Pruning Pointers for Cold-Hardy Citrus

Josh McGillCold Hardy, Pruning

Three University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) researchers recently authored an Extension newsletter article about pruning practices for cold-hardy citrus. Authors are Muhmmad A. Shahid, assistant professor of horticulture; Shahid Iqbal, horticultural post-doctoral associate; and Fernando Alferez, assistant professor of horticulture. Highlights from the article follow.

Skirted and hedged citrus trees
(Photo by Mongi Zekri, UF/IFAS)

Establishment of proper plant structure and canopy through pruning is very critical for getting good quality and uniform size fruit for the fresh market in the Southeast’s cold-hardy citrus industry.

Pruning tools include loppers, scissors, saw pruners, hedge shears and trimmers. Disinfect the tools before and after every use to prevent the spread of disease. It’s best to sanitize with alcohol, Lysol, 5% bleach or Pine-Sol.

Prune at the time that best complements plant growth, its characteristics, flowering or any other objective
you desire to achieve. Early spring is the best time for pruning. Pruning too early may stimulate new growth but if a late freeze event occurs, it can cause serious damage. Always prune back to or just above the branch or bud growing point.

Prune off the “4 Ds”: dead, damaged, diseased and dysfunctional branches of any size. Pruning should be only on the 4 D branches and on sucker branches.

Don’t cut the branches with the collar and flush with the trunks.

Citrus has brittle wood, so always prevent bark tearing during pruning of branches larger than 2.5 centimeters in diameter.

Use the three-cut system for larger branches:

  1. Cut 25 to 30 centimeters away from the branch union but under the stem.
  2. Cut on the upper side of the branch but a little way from the underneath cut.
  3. Cut just above the branch collar.

Remove suckers and water sprouts.

Thin dense growth for proper air circulation and light penetration to improve tree health.

In young fruit-bearing trees, never prune more than 10% of the biomass.

Until the trees start to produce fruit, pruning should be avoided or intended only to form the tree.


There are four basic types of pruning.

Topping is pruning the large upright branches of the young trees. This is sometimes done to reduce the height of the tree.

Suckering in the second type of pruning. Suckers are robust vertical growth generally from the tree root system or below the graft union that divert the nutrients from the main stem/plant, take the plant’s energy and slow its growth. They should be removed for healthy growth.

Skirting is the removal of branches that hang down to the ground. Skirting helps to avoid contact with pests and disease and limits plant growth.

Hedging involves cutting back the side of the trees to ease the crowding between the rows to allow access for equipment. Hedging can cause extreme vegetative growth resulting in a high reduction in yield. Hedging helps to maintain yield, not increase the yield.

Find more pruning recommendations and benefits here.

Source: UF/IFAS

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