- Lime Tree: How To Grow One And When To Expect Fruit? - October 1, 2021
The lime tree is among several species and hybrids of shrubs and trees in the rue (Rutaceae) family, which are classified by their citrus fruit, slow-growing plants, and insect pollination. All species thrive in tropical or subtropical climates found in places like the West Indies and Mexico.
There are 4 main types of lime trees: Tahiti lime trees (Citrus latifolia), key limes (Citrus aurantifolia), Thai limes (Citrus hystrix), and Rangpur limes (Citrus × limonia), each of which tastes different. The Persian lime (Tahiti lime) is the most common commercial variety, but Mexican limes (key limes) are a close second thanks to their use in key lime pies.
How to Identify Lime Trees
Lime trees are hardy, deciduous trees that can grow up to 20 feet (5 meters) but tend to rest around 12-15 feet on average. The lime fruits on the tree range between 1-1.5 inches (3-4 cm) in diameter, but before they’re produced, a cluster of white, five-petal flowers must form. Most lime tree genus flowers in the early Spring, fall off, and then bear fruit from May to July.
All varieties of lime trees primarily use insects, especially bees, to produce fruit. Most fruit farmers will plant multiple trees together to support cross-pollination, but this isn’t necessary if your backyard attracts many bees.
It takes 1-3 years for a lime tree to produce fruit, which starts as a green bud and grows larger until they are fully rounded or oval with small apical nipples.
Limes become a greenish-yellow when ripe and taste tender, juicy, and slightly acidic. However, Thai limes will appear rough and bumpy, while Rangpur limes resemble oranges in both color and taste. Limes are a member of the citrus subgroup and thus have many similarities:
- Citrus trees yield pulpy fruits covered in thick skin.
- Citrus plants are commonly evergreen trees or shrubs.
- The leaves of citrus plants are oval-shaped, many with thorns, including the lime.
- Flowers are white, five-petaled, and very fragrant.
- Fruits are considered a type of modified berry called a hesperidium, where the flesh is divided into individual segments packed with juice-filled quadrants.
- The rind (peel) is leathery and peppered with oil glands.
- Both the rind and fruit inside are edible and very delicious.
Despite the fact that limes need a warm climate to thrive, they can sustain frost or cold as long as the Winter or Fall temperature doesn’t dip below freezing. Still, you’re more likely to find lime trees in India, Mexico, and China, where they were prominent in the Old World as well as in the modern-day. Before limes were spread across the world, they were seen in the Indo-Pacific.
Kaffir limes, which are thought to be the first cultivated citrus fruit, were popular in Micronesia and Polynesia between 3000-15000 BCE. They spread into the Middle East and the Mediterranean during the spice trade and the incense trade routes around 1200 BCE. Limes were integral during British colonization for preventing survey while sailors were at sea.
Modern lime trees are grown and cultivated on a mass scale, where 6 countries produce 65% of the global production. Mechanized tree shakers and honey bee hives are often used to expedite production. The world production of limes (combined with lemons) exceeds 19 million per year.
Where Does Lime Tree Tree Grow
As an indigenous plant of Southeast Asia, South Asia, and the Indo-Pacific, lime trees will grow exceedingly well in Florida, Texas, and other Southern states. South Florida is a suitable place for growing limes and was originally the primary location of U.S. lime production until Hurricane Andrew decimated its orchards. For now, the U.S. mostly imports all of its lime from Mexico.
In specialty grocery stores, you may find limes from Brazil, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Honduras, Peru, Israel, Vietnam, or Guatemala. However, Mexico produces 26% of all Persian key limes, so you’ll likely come across Mexican grown limes over any other country.
Unless you live in the South, buying limes can be pricey but worth it if you reside in a state that experiences winter cold snaps. Growing an orchard of sustainable lime trees just isn’t possible in middle or upper America. However, if you’re lucky enough to live in a tropical or subtropical climate, you’ll cultivate between 30 to 50 pounds or 200 to 325 limes every single year.
Lime trees plant hardiness zones 9 through 11, which make up half of the United States and Southern coastal margins. Besides Hawaii, the Florida Keys are the warmest zone (11b). Winter lows range from 20°F (-6.6°C) in zone 9 to 40°F (4.4°C) in zone 11a. Persian limes are the hardiest of the bunch and can sustain low temperatures in zone 9 as long as the plant is mature.
