Should I Cut the Thorns Off a Lemon Tree

prune lemon trees

Does lemon trees have thorns? Yes, they do.  Last week, I noticed my lemon trees and there were thorns everywhere. So I was thinking should I cut the thorns off a lemon tree or leave them be? Then, I sought advice from a seasoned garden expert.

He told me that, if you notice thorns on your lemon tree, check if they are growing from the rootstock below the graft, these are suckers and should be removed. For slightly thornier lemon tree varieties, it’s acceptable to remove individual inconveniently located thorns without harming the plant.

Whether or Not Should I Cut the Thorns Off a Lemon Tree?

When deciding whether to cut the thorns off a lemon tree, it’s important to consider the lemon tree variety you have. Many lemon varieties, particularly grafted ones, are intentionally bred to be thornless. 

If you notice citrus thorns on your lemon tree, check if they are growing from the rootstock below the graft, these are suckers and should be removed. For slightly thornier lemon tree varieties, it’s acceptable to remove individual inconveniently located thorns without harming the plant. 

However, cutting thorns off citrus trees offers no real benefits and may actually damage the tree. Thorns serve as a natural protection for the lemon tree, deterring pests and providing structural support. Removing all thorns may compromise the tree’s ability to defend itself and remain stable. 

Therefore, before taking any pruning shears to your lemon tree, carefully assess the situation and remember that a few thorns won’t harm your tree, but unnecessary removal might.

Are Lemon Tree Thorns Poisonous?

Lemon tree thorns, like those of many citrus trees, are not inherently poisonous. They do not contain toxic substances that can cause harm when touched or pricked. 

However, while lemon tree thorns themselves are not poisonous, they can still cause discomfort and skin irritation if they puncture the skin, much like any sharp object would. 

Some people may experience mild allergic reactions or localized inflammation as a result of thorn-related injuries. It’s essential to take precautions when working around lemon trees with thorns, like wearing gloves and long-sleeved clothing to minimize the risk of injury. 

In rare cases, infections can occur if a thorn puncture is not properly cleaned and treated, so it’s fundamental to address any wounds promptly. While lemon tree thorns may not be poisonous, their sharpness and potential for injury emphasize the importance of handling lemon trees and their citrus thorns with care.

Pros of Removing Lemon Tree Thorns

Although, there are times when removing thorns from lemon trees can offer several advantages:

  • Safety: Without thorns, handling and working around the lemon tree becomes safer and less hazardous. Gardeners and harvesters are less likely to get scratched or injured.
  • Ease of Maintenance: Thorns can make routine maintenance tasks, like pruning or inspecting for pests, more challenging. Removing them makes these tasks more straightforward and efficient.
  • Harvesting Convenience: Harvesting ripe lemons becomes a smoother process when thorns are absent. It allows for quicker and more comfortable fruit picking.
  • Aesthetic Appeal: Thornless lemon trees have a cleaner and more streamlined appearance. They can be more visually appealing in a garden or landscape setting.
  • Accessibility for Pollinators: Bees and other pollinators may find it easier to access the blossoms of a thornless lemon tree. This can promote better pollination and fruit production.
  • Enhanced Enjoyment: Gardeners and family members can move around and enjoy the lemon tree without the worry of encountering sharp thorns.
  • Reduced Irritation to Wildlife: Birds and other wildlife that frequent lemon trees for food or shelter may face fewer obstacles in a thornless environment.
  • Improved Garden Layout: Thornless lemon trees may be easier to incorporate into certain garden designs or smaller spaces, as they present fewer safety concerns.
  • Potential for Creative Pruning: Without thorns, gardeners have more flexibility in shaping and training the lemon tree for ornamental purposes.

