Pruning Principles for High-Quality Citrus

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Planting citrus varieties for fresh market production has increased in popularity. With these potentially high-value crops come concerns about management practices, including pruning.

Recently, Fernando Alferez informed growers in a virtual presentation about manual pruning principles. Alferez is a University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences citrus horticulturist at the Southwest Florida Research and Education Center.

According to Alferez, pruning is important to prevent trees from investing energy in misdirected growth. Managing the tree canopy is crucial to producing higher quality fruit and yields.

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Although a balance of branches in the tree is desirable, emphasis should be put in promoting fruit-bearing branching, says Alferez.

There are three methods to manually prune young citrus trees: freestyle, dichotomic and traditional. While all methods are adequate, Alferez says the freestyle method is the least challenging and reportedly used more for varieties such as Satsumas. It is important to note that varietal differences will dictate the way each variety is pruned for better yield and quality. 

According to Alferez, branch orientation determines fruit production. Vertical branches or flushes are very vigorous with a lot of vegetative growth. Horizontal branches (or up to 45°) produce most of the fruit and most of the quality. Weaker branches toward the bottom of the tree tend to produce less fruit and are more susceptible to disease.

“In the first year, you really don’t want to prune much. You just want to remove non-productive water sprouts, no more than 10 to 15 percent of the canopy,” Alferez says.

After the first two years being limited to removal of water sprouts and vigorous vertical branches, growers can begin architectural pruning in the third year to build a structure for a solid compact tree. From the fourth year on, Alferez recommends maintenance pruning to maintain production. This should be done during the dry season and, if possible, after harvest once freezing risks have passed.

Maintenance pruning will help maintain a manageable canopy size that allows for adequate light penetration to improve yield and quality. Pruning can also help prevent fruit losses to disease and promote flowering and fruit development.

This article was written by Ashley Robinson, AgNet Media communications intern in Gainesville, Florida.

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