Gardeners who live in zones 4 through 7 can grow hybrid dwarf lime plants indoors. These varieties only grow to 6 feet, grow fruit within 2 years, and produce up to 20 fruits each year.
All varieties need the appropriate temperature, water, soil, and sun conditions for their lime trees to thrive. These conditions become especially important if the tree is grown outdoors. Limes need at least 6 hours of direct sunlight (8 is best), a loose, rich, well-draining soil, and ground that has an acidic to neutral pH between 6.0-7.0 to stay happy long-term and healthy.
Salt, alkaline, and poor draining sites will prohibit fruit growth. So will flooding, extended cold periods, and too much shade. Lime trees are more vulnerable in the first 2-3 years of life but become much more hardy as adults. These trees need over 300 hours of sun exposure to grow.
As long as all the pre-requirements are met, most lime trees will bear a lot of fruit in their season with the help of insects and bees. Under excessive amounts of rainfall, most lime trees will develop diseases such as armillaria root rot, bacterial blast, and citrus nematode.
Uses of Lime Trees
Lime trees yield fruit that isn’t that distinguishable from the plant’s leaves. While this tree won’t add extra color to your backyard or home, that can also be their greatest benefit because it’ll blend in with the rest of your foliage. Lime trees make fragrant and beautiful landscapes when they flower and when their petals litter the ground. Plus, lime trees bloom earlier in the year.
Limes aren’t a fruit normally eaten on their own. Its high sugar and acid content make this fruit incredibly sour, but it isn’t uncommon for cultures to eat them straight for its high vitamin C content. Limeade, lime soup, lime pickles, guacamole, and lime zest have high lime content.
Indian, Mexican, Vietnamese, Thai, and Persian cuisine all heavily use lime in their dishes. Dried limes, or black lime, is a common spice used in Middle Eastern and Asian cuisine. Besides lime juice or as a garnish for cocktails, Americans use limes in key lime pies. While not common in Australia, desert limes are sometimes used for making marmalade.
Splashes of lime are common in highball cocktails, gin and tonic, and rum-based drinks like Daiquiris; Limes are also a prime ingredient in margaritas, and lime is often added to beer. Lime water is a good source of magnesium and potassium, which makes them a popular addition to water. Lime water has multiple benefits when consumed, including:
- Rejuvenating Skin
- Fighting Infections and Colds
- Improving Digestion
- Quickening Weight Loss
- Reducing Cholesterol Levels
- Lowering Blood Pressure
- Regulating Blood Sugar
- Preventing Multiple Cancers
When not consumed orally, lime is endlessly useful as a base for home and beauty products.
Extract of lime and lime essential oils are frequently used in cleaning products, perfume, and aromatherapy. Citrus, in general, is a natural antiseptic and antibacterial agent that smells great and doesn’t negatively affect the environment. Natural citrus (lemon or lime) cleaners are much less likely to produce an allergic reaction or aggravate lung, heart, or skin conditions.
While you don’t need to plant a lime tree to find and use this fruit, a mature plant can give you enough limes a year that, when consumed, can lead to the multiple health benefits listed.
How to Grow Lime Trees From Seed
Growing lime trees from seeds are quite easy, but like most plants grown from seeds, lime trees need a lot of love and attention in their early years. All citrus plants are slow-growing, which means they need several years with good growing conditions to flower and bear fruit.
Before planting your lime seeds into soil, check the seed viability by placing them in a glass of water. If they sink to the bottom, they should produce a plant. When taking them out of the glass, rinse them off gently to remove any jelly-like substances that could prevent growth. Select at least 50 seeds, as only 50% will fully germinate and start to create roots and saplings.
Remove the seed coat to speed up germination time and place seeds on a wet paper towel. Cover your seeds with a wet paper towel for 3 days and keep checking on them to ensure they stay moist. Spritz the paper towel as often as needed, as long as the seeds aren’t drowning.
When there is at least an inch of roots, sow the seedlings in a potting mixture. Plant the seed immediately at about ¼ to ½ inches deep in a container with well-draining soil. Place your pot in a warm, sunny location in direct sunlight. Avoid leaky windows during the winter months.
In 2-3 weeks, the seedlings should reach 6 inches (15 cm) tall. Remove them from their communal container and place each germinated seed in individual pots. In about 3 years, your lime tree should start producing limes, but some may never bear fruit. Citrus plants aren’t difficult to grow but are finicky when it comes to blooming flowers or fostering pollination.
