Garden dectective: Pruning orange tree

Published: Saturday, Jun. 8, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 6CALIFORNIA LIFE
Last Modified: Monday, Jun. 10, 2013 - 7:48 am

I have a navel orange tree approximately 20 years old. It has produced a great crop of fruit each year.

My question: Can a citrus tree be pruned and how should one do it?

The limbs inside the tree are going in all directions. I keep the suckers cut off each limb or when they come out of the trunk.

– Dee Hintze, Herald

According to UC Master Gardener Lorraine Van Kekerix, citrus trees – including orange trees – don't need a lot of pruning.

Oranges are unlike many other types of fruit that need regular pruning to maintain healthy trees that bear quality fruit.

With oranges, you can let the branches grow almost to ground level. That will increase the crop and the low-growing oranges will be easy to harvest.

Citrus should be pruned to remove suckers that grow from below the graft on the main trunk. (The graft often looks like a large lump or swelling on the trunk, about a foot above ground level.) These suckers are growing from the root stock. Root stock is used to give the tree more disease resistance, or to dwarf the tree size, but typically does not produce good fruit.

Root suckers should be removed as soon as possible. Also remove "water sprouts" – vigorous shoots that grow straight up from branches or trunks. Water sprouts can be removed at any time and generally do not bear quality fruit.

General pruning of citrus should be done in late spring after the last killing frost; that's usually mid-March in Sacramento. But you can tidy up the tree during early summer, too.

After removing root suckers and water sprouts, remove any dead wood or frost-damaged branches. Then, remove any branches that rub on one another.

Finally, prune branches to shape the tree. Pruning cuts should be just above a node or another branch.

As with all pruning, you should remove no more than one-quarter to one-third of the tree canopy to avoid damaging the tree.

Bark that was previously shaded by leaves – and after pruning is exposed to sunlight – should be protected to prevent it from becoming sunburned and susceptible to disease and insect damage.

To protect the bark, mix equal amounts of light or white interior latex paint with water and paint the newly exposed bark. That whitewash won't harm the tree and acts like sunscreen for the bark.


Questions are answered by master gardeners at the UC Cooperative Extension services in Sacramento and Placer counties.

Send questions to Garden Detective, P.O. Box 15779, Sacramento, CA 95852. Send email to h& Please put "Garden Detective" in the subject field and include your postal address.

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