QQ Along with our new home, we inherited a large orange tree, and I have no idea about the best way or time to prune it.—julie reis, oxnard, ca

A Th e most common pruning advice you will hear about orange trees, or any sort of citrus for that matter, is that they need none at all. And though that's a safe option, it's probably too conservative for most gardeners, especially with an older tree. Commercial growers, after all, prune their trees every few years to keep them a manageable size. But pruning citrus properly is very different from pruning apples, peaches, pears and other temperate fruits.

Citrus trees left to themselves form large shrublike mounds of branches draping down close to ground level.Their foliage protects the bark from sunlight, which can be seriously damaged if exposed to direct sun for even an hour or so. Pruning cuts that leave branches exposed to the sun can be very damaging.

So don't try to turn your orange tree overnight into something that makes nice shade for a picnic table. But do feel free to cut it back if it starts to outgrow its bounds or to get too tall for you to pick the fruit. And remove overcrowded growth inside the canopy of the tree— branches that are dead, damaged or rubbing against neighbors. If you think a lot of the tree needs to be removed, spread the work over several years.

The season for pruning citrus is winter, when the sun is less intense. If any of your cuts will expose remaining branches to direct sun, be ready to protect them imme-s diately with a coating of white paint. Use or

Z dinary latex paint diluted to about one-fourth

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