How to Prune a Citrus Tree | Citrus | Gardening Australia

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.


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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  1. Ann Burge on March 15, 2021 at 11:02 pm

    They looked huge fruit when one has desert framed eyes .

  2. Grant Tucker on March 15, 2021 at 11:02 pm

    Best practice is not to drop start your chainsaw.

  3. Mini John on March 15, 2021 at 11:02 pm

    Sir How to prune mangotree 60 yrs old

  4. Olmo Maldonado on March 15, 2021 at 11:03 pm

    Should I skeleton prune a grapefruit tree with active disease? When I bought my house the citrus tree was already infected by fungus and a good portion of the bark shows active fungus growth and it is pealing. I’ve removed as much as I can but it’s clear the tree will eventually lose the fight. I’m worried if I prune too much it will only accelerate the tree’s death. Perhaps I am mistaken, though, and the extra dryness and more sun might help the tree fight off the fungus. Let me know!

  5. Mick Carson on March 15, 2021 at 11:03 pm

    I don’t prune Lemon trees like that. It will leave me without fruit for 5 years. I prune them in between branches so that I will still have fruit from the tree while the cut branches sprout new shoots and recover.

  6. Rocky P on March 15, 2021 at 11:04 pm


  7. George Thomas on March 15, 2021 at 11:06 pm

    U need to prune Ur beard haha

  8. Andrew Stuart on March 15, 2021 at 11:07 pm

    Simply wow, that was awesome.

  9. erelRa on March 15, 2021 at 11:08 pm

    I planted a tree from a citrus seed.. I believe it is a lemon because it has thorns.. it is now about a meter tall, will give it the first proper prune in late august (SE QLD), would love to see a video on pruning baby trees, like a year or couple of years old..

  10. Lee Robertson on March 15, 2021 at 11:10 pm

    Always been scared of going to hard on my tree, next winter

  11. Lola SweetLola on March 15, 2021 at 11:10 pm

    Why did Costas leave stubs on the small branches. I was taught this was wrong.

  12. Red Toberts on March 15, 2021 at 11:11 pm

    Costas looks like my brother in the 60’s.

  13. Edna Ofelia Obungen on March 15, 2021 at 11:11 pm

    Hi Costa what do you call that root stock the he used that you can plant it buy seeds? I want to know because I’m in propagating citrus trees and I want more root stock to use. The name of the seeds and wondering where I can buy?

  14. Generic Eric on March 15, 2021 at 11:12 pm

    The commercial orange growers prune their trees every year. The are shaped as fluffy clouds instead of shade trees. Much better yield of fruit.

  15. Duy Nguyen on March 15, 2021 at 11:13 pm

    press Pause at 1sec of the video and look at that tree 50% branches are sickly and dead, The cause started from the base of the plant it was prune too close to cambium I would be weird if it isn’t infected and at 50% of it productivity. Higher up branches are further improper pruning leaving branches exposed to the environment through out it life further infected by fungal and diseases and reason for so many dead branches. Branches are pruned too close and the other not close enough.

  16. Chris Searle on March 15, 2021 at 11:13 pm

    If love to know whether it is worth doing a hard prune on, say, 1/3 of the plant. Would that just push extra energy to the existing branches or could you rotate each year and have healthy growth on the cut tree?

  17. David Harvey on March 15, 2021 at 11:14 pm

    Could havefucken shown the graft process more

  18. Gustavo Guido on March 15, 2021 at 11:17 pm

    Great video. I have a lemon tree which I made it from seed. It has 3 metres tall and it doesn´t give any lemon yet. I would like to make a graft, but I can´t find any other good lemon tree (and in quarantine is more difficult). The bud to graft, must it be from another tree or can it be from my own lemon tree? Regards

  19. Krieg Gilthunder on March 15, 2021 at 11:17 pm

    I have cut down one of my trees to a stump twice and that sucker grew back stronger than ever.

  20. Richard Courtney on March 15, 2021 at 11:19 pm

    I’ve done that my Mandarin is really good and that’s your blooming lot Richard Courtney Adelaide south Australia

  21. Daniel Sargent on March 15, 2021 at 11:20 pm

    PPE overkill 🙂

  22. yourchava on March 15, 2021 at 11:20 pm

    do not listen to this guy, citrus trees will get sunburned on bark if cut back so much, should not be giving advice on pruning

  23. David Boson on March 15, 2021 at 11:21 pm

    that appears to be chop everything, leave just a little.

  24. John Williams on March 15, 2021 at 11:22 pm

    One of the easiest ways to end up scarred for life is drop starting a chainsaw…. you wear all that safety gear then drop start a saw?