Planting Lime Trees from Sapling
You likely won’t have much issue growing your lime tree from a seed, but whether or not they produce fruit is suspect. For a more reliable solution, grow lime trees from a sapling. Keep in mind that lime trees aren’t self-pollinating and need a bit of help. Buy more than one plant, two different plant varieties, or multiple different types of lime trees to ensure cross-pollination.
These helpful tips will help you when you plan to plant a lime tree from sapling:
- Always use well-draining soil to plant your trees. Without it, your plant may suffer from root rot if too much water sits around the roots. Apply a drying soil, like a humus-rich variety, to sop away excess humidity or rainwater should a heavy storm occur.
- Dig a hole large enough that can contain the lime tree roots. Don’t bend the taproot.
- Be careful when removing your lime tree from its original pot and check to see if any loose roots are broken. Snip them at an angle and place them in the ground at a similar depth to what was planted in the pot. Use the bare roots to guide your placement.
- Remove immediate surrounding weeds, mulch, or anything else that could hurt the tree.
- Water the base of the tree until the soil is moist but not soaking. Apply more fertilizer around the tree and gently mix it in with the wet soil until it’s soft and malleable.
- Tap the soil each time you add more, but don’t overcrowd or tighten the soil.
- Prune no more than half of the branches and leaves on the trees. Although your lime tree looks bare now, it will grow quicker and easier if the root system can foster.
Keep checking on your lime tree to make sure it takes to its new soil. If you notice your lime tree wilting, move it to a spot with more light or less water runoff. Add more nutrient-enriched soil.
Lime Tree Growing Conditions
Since they are in the same family as other citrus plants, lime trees can grow with seeds that are lined within the fruit.
However, while most inexperienced growers can produce a fully mature lime tree from a seed, it’s easier to grow a young sapling and plant it within the soil in states with mild or no Winters. Young saplings can grow lime fruits in their 2nd or 3rd year of maturing.
The most tedious part of lime trees is cropping and snipping the leaves, which is to say they aren’t fussy at all. In warm, dry weather conditions without frosty Winters, your lime tree will keep producing fruit. Lime trees are quite drought resistant once they’ve reached adulthood.
- Never plant lime trees outside during a frost, or you’ll kill them instantly. The best time to plant rooted lime trees is after the rainy season or during the dry summer months.
- Alternatively, you can place your potted lime trees outside when it becomes warm.
- Lime trees will thrive in free-draining soil with plenty of airy space.
- They need round-the-clock direct sunlight and loathe shade.
- When grafting, ensure it’s above soil level, preferably halfway up the stalk.
- Citrus trees are deep-rooted, so they need a large hole that fits their root system.
- Keep the surrounding area clean of debris and vegetation to foster healthy growth.
- Once the tree flowers in its 2nd year, prune the tree frequently.
Growing a lime tree, whether it’s from seed or sapling, is incredibly rewarding. Even if your tree doesn’t bear fruit, it may be from no fault of your own. Keep trying with multiple saplings.
Harvesting Lime Trees
Most limes can be picked between the late Spring and early summer, but mature trees can keep bearing fruit into early fall. Popular varieties of lime, like the Persian lime and Mexican lime, are ready when they turn a greenish-yellow.
Kaffir limes become very bumpy when they’re ripe, and the Rangpur lime will turn from a deep green to a bright orange, making ripe fruit easy to spot.
Limes are hardy enough that they can be shaken down, but it’s more economical to pick your limes off the tree. Your limes won’t all be ready at once and keep better if they stay growing on the tree. Depending on your height, you can pick the lime directly off the tree without a ladder.
Once picked, you can prepare new seeds by gently removing them from a ripe, peeled lime. Put the seed out to dry by placing them on a paper towel in the sunlight. Lime seeds will dry fully in 4-5 days. As soon as they feel sandy to the touch, put them in a dry place away from moisture.
When to Plant Lime Trees
Whether you plant your tree inside or in your backyard, the best time to plant all citrus trees is in March and April. If you live in a tropical or subtropical climate, you can get away with planting them any time of the year. Smaller trees are easier to plant and pose a lesser risk of transplant shock, which is why you must prune your plant immediately after you place it in the soil.
