Do you have a mature lemon tree that’s really slowing down? Might be time for a ‘skeleton prune’ to coax it back to vigour. If an old citrus tree has slowed in fruit production, but is still otherwise healthy and has a sound root system, try this method of heavy pruning in late winter or early spring.
Costa visits an awesome orchard in the hills north west of Sydney and meets up with third generation citrus grower, Mark Engall to help him prune an old favorite. Mark’s Red Grapefruit (Citrus paradisi cv.) hasn’t been pruned since planting – and it shows. It’s lost vigour, has poor foliage coverage in the canopy, plenty of dead wood and small fruit.
00:51 HOW TO SKELETON PRUNE
1. Remove all small dead and damaged branches, and those crossing over or rubbing on others
2. Remove all leaves and twigs cleanly, with sharp pruning tools
3. Cut all the main branches that form the framework of the tree at 2 – 5cm diameter so that only the skeleton remains
4. Assess the skeleton of the tree, and further remove any multi-branched ends
5. Within 18 – 24 months, this tree will come back beautifully, and produce buckets of fruit
a. Trust the process – the tree may be without fruit in the first 12 months as it puts its energy into foliage production, but after that, you’ll be rolling in citrus!
Rootstock – the underground and root-forming part of the citrus, generally selected for vigour and disease resistance.
Scion – The “top section” of the plant, grafted onto the rootstock, that will eventually produce the foliage, stems and of course, the flowers.
Process for growing and grafting – it’s simple so why not give it a try!
Plant seeds of desired rootstock into pots (Mark uses ‘Flying Dragon’ – a mutation of Citrus trifoliata, highly regarded for it’s dwarfing properties).
After 12 months of growing, rootstock are potted on into individual grow bags
At this stage, during the growing season, the grafting of the bud stock to the rootstock can occur
Select appropriate scion or budstock – individual buds are cut from new growth of the desired citrus – each bud/leaf petiole can become a new citrus tree
Using a sharp budding knife, slice just below the leaf petiole, with the knife almost flat against the stem. Slice upwards, under the bud and remove.
On the rootstock, find a clean, undamaged area of trunk to graft on to and remove thorns and foliage in the area.
Using the budding knife, make a shallow, vertical cut on the stem, and a horizontal shallow slice across the top of the original cut, to form a ‘T’ shape
Using the bark-lifter on the budding knife, gently lift the bark on each side and top of the ‘T’
Slip the prepared bud into the ‘T’ on the rootstock, fold edges of ‘T’ over the bud and trim any excess “tail” from the bud-stock
Wrap area tightly with budding tape to prevent moisture ingress – bud can be covered as it will grow through the tape.
After a month or two, this bud should have begun to grow away, and develop its own foliage. Once this has occurred, the excess top growth of the rootstock can be removed. This ensures all the plants energy and growth is directed into the graft, rather than the rootstock
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