  25. fancy O on March 15, 2021 at 11:23 pm

    LoL I also wouldn’t want to pay someone who did that to my 20yr old tree.

  26. Arctic Yuzu on March 15, 2021 at 11:25 pm

    Good info. Check my easy Citrus Indoor growing tips if interested, Anyone can grow it! Have a nice day

  27. Matt Moom on March 15, 2021 at 11:26 pm

    brilliant video. Too late to do this now (sunny coast)? x

  28. Florida Man on March 15, 2021 at 11:26 pm

    I beg to differ…. never graft.

  29. Donald Raya on March 15, 2021 at 11:27 pm

    Omg I laughed this guy is a goof ball

  30. tewaipatu on March 15, 2021 at 11:27 pm

    I cut my tree like this, how long does it take to fruit again. It’s got good healthy leaves

  31. Real David Art on March 15, 2021 at 11:28 pm

    Without a doubt a PERFECT video. Informative. Efficient. Entertaining. Visual. Beautiful. Well edited. Just great!

  32. Kintiq K on March 15, 2021 at 11:28 pm

    Thanks for the Tips – Could you please advise us a bit details what are the root stocks used for Grafting – Cheers

  33. Les C on March 15, 2021 at 11:29 pm

    bro you do that in Florida and you kill the tree,too much sun

  34. mickeyme 2013 on March 15, 2021 at 11:29 pm

    Grafting a1

  35. Tuner Fun on March 15, 2021 at 11:30 pm

    I have a tree in perth what would be the best time to do this sort of skeleton prune as it gets hot in summer I’m worried about the bark burning?

  36. itsthemetho on March 15, 2021 at 11:33 pm

    Good luck with Gall Wasps! The new grow is fantastic, but the gall wasps from your neighbours that don’t care is going to harm the new growth.

  37. DENDROBENARIUM on March 15, 2021 at 11:35 pm

    Love it

  38. justin blake on March 15, 2021 at 11:35 pm

    Not the best pruning job but they do convey the point
    I have done the pruning on the highest yeilding 🍋 farm in the world n its how we prune them

  39. DENDROBENARIUM on March 15, 2021 at 11:41 pm


  40. Antweezy Foshizzy on March 15, 2021 at 11:44 pm

    Why wouldn’t you just
    Gradually prune it back instead of all at once?

  41. mickeyme 2013 on March 15, 2021 at 11:44 pm

    Should have seen him with the ppe in the last vid lol

  42. Mike Wilson on March 15, 2021 at 11:46 pm

    Why did you cut where you did? No explanation as to why cut above or below any branching. Title should be "Pruning a Citrus tree", not "Hiow to".

  43. Sam N on March 15, 2021 at 11:47 pm

    Last year the branches of my orange tree dried up. I cut all the branches off just like you did to this grapefruit. This year it started to grow a whole lot of new baby branches. But unfortunately, they stopped growing and instead the tree started to produce lots of flowers on those small new branches. My question is, will my orange tree grow new branches like the mandarin tree you had or should I just dig it out and plant a new tree? I thought it would grow its limbs back in the spring. But its not growing.

  44. charlesbonkley on March 15, 2021 at 11:47 pm

    This was one of the best videos I’ve seen on drastic pruning AND the grafting process! Well done!

  45. peter k on March 15, 2021 at 11:51 pm

    So I have a mandarin tree i got from the nursery planted in my garden the stake is about 3ft high and the mandarin tree is about 5ft high there are not branches at all until 4ft then it bushes out with alot of branches. Should I be cutting it back to get branches to start lower on the tree?

  46. Grant Tucker on March 15, 2021 at 11:51 pm

    You shouldn’t drop start your saw mate. Best practice is to hold it between your legs or start it firmly on the ground. That way you minimise the chance of the running saw swinging into your leg. Thanks for the pruning demo and explanation.

  47. Aaron Klein on March 15, 2021 at 11:52 pm

    "I planted this tree 20 yeeees ago"

  48. Chris M on March 15, 2021 at 11:55 pm

    Engall’s Nursery In Dural is the best source from where to buy citrus trees for fruit. I bought my trees from their original site in Epping, some 16 years ago. Beautiful trees and fruit. I’ve since been back to add to my collection of Washington Navels.

  49. kinghenry666 on March 15, 2021 at 11:55 pm

    holy cow – you massacred my boy!!

  50. abc abc on March 15, 2021 at 11:57 pm

    Hi, I tried this method and my tree probably looks like it’s dead.
    Even the inner section of my alive plant even that has browned now.

    My 16 y.o. tree died, it seems.

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