is not a native to the UK there are still a few varieties that you can grow, especially if you grow them in pots. Once you have your citrus trees established, they may need minimal pruning from time to time to control the shape and sometimes reduce citrus plants that have become leggy but it needs to be done properly.
When to Prune Citrus
Citrus can be pruned at various intervals for different purposes.
Pruning leggy plants
Firstly, if your plant is a bit leggy, you can prune it by two thirds and this will force it to revert back to its original growth, growing outward more than upward. By cutting back the tallest branches, too, you can encourage more bushy growth on the plant.
Pinching out new growth to encourage thicker plants
Secondly, you can prune throughout the summer by pinching off the tips of the branches that are growing the best, literally between your forefinger and thumb. This does a similar thing by forcing the plant to focus its growth on the outward direction/foliage and not just the upward growth. It is this lateral growth that proves very useful in the subsequent training of the citrus shape and fruit development in the first few years.
Removing water shoots
If you have a mature plant, it might generate what are called “water shoots”, which are fast-growing, unwanted shoots. These will sprout off the main branches, often near the bottom or the middle of the plant. You can remove them as soon as you see them. If you see shoots coming from below the graft on your main stem, get rid of them immediately. This will help you cultivate the shape and bushy growth you need for good citrus production.
How to Prune citrus trees
When you are ready, you can prune by first sanitising your pruning secateurs, even if you are only used them on other citrus plants. This can be done with a commercial cleaning product, with a mixture of 9 parts water to 1 part bleach, or with a mixture of white vinegar and water. Doing so will prevent the spread of diseases from one plant to another
Depending on the reason for your pruning, you should cut as close to the main branch as possible when removing water shoots. Cut off the tips or cut back the leggy plants using the same methods. The cleaner your cuts the less likely your citrus is to suffer multiple incision wounds and the risk of infection.
All of this regular pruning will go a long way toward helping you keep your citrus plant happy and healthy.