Modern citrus fruits, according to genetic analysis, are complex hybrids arising from
mandarin, pomelo, and citron ancestors, refined by more than four thousand years of cultivation.
Several citrus species and hybrids are called lime. A few of them are in commercial production or
sold by nurseries for residential use.
Form: Shrub or small tree.
Lifespan: Possibly 50 productive years.
Leaf retention: Evergreen.
Growth rate: Moderate to fast.
Mature Size: Citrus latifolia: 15-20' high and as wide, often 10-15'.
Flowers: White, five petals, fragrant to scentless. Reddish buds.
Bloom: Depends on cultivar. Often spring through fall, possibly
all year in regions without freezes.
Self-fruitful: All lime cultivars self-pollinate.
Years before fruiting: 3-6 for first fruits. 8-10 years
for full production. Remove all small fruit in the first 5 years to speed growth of roots, stems
Fruit: Round to oval, sometimes with a nipple at the blossom end.
Months for fruit to ripen: 5-6 after flowering. Limes are picked green
commercially, but they are mature when the skin is light green or pale yellow.
Storage after harvest: 6-8 weeks in refrigeration.
Leaves: Oval to lance-shaped, glossy green, slightly fragrant.
Stems: Thorny to thornless depending on cultivar.
Roots: Sometimes grafted onto a hardy rootstock.
Cultivars of Note:
Citrus australasica: Australian Finger Lime –
small leaves, cylindrical fruit filled with fleshy, round vesicles, fewer, separate seeds, and an
enjoyable lime-like flavor. Hybrids with other citrus species have produced a variety of
rind colors, including red. This species is known as lime caviar because the flesh is made up of
small, round, thin-skinned drops.
Citrus latifolia: Tahiti / Persian / Bearss Lime –
larger, oval fruit, seedless, dark green to light green at maturity, milder
flavor, grown commercially;
Citrus limettioides: Sweet / Palestinian Sweet / 'Adelina' Lime
– lemon-sized fruit, light green to yellow at maturity, refreshing sweet juice lacks acidity
(sourness), a plant that deserves wider residential use, and some would say, better-tasting than Tahiti
or Key lime;
Citrus aurantifolia: Key / Mexican / West Indian Lime –
Very frost sensitive, small round fruit, yellow at maturity, limited commercial production;
Citrus aurantifolia x japonica: Limequat –
a small hybrid of kumquat and key lime, with a lime-like flavor, somewhat more cold hardy than key
lime but not as hardy as kumquat. The rind is sweet and edible. Many consider this highly
productive plant to be the best residential lime;
Citrus hystrix: Makrut / Kaffir Lime –
its fragrant leaves are used in Asian cooking. The fruit has bumpy green to yellow skin, its rind
is used in Asian curry and Creole cuisine, and the unpalatable fruit juice is used in shampoos and
believed to kill head lice.
Wildlife: Attracts bees, insects, birds, and is a
food plant for the Giant Swallowtail butterfly caterpillar – see Pests, below.
Mammals may strip the bark off of young trees, consume fallen fruit, or climb the tree to eat
Toxic / Danger: For some cultivars, exposure to the rind oil and
sunlight, or tree sap, causes dermatitis in sensitive individuals. Possible thorns.
Cultivation and Uses
USDA hardiness zones: 9-11 for Tahiti, Sweet Lime, and Eustis Limequat;
10-11 for Key Lime and Finger Lime.
Chill hours: None.
Heat tolerant: Yes.
Sun: Full all-day sun, except for Finger Lime. Finger Lime is an
understory shrub or small tree that needs shade most of the day.
Drought tolerant: Depends on rootstock. Drought will damage the fruit
Water after becoming established: Deeply, monthly in winter to weekly
in summer, from the trunk to just beyond the canopy. Young trees need watering more often than older trees
even though older trees consume more water. A sign of insufficient water is leaves turning dull and curling
inward from the edges. Allow the top of the soil to become dry between waterings.
Soil: Well drained to prevent root rot, pH 5.6-6.5 (acidic to slightly
acidic). Alkaline soils will cause iron deficiency.
Fertilize: Do not fertilize the first two years.
Apply an organic fertilizer every month from mid-February to early October. Apply a citrus micronutrient
solution three times a year in February, May and August. Do not fertilize after October
to keep the plant from producing new growth that will be harmed by early frost.
Mulch: To protect evaporation during hot weather, and protect roots
in winter. Keep mulch 6" away from the trunk to avoid collar rot.
Planting: Can be grown in containers.
First Year Care: Water at planting, then every other day for the first
8 weeks, then twice a week for the first 3 years, reducing frequency with rainfall.
Prune: Only to remove dead and crossing branches. Do no prune branches
up to expose the trunk. This will cause sun scald on the bark which must be protected with tree trunk paint
Litter: Fruit if not harvested.
Propagation: Cuttings and air layering. The seed is highly variable
and may be sterile.
The Giant Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillar. This larvae
resembles bird poop and has white and black and/or brown splotches. On a large plant it will cause no harm.
On a small plant, relocate it to a large citrus.
See Citrus: Diseases and Disorders
Uses: Fruit, ornamental, shade.
Do you have additional information or a different
experience for this plant that you would like to share?
Email email@example.com. All contributions
are welcome and appreciated.