The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

How to prune a dwarf lemon

Tipping the lemon out of the pot

If you keep potting your dwarf Meyer lemon up into the next size pot each year, it will grow into a beast too heavy to maneuver out the door.  Putting our house plants outside in the summer is the sum-total of my pest management plan, so I chose to instead use some bonsai techniques to keep the dwarf citrus at a manageable size.

Pruning the roots

I waited until I'd harvested all of the fruits, but made sure to time my pruning to come before the lemon tree opened its first blooms.  With Mark's help, I yanked the tree out of its pot and used a bread knife to shave off about a third of its root ball.


Cutting back roots helps miniaturize the tree, and also ensures that the lemon won't get rootbound and strangle itself when roots circle the inside of the pot.  Meanwhile, the technique allows me to replace a third of the potting soil with well composted manure, which will make sure our darling lemon gets plenty of micronutrients to round out its weekly meals of diluted urine.

Pruned lemon tree

To counteract the stress of suddenly cutting off part of the tree's feeding apparatus, I also trimmed away about a third of its branches.  I'd never actually pruned the lemon before, so I focused on shaping it to an open center system, removing twigs that were shaded under other branches.  I tried to leave as many of the branches with tiny bloom buds as possible, but figured the long term shape of the tree trumped the current year's fruit.  (If I was pruning a young tree, I'd try to focus on three main limbs, but I didn't want to make my changes to drastic on this long-unpruned tree.)

My root pruning is relatively major surgery, so I'll keep a close eye on our lemon for the next week or so.  Hopefully it'll bounce right back and start opening those flower buds that dot its branches.

Get ready for spring chickens with a POOP-free chicken waterer.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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