Citrus fruits called Limes are members of the Citrus family (Rutaceae) and Citrus genus.
According to genetic analysis, Limes are complex hybrids arising from mandarin, pomelo, citron
and hystrix ancestors, refined by thousands of years of cultivation. Key Lime, for example,
is a cross of Citrus hystrix with citron. Persian Lime, in turn, is Key lime crossed with
Lemon. Australian Finger Lime, the exception, is related to kumquat, but not C. hystrix.
Several citrus species and hybrids are called Lime because of their flavor. A few are
in commercial production or sold by nurseries for residential use.
A shrub or small tree.
50-150 years, with the first 50 being the most productive.
Moderate to fast.
Citrus aurantiifolia: 12-16' high and as wide.
White, five petals, fragrant to scentless. Reddish buds.
Depends on cultivar. Often spring through fall, possibly all year in regions without freezes.
All lime cultivars self-pollinate.
Years before fruiting:
Grafted: 3-6. Seed: 4-15 years after planting depending on species and cultivar.
For all species, remove all fruit when small, in the first 3-5 years, to speed the growth
of roots, stems and leaves.
Fruit: Round to oval, sometimes with a nipple at the
Months for fruit to ripen:
5-6 after flowering. Limes are picked green commercially, but most are mature when the skin
is light green or pale yellow.
Storage after harvest:
6-8 weeks in refrigeration.
Oval to lance-shaped, glossy green, slightly fragrant.
Thorny to thornless depending on cultivar.
These trees are grafted onto rootstock that is used to control the height of the tree
from dwarf, to semi-dwarf, to standard. The part of the tree above the graft, called the
scion, is selected for its desirable fruit. The rootstock is from a hardier species which
commonly has less tasty fruit.
Species / Cultivars of Note:
Citrus australasica: Australian Finger Lime –
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. The tree has noticeably smaller leaves.
Citrus x latifolia: Bearss / Persian Lime
– larger, oval fruit, seedless, dark green to light green at maturity, milder flavor,
Citrus aurantiifolia: Sweet / Palestinian Sweet
Lime – lemon-sized fruit, light green to yellow at maturity, refreshing sweet
juice lacks acidity (sourness);
Citrus aurantiifolia: Key / Mexican Lime –
Very frost sensitive, small round fruit, the standard for lime flavor, yellow at maturity,
limited commercial production;
Citrus aurantiifolia 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: Thai / Makrut Lime –
its fragrant leaves are used in Asian cooking. The fruit of this ancestral species has bumpy
green to yellow rind used in Asian curry and Creole cuisine, and unpalatable fruit juice
used in shampoos and believed to kill head lice.
Wildlife: The flowers attract bees and other pollinating
insects, and the leaves are food 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 the fruit.
Toxic / Danger: For some cultivars, exposure to the rind
oil or tree sap, and sunlight, causes dermatitis in sensitive individuals. Possible thorns.
Cultivation and Uses
USDA hardiness zones:
8b-10 for Limequat; 9b-11 for Persian Lime and Sweet Lime; 10-11 for Key Lime and Finger Lime.
Chill hours: None.
Heat tolerant: Yes.
Depends on rootstock. Drought will damage the fruit crop.
Full sun with afternoon shade, except for Finger Lime which is an understory shrub or small
tree that needs shade most of the day in hot climates.
The best time to plant a citrus tree is after the danger of frost is past, in late winter
or early spring.
Place limes trees in a sunny location, with afternoon shade, away from the coldest part
of the yard, and out of the wind. Finger Lime, the exception, needs part shade most of the
day. Do not position the plant next to a frequently watered location, such as grass. Make
sure there is enough space for the tree to grow to its full width and height, with clearance
to walk around and where overhead lines will not be a problem.
Dig a hole twice as wide as the rootball, with the root crown at 1-2" above ground level.
The top roots must extend out from the trunk, just above, and uncovered by, soil. The soil
should slope gently downward from the trunk to the drip line.
Lime trees can be grown in containers.
Well drained to prevent root rot. Do not amend the soil when planting. The roots will adjust
to the soil surrounding the planting hole.
Apply an organic fertilizer every month or two from mid-February to early October. Alkaline
soils will cause iron deficiency. Apply a citrus micronutrient solution as necessary when
leaves become yellow with green veins, signalling a micronutrient deficiency. Only use
products containing iron in chelated iron form, which is more easily absorbed by the plant.
Avoid chemical fertilizers because they increase salt build-up in the soil.
Do not fertilize after September to keep the plant from producing new growth that will be
harmed by early frost.
Water after becoming established:
for 1.5 hours or more until the water
has reached a 3' depth. The frequency of irrigation depends on the species, the age of the
tree and the month of the year.
For trees in the ground three years or more, irrigate as follows:
December-February, every 21-30 days; March-April, every 14-21 days; May-June, every 14 days;
July-September, every 10-14 days; October-November, every 14-21 days.
Inward leaf curling, when the leaves are uniformly green, or drooping leaves, are signs of
insufficient water. Solid yellow leaves are a sign of overwatering.
Water near the drip line, not at the trunk.
Apply organic mulch inside the drip line and 8" away from the trunk to reduce soil evaporation
and reduce root zone heat and cold stress. Place a rodent gnaw guard around the trunk at the
First Year Care:
Water at planting, then for the first month, every 2-3 days; for months 2-3, every 3-5 days;
from four months on, water according to temperature, from every 2-5 days July-September to
every 14 days December-February.
Prune only after danger of the last frost is over in late winter or early spring. Flower
buds develop during the winter dormant period, so pruning after the last frost makes it
possible to avoid excess flower removal.
Citrus trees are best grown as shrubs, so that leafy branches protect their entire trunk
from direct sun. Only prune the lowest branches if their tips touch the ground. If you prune
up from the bottom to expose the trunk, you must paint it with a tree trunk paint to avoid
Remove branches that are dead, damaged, diseased, or malformed. Remove any branches
growing less than 45° from the vertical because they may split away as they get larger.
Remove any new branches that have an angled cross section (malformed) rather than round.
These have restricted veins and will not fruit well.
Remove any branches growing from below the trunk graft as they occur. These are rootstock
branches, not fruiting stock branches, and will produce inferior fruit.
Never prune to restrict the size of a citrus tree. Rootstocks are used to control the
size of these trees.
Remove grass and other plants under the canopy that can compete for water and nutrients
by hand-pulling, not with tools that can damage roots close to the surface.
Low. Fruit if not harvested.
Most lime species are propagated by cuttings grafted onto rootstock. Plants grown from seed
take many years before they mature and start producing fruit.
The Giant Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillar 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.
Distorted leaf shapes are a sign of thrips, which do no real damage. Thrips are attracted
to plants that are given too much nitrogen or are overwatered.
For other problems, see
Citrus: Diseases and Disorders
Fruit, ornamental, shade.
This website uses World Flora Online
as the definitive source for plant species names.
Do you have additional information or a different experience for these plants that you would
like to share? Email info@GardenOracle.com. All contributions are welcome and appreciated.