There might be nothing out of the ordinary about a lime… at first glance. However, limes come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes and even colors! From the shocking red rind of the blood lime to the long tubular Australian finger lime oozing caviar looking spheres, lime tree varieties are a whole world unto themselves.
Limes are warm loving citrus trees, but if you live in colder climates don’t despair! There are a few ways that you can get this wonderful fresh fruit into your garden. Growers in regions 3-8 can choose to grow in a container and simply bring the tree in during the colder months. For gardeners wanting a classic lime, try growing the Persian lime tree or key lime tree. For the adventurous chefs, the kaffir lime may be the tree for you.
Lime trees, like any citrus tree, have a few key needs in order to grow well. Make sure that they get enough warmth, not too much water, have well-draining soil, and add fertilizer to their soil a few times of year. With this kind of loving care, they’ll grow sometimes up to 20 feet tall and provide mounds of limes that can be used in the kitchen for all to enjoy!
Types of Limes
Mexican lime trees produce one of the most commonly found limes in the US and have many names including the key lime tree. Their fruit is the most commonly found lime in the supermarket with green flesh and slightly smaller than a lemon. The Citrus aurantifolia is also known as the West Indian lime and can grow to be a 15 ft. tall tree that lives up to 150 years! A very cold-sensitive tree with a dense crown, this is a great option for growers in warmer climates looking for a tree that can provide both fruit and shade. This is a great citrus type to add to guacamole or pico de gallo!
A rare type of Indo-Malayan lime, this slightly larger variety of lime citrus is actually a bit bigger than the standard lime and is only mature once it turns a pale yellow. Measuring 6 centimeters wide, it is in season from the middle of fall through winter. A rare type of lime tree, this type of lime can be used interchangeably with a key lime when making key lime pie due to its tart yet sweet flavor.
Australian Finger Lime
The Australian finger lime or Microcitrus australasica is also known as the caviar lime for the small spherical insides of the fruit, called vesicles, and ooze out once a ripe finger lime has been cut into. This type of citrus tree is from Australia and has a tubular dark green exterior about 3 in. long and a very pale green interior. This type of lime tree is new to the American market but is increasingly popular for its very strong taste. It’s increasingly common to find these fruits in cocktails and other gourmet drinks.
As an ornamental lime tree, this fast-growing fruit tree can reach up to 20 feet in height and is quite beautiful. The leaves are pretty small and compact with thorn covered branches and delicate white flowers.
Tahiti Lime: Persian Lime
Also a type of Tahiti lime tree, the Persian lime along with the Bearss is the most commonly sold type of lime in the US. This widely grown lime tree is also a cross between a key lime and a lemon tree and yellows when it reaches full ripeness. For the home grower, this tree can get up to 20 ft. tall and can even grow branches with thorns on it. It grows well in zones 9-11 and is less acidic than other varieties of lime trees.
Tahiti Lime: Bearss Lime
Tahiti lime trees come in two main varieties. One of them, the Bearss lime tree which grows in California and is seedless, is a dark green lime that matures at a light green almost yellow color. It’s a cross between a key lime tree and a lemon tree. The main crop arrives in winter and goes through the late spring. It has a long shelf life helping it to dominate the commercial market. It’s closely related to the Persian lime which is the Florida-grown variation of the Tahiti lime tree.
A very rare type of citrus, blood limes, Citrus australiasica var. sanguinea are grown almost exclusively in Australia. Named for their blood-red rind, this was a hybrid that was created to be salt-resistant for a specific region of Australia. With smaller and sweeter fruits than the standard lime, this interesting citrus tree can also be grown as an ornamental.
The kaffir lime tree is also known by its more politically correct name the ‘Makrut lime tree’ due to the racist origins of the word ‘kaffir’ by English colonists. Make sure to wear gloves when collecting this fruit from these lime trees! It gets its Latin name of Citrus hystrix from the word hystrix which means hedgehog, referring to the thorny branches growing all over the tree. Take care when harvesting the fruits from this lime tree, as those thorns can get pretty sharp!
