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20 July 2015

Pruning the lemon tree

We had some serious pruning to do last week. Our oldest lemon tree, a Eureka which is about 17 years old, had sap seeping from the trunk, numerous insect and fungal problems and was overgrown. The middle of the tree was too lush and one side of it was so out of control and laden with lemons, almost the entire side of the tree was resting on the top of the chicken coop.  Sorry, I didn't take a photo of it before it was pruned.

All these lemons will be juiced this week and the juice frozen in plastic bottles to make cordial in summer. 

Most fruit trees need to have sunlight filtering into the middle of the tree. When the tree is too bushy, it blocks that light and you'll get fewer fruit. We like to keep our trees at a certain height too so we can easily harvest crops every year. But this tree seems to have escaped that treatment and it was suffering. Our tree is about 3 metres high, which is about average for the Eureka, but it's okay to prune down to a more manageable size, and that is what we should have been doing the past few years.


Above: the pruned lemon tree now has three main branches forming a vase shape. If it survives the pruning, next year we'll reduce it in size. After that we should have our healthy tree back producing delicious Eureka lemons for our food and drinks for the next ten years.
This is our two year old backup tree - another Eureka lemon. It's got it's first crop of six lemons on now but in spring and summer, I expect it to put on a lot of growth and to produce at least 20 - 30 lemons next year.

The best time to prune citrus is after fruiting and before the new flowers start forming. It's best to do a small amount or pruning every year so you don't lose too much of the tree at one time and continue getting a harvest.  But we needed drastic action and have a two year old backup tree just in case this tree doesn't survive. I think if we didn't take this drastic action it would have died a slow death anyway.

Hanno harvested the lemons and started by reducing the branches in the middle of the tree. The ones he chose to take out were those that were growing inward, those that touched other branches, and diseased branches. He also looked for the swellings of the gall wasp and cut those out as well. We didn't have time to do it last week, but today the tree will be sprayed with organic horticultural oil and given a bucket of seaweed concentrate.  The oil is to kill of the nymphs of the green shield beetle. The mature beetles have been biting into some of the small forming fruit and and leaving a brown dry patch when the lemon matures.  The seaweed concentrate is to help with the shock of such a drastic pruning.  When we see new growth forming, we'll apply organic fertiliser.

Above is another one of our citrus trees. It's a ten year old Washington Navel orange, one of two in the backyard.  Every year, as regular as clockwork, this tree produces the most delicious oranges I've ever tasted. They're an excellent eating orange and very juicy too. Hanno can't eat too many oranges so in addition to the oranges I ate this year, he squeezed a glass of orange juice for me every morning and brought it in as I was writing the book. :- )

We finished picking these oranges last week and now have the last six sitting in the fruit bowl. This week this tree will be pruned too, but it won't be a drastic prune like the lemon. This tree will have a branch removed in the middle of the tree - it's rubbing up against another branch and it will let more light in. It's a good idea to check the graft too and if there are any shoots below the graft, clip them off. We'll look for the tell-tale deformity the gall wasp leaves behind and cut those out too and finish off by raising the skirt of the tree. That just means that some of the lower branches will be cut off so the tree's lower branches are higher off the ground.  If you can see the top horizontal brace on the timber fence behind it, the lower branches will sit level with that when the pruning is finished. When we do that, it's simply a matter of giving it a bucket of seaweed concentrate, some nitrogen fertiliser, sulphate of potash (all organic) and to mulch around the base of the tree to stop those grass runners robbing the tree of the fertiliser.

Citrus are such a productive tree and all they need is warmish weather, sun, a good feeding program  once a season and some pruning as needed, and you'll have the best organic fruit available. It's a good feeling to be able to walk outside and pick fruit and it doesn't take a lot of work. If you have the climate and space, I encourage you to try growing your favourite citrus.

20 comments:

  1. Hi Ronda my computer is acting up and it may have post a comment I wasn't finished with yet. I ordered a German crock that will be in this week and I was wanting to make kimchi I thought I read about it on your blog if so would you mind pointing me to it, if it's not on your blog I though maybe you would know of a good post about it because this will be my first time ferminting something other than kefir and ginger beer. Thanks Kim

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    1. Hi Kim. Yes, I did a post on making kimchee with Sunny, who is a Korean chef. Here is it:

      http://down---to---earth.blogspot.com.au/2014/08/making-kimchi-with-sunny.html Good luck.