Removing Lemon Tree Thorns

Cons of Removing Lemon Tree Thorns

While there are some advantages to removing thorns from lemon trees, it’s essential to consider the potential drawbacks as well:

  • Reduced Defense Mechanism: Thorns serve as a natural defense mechanism, deterring pests and herbivores from damaging the tree. Removing thorns may make the tree more vulnerable to insect infestations and browsing by animals.
  • Weakened Structure: Thorns also provide structural support to branches, especially on young lemon trees. Removing too many thorns can result in weaker branch structures that are more prone to breaking under the weight of fruit or adverse weather conditions.
  • Susceptibility to Sunburn: Thorns can offer some protection against sunburn on branches. Pruning them all off may expose the tree to sun damage, particularly in regions with intense sunlight.
  • Stress to the Tree: Excessive pruning, including thorn removal, can stress the lemon tree. This stress may lead to reduced fruit production or overall tree health.
  • Loss of Character: Thorny lemon trees have a unique and natural character. Removing all thorns can alter the tree’s appearance, potentially reducing its charm and authenticity.
  • Risk of Over-Pruning: Gardeners may get carried away with thorn removal and inadvertently over-prune the tree, leading to negative consequences for its growth and fruit production.
  • Expense and Effort: Removing thorns can be a time-consuming and labor-intensive task, especially on larger lemon trees. It may also require additional equipment or safety precautions.
  • Limited Nectar Resources: Thornless lemon trees may offer fewer nectar resources for beneficial insects, like bees and butterflies, potentially impacting pollination in the area.
  • Variety-Specific Considerations: Some lemon tree varieties are naturally thorny, and removing thorns may not be practical or necessary. Choosing a thornless variety from the start may be a better option.

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Factors to Consider

When contemplating the removal of thorns from a lemon tree, several important factors should be taken into account to make an informed decision:

  • Lemon Tree Variety: The variety of lemon trees you have plays a significant role. Some lemon tree varieties are naturally thornless, while others have varying degrees of thorns. Consider whether the thorns are a characteristic of your specific lemon tree variety.
  • Growth Stage: The age and growth stage of the tree matter. Younger trees may have more flexible thorns, and removing them could affect the tree’s development differently than on a mature tree.
  • Local Climate: The climate in your region can influence the decision. In areas with high humidity or frequent rainfall, thorns might help reduce disease by providing better airflow around the branches. Conversely, in arid regions, thorns may not be as critical for airflow.
  • Pest Pressure: Assess the prevalence of pests in your area. If your lemon tree is susceptible to pests, thorns may act as a natural deterrent. Removing thorns may increase the risk of infestations.
  • Personal Preferences: Your own preferences as a gardener play a role. Consider how much time and effort you are willing to invest in thorn removal and how important aesthetics and ease of maintenance are to you.
  • Garden Design: Think about the overall design and aesthetics of your garden. Thornless lemon trees may be more suitable in certain garden layouts, especially if they are close to walkways or gathering areas.
  • Purpose of the Tree: Determine the primary purpose of your lemon tree. Is it mainly for ornamental purposes, fruit production, or a combination of both? Your goals for the tree can influence your decision regarding thorn removal.
  • Local Wildlife: Consider the impact on local wildlife. Thornless lemon trees may provide fewer nesting opportunities for birds and less shelter for other creatures. Think about the biodiversity of your garden.
  • Maintenance Commitment: Assess your willingness and ability to maintain the tree. Thornless lemon trees may require less frequent pruning and may be easier to manage over time.

Alternatives to Thorn Removal

If you’re looking for alternatives to complete thorn removal from your lemon tree, there are several options to consider that can help you manage thorns without eliminating them entirely:

  • Selective Pruning: Instead of removing all thorns, consider selectively pruning only the thorns that pose the most inconvenience or safety hazards. This allows you to maintain some level of protection and structural support while reducing potential issues.
  • Thorn-Resistant Gloves: Invest in high-quality gardening gloves designed to protect your hands from thorns. This way, you can safely work with the lemon tree without worrying about scratches or injuries.
  • Pruning and Shaping: Prune your lemon tree strategically to shape it in a way that minimizes the impact of thorns on accessibility. Trimming branches that have excessive thorns can make it easier to move around the tree.
  • Mulch and Ground Cover: Apply mulch or ground cover around the base of the lemon tree. This can help create a barrier that discourages weeds and reduces the need for frequent ground-level maintenance, where thorns can be most problematic.
  • Thorn-Resistant Clothing: Consider wearing long sleeves and pants made of thicker materials when working near the lemon tree. This attire can provide an additional layer of protection against thorn scratches.
  • Regular Inspection: Routinely inspect your lemon tree for signs of disease or pest infestations. Early detection and treatment can reduce the tree’s reliance on thorns for defense.
  • Select Thornless Varieties: If you haven’t planted your lemon tree yet, opt for thornless lemon tree varieties. This is a proactive way to avoid dealing with thorns altogether.
  • Companion Planting: Some companion plants, like marigolds, can help deter pests from your lemon tree, potentially reducing the need for thorns as a defense mechanism.
  • Distract Pests: If pests are a concern, consider using traps, repellents, or other pest control methods to divert them away from your lemon tree.
  • Encourage Natural Predators: Attract beneficial insects and birds to your garden, as they can help control pest populations naturally, reducing the need for thorns as protection.

prune a lemon tree

How to Prune a Lemon Tree?