Originally from Indonesia, both the limes and the leaves of the plant are used. Unlike with most other lime trees, this fruit is not grown for its juice, but rather the zest of the odd-looking bumpy rind and the tasty leaves that are both commonly used in Thai and Indonesian food.
The kaffir lime tree needs a lot of warmth and humidity, growing in zones 10-12, it can grow up to 25 feet tall.
Also known by two different names, the Ranpur lime tree or Mandarin lime tree looks more like a mandarin than a lime. The color of an orange both inside and out, the Citrus x. limonia osbeck originates from Bangladesh and can surprisingly be used interchangeably with fruits from other lime trees.
Sometimes called the Calamondin lime tree, this hybrid type of lime comes from the Philippines and also has orange-colored flesh. The juice of this citrus fruit is sour, but it’s prized for the rind which is sweet. While it looks like a tangerine, it is in fact a lime!
The lemon-lime tree is actually two trees in one. This modern-day convenience is actually a mixing of the Meyer lemon trees and fragrant key lime trees. This plant was created for the family garden to maximize space and flavor. These trees are often grown in a container in cooler zones and brought indoors in the fall, this self-fertile plant grows both limes and lemons.
Lime Tree Tips
Lime trees are heavy feeders and need regular feeding. If using chemical fertilizer or an organic granular fertilizer, apply three times a year around the base of the plant and water it into the soil. Lime trees need nitrogen to help with leaf growth, as well as phosphorus to produce flowers. They also need magnesium, boron, copper, and zinc in order for the fruits to develop well.
If you choose to care for your lime trees with an organic fertilizer like compost or manure, it’s best to fertilize more frequently. As with most citrus trees, don’t fertilize until the plant has been established and several inches of growth appear on the tips of branches.
Lime trees, in general, do well with infrequent but deep watering with more care during a hot summer and much less during winter. As a lime tree can easily die in standing water, less is more.
A way to tell that your lime trees need water is by checking the top few inches of soil. If it’s dry, water slowly but deeply to allow the soil time to absorb the water. If growing in containers, make sure that the container is not in a tray of standing water. To water deeply, install a drip line or soaker hose so that water can slowly sink through the soil.
Make sure to give your lime tree regular prunings. Generally, once a year or every other is all that is needed, but a few key parts of the tree need to be removed.
Just like with other fruit trees, remove wood that is growing crossed or tangled as this can create a habitat that attracts pests. Additionally, remove wood that is dead or diseased. Make sure to use clean and disinfected loppers as diseases can be transferred by a dirty blade when cutting.
Many types of citrus trees suffer from cold damage, and limes are no exception. Most limes are not cold hardy and in zones below zone 9 need to be grown in a pot or container and brought indoors before a frost. The key lime can have severe damage in just 30 minutes of the cold air!
Make sure to keep an eye on evening temperatures as this is when cold temperatures drop the most. If you can’t bring in your lime trees, you can make sure to protect them by wrapping sheets or frost blankets around the branches and trunk of the tree.
When to Plant
Finding a sunny spot is the most important rule to keep in mind when planting your lime trees. Keep in mind that different spots of the garden can get more sun at different times of the year. Take care to create a planting area that will drain well and free of pooling water.
Planting should happen either in the late spring or early fall for the plant’s best shot at thriving. Lime trees need temperate weather conditions to encourage root growth before they can make it through the chill of winter or particularly hot summer.
Citrus trees, limes included, can be propagated by taking a cutting of the plant and placing it in a rooting medium of soil or sand with good drainage.
You’ll want at least a 6 to 8 inch long cutting from a healthy and vigorous branch. Remove most of the leaves except for 2 or 3 so the cutting can put its energy into growing roots. It’s common for roots to develop after two months at which time you can harden it off and transplant outside.
One of the best ways to prevent infestations is to keep your lime trees well pruned so that air can circulate between the leaves and branches. Try using organic methods to battle pests such as neem oil and insecticidal soaps to kill and prevent scale, mites, and aphids.
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