The Q&A Archives: Pruning Orange Trees

Question: I have an orange tree that's never been pruned and the branches are hanging on the ground. It produces huge amounts of fruit that are small and tart. There are a lot of dead branches on the inside of the tree. I have watered hoping that would make the fruit sweeter, but it didn't. How should I prune this tree, and how can I make the fruit sweeter?

Answer: There are many kinds of citrus trees, some produce sweeter fruits than others. You may very well have one of the sour orange trees and there's nothing you can do to make the oranges sweeter tasting. Orange trees usually produce fruit at the ends of branches, so yours seems to be following its natural growth habit. You can safely trim your tree back to improve its shape. You may get a smaller fruit crop, but your tree will recover within a season and begin producing heavily again. Start by removing all of the dead branches and limbs, then cut the healthy branches back by about a third. If you remove too much growth, you'll open up the bark and limbs to more sunshine than they're used to and they may become sunburned. Try to reshape your tree over two or three years, rather than all at once. Orange trees grow vigorously, so once you rehabilitate it, be sure to prune it back annually.

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