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Guide to Pruning an Orange Tree in Australia

If you have a lovely orange tree growing in your backyard, you might wonder how to prune it correctly so that you don’t sacrifice any of the developing fruit but still keep the tree nice and healthy.

Pruning citrus trees is a little different from pruning other types of fruit trees. In this guide, I’m going to walk you through the best practices for pruning your orange tree.

When is the optimum time to prune your orange tree?

The absolute best time to prune your orange tree is in late winter or early spring. You want to do the pruning just before the tree starts to flower abundantly with the new crop. However, if your area receives late frosts, then you might have to wait until late spring.

On the other hand, if you live in the tropics and the weather stays warm all year round, you can prune your orange tree any time during the year. But, you will find that the tree will be healthier and put on more new growth if you prune no later than the end of summer.

Only prune selectively

Before you start pruning, take a step back and look at the canopy of your tree. With orange trees, it’s important not to give your tree an all-over prune because you might end up removing all the branches that are going to fruit.

Orange Tree 1 | Plant care

Only cut the longest branches that are growing beyond the normal canopy of the tree. This includes laterals that are getting too long and also long upright branches that are trying to escape the general canopy of the tree.

As a general guide, you only want to cut these longer branches around 30 cm inside the line of the canopy. After these cuts are made, new growth will start from the cut site and this will bear the following season’s crop. 

Orange Tree Pruning 2 | Plant care

To avoid stressing your tree and sacrificing a nice juicy crop of oranges, never cut more than around 20 percent of the total growth of the tree.

Remove dead or damaged branches

Once you cut back some of the longer branches, it’s time to look inside the canopy of the tree and remove any dead or damaged branches as well. You should also cut back any branches that are crossing others as the constant rubbing of one branch against another will eventually damage the wood.

Orange Tree Pruning 1 | Plant care

The other thing that you want to do at this stage, is to remove any low branches that are very close to the ground, especially if they’re touching the soil. You should aim to have the canopy of the tree around 1 metre above the ground. Ultimately, this increases airflow and reduces the risk of fungal diseases attacking your tree.

If your orange tree is newly planted, you might find a couple of suckers appearing near the base of the tree. If these are below the graft point, they will need to be removed as close to the main trunk as possible.

Check for gall wasps

Gall wasps are insects that lay their eggs in the soft stems and this results in a swelling at that spot. Too many of these on your orange tree can weaken the tree itself.

gall wasp nest | Plant care

Therefore, you should prune these off just behind the swelling and either burn the branches or dispose of them in the bin after placing them into a sealed bag.

However, if you notice tiny pinpricks in the galls, it means that the wasps have already emerged and you don’t have to remove these.

In saying that, in my last home, I had two very old lemon trees in the backyard that were infected with gall wasps. While I removed some of these during the annual prune, I didn’t get all of them and the trees were still laden with lemons every year.

FAQ

Should I remove all oranges off my tree?

It’s not necessary to remove all the fruit from your orange tree before pruning it. In fact, the longer that oranges stay on the tree, the sweeter they’re going to be.

How do you encourage an orange tree to produce fruit?

Orange trees require potassium and a good amount of water to fruit profusely. If you have an open fireplace that produces ashes, scatter these around the base of your tree. Wood ashes contain loads of potassium and this is what I did to get my lemon tree to fruit profusely after it hadn’t set any fruit for a couple of years.

Photo of author

Annette Hird

Annette Hird is a gardening expert with many years of experience in a range of gardening related positions. She has an Associate Diploma of Applied Science in Horticulture and has worked in a variety of production nurseries, primarily as a propagator. She has also been responsible for a large homestead garden that included lawn care, fruit trees, roses and many other ornamental plants. More recently, Annette has concentrated on improving the garden landscape of the homes that she has lived in and focused a lot of energy on growing edible plants as well. She now enjoys sharing her experience and knowledge with others by writing articles about all facets of gardening and growing plants.

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