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  2. What an interesting post. Living mostly in the UK I don't know anything about lemon trees although when we are in NZ we enjoy the lemons from our neighbours's gardens. Just wanted to tell you about the "Frugal Soup" I made last week. Chicken stock from the freezer, a batch I had made from boiling up the chicken carcass. A small organic chicken which had made several meals from my husband and me: roast dinner, cold with fresh veggies, added to a veggie stir fry, then the boiled carcass stripped into a chicken and veggie soup. The remaining stock made two containers of stock which went into the freezer. One of those cartons so stock formed th basis of last Tuesday's soup. I sauteed and onion in oil, added a large diced carrot and the chopped frozen left over veggies from two meals we had when our Dutch visitors stayed a few days before. It was a medley of boiled and roast potatoes, pumpkin, parsnip, broccoli, green beans and carrot. I adde a fe dried chilli flakes and a dash of dried mixed herbs. Before serving I blitzed with the stick blender to make a smooth soup. It was absolutely delicious. My husband asked hat it was called and I christened it "Frugal Soup" as it was really just leftovers which could very well have gone to waste.

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    1. It sounds delicious, Linda. Well done!

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  3. So lovely to catch up with you and Hanno on Saturday , we were so happy you didn't have to endure what the weather threw at us on the Friday !
    Have fun back in the warm sunshine with all the garden work.

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    1. It was great to catch up with you too, Margaret. I loved seeing your gorgeous knitting too.

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  4. My little lemon tree is in a pot and needs some extra care too. Regards Kathy A, Brisbane

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  5. Good morning Rhonda. Our old lemon tree died a year or so ago and our new one is still in the pot and producing a few lemons. Our very old mandarin tree still produces well but has grown too high for us to be able to pick them without breaking our necks so it really needs to be pruned. We also have three orange trees with the sweetest juice. Apart from the lemon all our citrus trees are very very old.

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  6. We recently planted Meyer lemon, Key lime, and a honeybell tangelo in our back yard. Looking forward to having our own citrus soon--for years my dad was our source of Meyer lemons but his tree died last year, and when we moved a couple years ago we had to leave our orange tree behind, and we've missed it!

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    1. Yes, it's difficult moving on after you've grown your own fruit. Good luck with your new trees.

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  7. I am envious as where I live in the UK we cannot grow citrus though they sell them in garden centres lol enjoy.
    Pat

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  8. Hi Rhonda,
    Good info on citrus pruning, thanks.
    We have struggled for years with trying to establish a lemon, because the neighbours goats continually used to destroy them. After getting all our fences erected w e finally have one starting to grow .We also have a ruby grapefruit and this year planted two oranges and two mandarins, but they don't seem to be doing very well.We have fed them with citrus fertilizer and also iron chellates (they are very pale)..hopefully they will pick up.
    Your lemon crop was tremendous.
    Take care,
    Cheers.

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  9. I love the idea of being to go outside and pick your own lemons and oranges it must be so lovely. I don't know if we have the right climate here in England I am going to have do a little reading up on it. Enjoy yours, Delia :-)

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  10. The orange tree looks glorious. I love it that you can step into your garden and pick oranges and lemons; such an exotic thought here in the soggy old northwest of England where our summer temperature is hitting 18 damp and drizzly degrees celsius today. And you're in winter! Ah well and so - thank you for sharing your lemons and oranges with us - if I shut my eyes I can almost smell them. :-)

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  11. Oh how I wish I lived in such a luxuriously green climate. We get good weather here in France too (over 40 degrees last week) but I don't think an orange or lemon tree would be sustainable here because of the snow that we get. Still I can always dream. Oh, and since you posted about your garden cart I have ordered myself one (should arrive any day now). It certainly beats a wheelbarrow, which is getting too heavy for me. In fact, I have a lovely old photo of my kids when they were really little playing in their American grandparents cart. I hadn't realized it was a gardening cart - just thought it was a quaint old go-cart.

    I love your blog by the way Rhonda. Anna

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  12. Hi Rhonda, my climate does not permit me to grow citrus trees outside. Do you know if it is possible to keep the trees in pots and bring them indoors for the cold weather? Just wondering. Have a great day!

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    1. You can grow citrus in pots but the yield would not be as great as an in-ground tree. I think they had "orangeries" in England in former times and they were filled with citrus in pots. :- )

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  13. I've never seen an orange tree in my life. My husband worked in a tree nursery and after harvest and spaying the trees. Then they would prune trees
    Do you grow apples there? The reason I'm asking they do like a bit of cold.
    Coffee is on

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    1. It's possible to grow a variety of "tropical apple" here and they grow apples south of here. We can grow raspberries and blueberries but the rest of what we grow are tropical - bananas, passionfruit, pineapples, mangoes etc.

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  14. My gran had a lemon tree she grew from a pip. It reached from floor to roof and stood in a pot. We lived in a big old cold farm house in Norway so it never produced any lemons. Looked very pretty and unusual in those days though. Pam

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