How to Plant Lime Trees
Lime trees prefer temperatures of over 50 °F and can’t handle prolonged Winter or Spring frost. In states that experience Winter, it’s advised to plant the trees in containers and bring the trees indoors. Lime trees prefer large, open windows with south-facing sun. Outside, trees may need a garland of warmer, stringed lights that can cushion them in a blanket of warmth in the cold.
To support cross-pollination, lime trees need to exist with other trees or plants that can help pollinate each other. Other fruit trees are preferred since insects are attracted to their sweet-smelling flowers. Citrus trees may not produce fruit at all in incorrect conditions or during floods.
Citrus trees are deep-rooted plants that prefer fertile, well-draining soil. By no means large, these trees still need to be planted 12 to 25 feet apart. Dwarf citrus trees can be set 6 to 10 feet apart. The exact distance depends on variety, but the bigger the fruit, the wider the space.
Lime trees need to be planted in a large hole approximately two times the width of their roots. Before planting, ensure they are placed in a sunny, wind-protected area that won’t receive any runoff from downspouts or hills. Pruning is necessary to ensure your trees grow healthy.
Lime Tree Water Requirements
With ample irrigation, your lime tree will yield a good harvest. Although lime trees need consistent moisture to grow well, they cannot be drowned in water. Water the soil deeply once or twice a week rather than frequent shallow watering. The roots of the lime tree don’t do well under a steady stream of water and desire a dry climate rather than the alternative.
Never use bark mulch to cover the tree’s canopy, or mold and root rot will follow. Yellowing and coupling leaves are common overwatering symptoms, so cut back on the moisture until the dropping leaves perk up. Only excessively water your lime tree when it’s growing from a seed. Saplings should only receive minimal water as well, but avoid drying out your lime tree.
Keep the same watering schedule for indoor plants, but move the pot away from the window if you notice frost collection on the soil. Depending on how dry your house is, you may need to water more frequently. When the soil is dry to about 6 inches, water the lime tree again.
Lime Tree Sun Requirements
Lime trees, like all citrus trees, need at least 6 to 8 hours of sun per day. Place your lime tree near a sunny window. You may need a UV lamp in the Winter if you live in the Northern states. Keep all varieties of lime trees around 55 to 85 °F, but 65 °F is ideal. Sudden changes in temperature will harm your tree, so keep lime plants away from raiders, heaters, and doors.
Best Lime Tree Fertilizer
The ideal lime tree fertilizer should include a high nitrogen percentage, but copper, magnesium, zinc, and boron are also important. Stick to fertilizers that have the following key indicators:
- Quality Ingredients
- 2:1:1 NPK (more nitrogen than potassium and phosphorus)
NPK relates to the three primary nutrients plants need to thrive: nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Nitrogen benefits overall growth, phosphorus assists in root development, and potassium keeps your lime tree hardy. Although all high-quality fertilizers contain these nutrients, lime trees need a 6-3-3 mixture with an acidity rating between pH 6.0-7.0.
Organic fertilizers contain no synthetic material, pesticides, and herbicides, which can damage plants and animals. Slow-release mixtures can last for several months and are gentle on tree roots. Finally, fresher fertilizers are considered quality and therefore easier to digest for the tree.
Best Lime Tree Companion Plantings
Companion plants are primarily used to help with pollination and to repel certain pests. Many of the following flowers and trees can improve the soil and make your lot more visually appealing.
- Wildflowers: Flowers like daisies, poppies, lupine, and bee balm attract pollinators.
- Lavender: Oily lavender is uninteresting to pests, ticks, and fleas, but bees love them.
- Comfrey: The taproots of comfrey bring nutrients up from lower soil and repel snails.
- Rosemary: This herb blooms around the same time as citrus and helps with drainage.
- Nasturtium: Edible and beautiful, nasturtiums attract aphids away from trees.
- Legumes: Clover specifically puts more nitrogen in the soil and restores depleted land.
- Chives: Garlic and onions have antifungal properties and repel maggots and mites.
Avoid planting anything that has deep roots because they compete with lime trees for nutrients. Tubers and root vegetables may die if they aren’t mature and deplete the lime tree’s soil.
Lime Tree Diseases and Common Problems
Citrus plants are susceptible to multiple diseases that are typically caused by adverse weather conditions, not enough sun, too much water, or a wide variety of pests.
- Bacterial Blash: Creates leaves with black lesions caused by heavy rain.
- Armillaria Root Rot: Sparse canopy of pale, wilted leaves when roots are sick.