Pruning a lemon tree is an essential part of its care and maintenance. Proper pruning helps promote healthy growth, improve fruit production, and maintain an attractive shape. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to prune a lemon tree:


Pruning is typically done during the late winter or early spring before the tree starts actively growing. Avoid pruning during the fall or when the tree is flowering or bearing fruit.


You’ll need sharp pruning shears or loppers for small branches and a pruning saw for larger ones. Ensure your tools are clean and sharp to make clean cuts.


  • Assess the Tree: Begin by examining the lemon tree to identify the branches that need pruning. Look for dead, diseased, or damaged branches, as well as any overcrowded or crossing branches.
  • Remove Dead or Diseased Branches: Start by cutting off any dead or diseased branches. Make clean cuts just above the healthy tissue to prevent further problems.
  • Remove Suckers and Water Sprouts: Trim any suckers or water sprouts that emerge from the base of the tree or along the main branches. These growths divert energy from the rest of the tree.
  • Thin Out Overcrowded Branches: Identify branches that are too close together or overcrowded. Prune these branches to improve air circulation and allow sunlight to reach all parts of the tree. Trim them back to a lateral branch or bud.
  • Cut Crossing Branches: Remove branches that cross or rub against each other. This prevents damage and allows the tree to grow more evenly.
  • Shape the Tree: Lemon trees are typically pruned into an open vase shape to allow sunlight into the center of the tree. Trim the upper branches to create an open canopy. The goal is to create a balanced shape that encourages even fruit production.
  • Consider Fruit-Bearing Branches: Lemon trees bear fruit on the previous year’s growth. Be cautious not to prune too much of the current year’s growth, as this can reduce fruit production. Focus on older branches and deadwood.
  • Clean Up: Collect and remove all pruned branches and debris from around the tree to prevent the spread of disease or pests.
  • Optional Fertilization: After pruning, you can consider applying a balanced citrus fertilizer to promote healthy regrowth. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for the appropriate timing and dosage.

Monitor and Maintain 

Throughout the growing season, keep an eye on your lemon tree for any new growth that needs pruning. Regular maintenance will help keep the tree in good shape.

So, this is how to prune lemon tree and it will keep you to keep yourself safe from lemon tree thorns. We hope you become successful in pruning lemon trees. 


Do thorns affect lemon tree fruit production?

Thorns themselves do not directly impact fruit production. However, over-pruning or removing too many thorns can stress the tree and potentially reduce fruit yield.

Will cutting thorns affect the lemon tree’s ability to produce new growth?

Pruning thorns won’t significantly impact the tree’s ability to produce new growth. Lemon trees are resilient and can recover well from moderate pruning.

Can I remove thorns from a mature lemon tree, or is it best for younger trees?

Thorns can be removed from both young and mature lemon trees, but care should be taken not to over-prune mature trees, as they have established growth patterns.

Lastly, you can visit another article we wrote on the differences between Orchid Keiki and Flower Spikes to make it easier for you to identify.

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About Author


Hello, I’m Khandaker Mursalin, a writer and researcher in the field of English Literature and blog writing. In 2014, I met my wife for the first time in my class. We found out that we two have a great passion for plants and gardening. Our hopes, aims, and interests were quite similar. So, we decided to marry. Finally, we married in 2015. Back then we were younger and had no money to make a huge garden as both were students.

But our passion for plants never decreased. We believed that making a garden at home requires your passion rather than money. So, we kept collecting plants by any means. And now, we have a huge balcony garden with more than a few hundred specifies. Most of them are indoor plants and good for balconies. So, we decided to help and encourage people to keep plants in their homes. And Gardenmysteries is a part of our work.