Garden Detective

Garden Detective: Young lemon needs training to become real tree

Experiments have shown that the best results for citrus trees can be expected if pruning takes place in the early spring after the danger of frost has passed.
Experiments have shown that the best results for citrus trees can be expected if pruning takes place in the early spring after the danger of frost has passed. Bigstock

Q: We have a lemon tree that’s about 2 years old. It needs to be pruned but it has three healthy stocks. How do we go about pruning it so it’s a tree (with a central trunk) and not a bush? Any advice would be appreciated.

Peggy Holstine, Ione

A: Lemons and other citrus usually grow as multitrunked plants, according to UC master gardener Annie Kempees. One of the first things gardeners tend to do with lemons is attempt to trim them in a way that will make them look like a tree.

When pruning any citrus, begin by removing dead, diseased or broken branches. Remove any “suckers” or shoots growing from below the graft union, which looks like a knot or diagonal scar low down on the main trunk about 6 to 12 inches above the soil line.

Commercial citrus trees are “grafted,” meaning that wood from a tree with desirable fruit is cut and attached to a sturdier disease-resistant root stock. The variety of the root stock adds hardiness to the new grafted tree, but suckers allowed to grow out of the root stock almost always produce inferior fruit and may crowd the grafted main trunk. You don’t want the root stock taking over the tree.

(Another way to tell which stems are which: Growth from the root stock tends to have more thorns.)

Unproductive stems can be removed to allow more light and air to penetrate through the tree canopy; this encourages healthy new growth.

The leaf canopy of a citrus is an important food storage area. Besides removing foliage, pruning removes flowering buds that are often referred to as “fruiting points.” Because citrus blooms and bears fruit on new growth flushes, lopping off branch tips removes flowering buds and reduces yield at harvest.

Take care not to overthin. Direct sunlight on the previously shaded branches and trunk can cause sunburn. Leaving lower branches intact will shade the ground, inhibit weed growth, and produce fruit that is easy to reach.

Experiments have shown that the best results can be expected if pruning takes place in the early spring after the danger of frost has passed and before the start of a new growth cycle.

For more pointers on pruning citrus, check out the cultural notes on the University of California’s integrated pest management website, www.ipm.ucdavis.edu.

Garden questions?

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&g@sacbee.com. Please put “Garden Detective” in the subject field and include your postal address. To contact UC Extension directly, call:

Sacramento: 916-875-6913; 9 a.m.-noon and 1-4 p.m. Monday-Thursday

Amador: 209-223-6838; 10 a.m.-noon Monday-Thursday; website ceamador.ucdavis.edu

Butte: 530-538-7201; 8 a.m.-noon and 1-5 p.m. weekdays

Colusa: 530-458-0570; 9 a.m.-noon and 1-4 p.m. Tuesdays; website: cecolusa.ucanr.edu

El Dorado: 530-621-5512; 9 a.m.-noon Tuesday-Friday

Placer: 530-889-7388; 9 a.m.-noon Tuesday-Thursday or leave a message and calls will be returned; website: pcmg.ucanr.org/got_questions

Nevada: 530-273-0919; 9 a.m.-noon Tuesday-Thursday or leave a message

Shasta, Tehama, Trinity: 530-225-4605

Solano: 707-784-1322; leave a message and calls will be returned

Sutter, Yuba: 530-822-7515; 9 a.m.-noon Monday-Tuesday and 1-4 p.m. Thursdays

Yolo: 530-666-8737; 9-11 a.m. Tuesdays and Fridays, or leave a message and calls will be returned

  Comments