- Sooty Mold: Blackish mold created by suckling insects, like aphids or scales.
- Citrus Canker: A scabby lesion that occurs when the fruit is cold or sunburnt.
- Phytophthora: Leafless branches of yellow leaves caused by excessive rain.
- Dothiorella Blight: Drooping twigs that decay and die due to lack of nutrients.
- Exocortis: Low fruit yields which occur in older trees that need to be uprooted.
- Stubborn Disease: Stunted young trees that occur from Phytophthora.
- Pests and Bugs: Many pests and pugs are attracted to this tree’s sweet smell.
Keeping your tree healthy by giving it adequate sun, water, soil, and protection from harsh weather conditions will ensure that the above diseases or problems won’t affect your lime tree. Planting companion plants that keep pests away from your tree can help prevent multiple pest-related issues, like sooty mold, nutrient leakage, termite damage, and devoured fruit.
Lime Tree Treatments and Maintenance
To ensure your lime tree is happy and healthy, keep the following maintenance tips in mind:
- Protect your lime tree from diseases – When harvesting your limes, never use dirty or rusted garden equipment that could taint the taste of your fruit or affect the tree.
- Deter pests and insects – The sweet-smelling lime tree, many pests, and insects are naturally attracted to its fruit. While most of your limes will stay safe in the tree, once they fall to the ground, pests will swarm. To avoid this, pick up all the decaying fruit and throw it away from the tree. Composted fruit is a great fertilizer for other plants.
- Fertilize your tree every Spring – Mature plants are hardier and will only need a refresher on soil every Spring in warm climates. Younger lime trees will need a higher quantity of nitrogen-rich soil to cultivate their growth, wellbeing, and eventual maturity.
- Water your tree once or twice a week – Lime trees don’t need a lot of water, but they still require damp soil and an infrequent watering schedule. The ideal amount of water varies depending on the size of the tree but only hose your tree once or twice a week.
Check the perimeter of your lime tree daily to ensure it’s free of disease, or if it’s contracted a disease, you’ll have enough time to limit the spread or cure it before needed to uproot it.
How to Remove Lime Trees
Lime trees, including hybrid varieties, have a lifespan of over 50 years. With enough care, patience, and disease prevention, they can live for over 100 years. Some diseases, like citrus cankers or sooty mold, can take over the tree in 3 to 5 years. If this happens, you’ll need to uproot the tree immediately to ensure your other plants don’t fall ill or become nutrient-deprived.
To transplant or remove a lime tree, you’ll need to secure the tree’s branches with twine, dig about 18 to 24 inches deep for root pruning, and dig out the tree. Wrap the root ball with a burlap sack and throw out the diseased tree. For transplanting, re-follow the planting steps in this article.
Where to Buy Lime Tree Seeds Online
There are plenty of places you can buy tree seed online, including:
Alternatively, you can buy limes at the grocery store and remove their seeds for planting.
Where to Buy Lime Tree Saplings Online
There are plenty of places you can buy ready-to-plant tree saplings online, including:
Alternatively, you can browse local nurseries that have an online shop and shipping.
Answer: Under the right conditions, most lime trees will take 2 to 3 years until they can bear large limes. Most lime trees grow at a rate of 13 to 24 inches each year unless they’re a Dwarf Lime Tree, in which the growth rate is cut by half. It takes 8 to 10 years for lime trees to reach full production. At this point, you’ll cultivate between 200 to 325 limes every single year.
Answer: Although this can often be confusing for gardeners who wish to grow lime trees that bear lime fruit, the tilia tree is often called a “lime tree” despite it having no relation to the citrus. Teli is an old name for a lime tree, but most countries have abandoned that name. Now, the tilia tree is called the basswood in North America and the linden in many European countries.
Answer: No, you don’t need more than one lime tree to produce fruit as long as it’s planted outdoors. Indoor lime trees should be taken outside in the summer to cultivate more fruit, but if you place two lime trees immediately next to each other, they should cross-pollinate. Ideally, you’ll live in a climate that allows you to place potted lime tree plants outside for pollination.
- University of Florida
- University of California (Rangpur Limes)
- University of California (Disease)
- Research Gate
- Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
- Farmers Almanac
- Britannica (Limes)
- Britannica (Citrus)
- Britannica (Rutaceae)
- Gardening Know-How
- USDA Agricultural Marketing Service