With spring just around the corner at the time of this writing, many people are considering branching out this year with their gardening and are looking into growing a plant they haven’t grown before. One of the most popular searches right now is how to grow citrus fruit trees such as lemon and lime. Growing these type fruit trees outdoors can be tricky. They require moist soil, warm climates with lots of light, great drainage and don’t tolerate cold very well.
Indoors though, you create your own climate. For starters, the weather is a non-factor indoors. Growing indoors holds some advantages over outdoor growing. You control the weather to include lighting, watering, feeding, proper temperature and humidity. Not to mention your risk of invasive insects or rodents attacking your tree is practically nil. Citrus trees are fun and pretty easy to grow.
But before we get into how to grow them, let’s learn a little history about Limes in America.
The Sunshine State
Back in the 80’s and early 90’s of last century, Homestead, Florida, was practically the lime capitol of America. The naturally warm gulf climate filled with plenty of sunshine and rain made for the perfect growing environment. And while limes were popular back then, today, we Americans consume 10 times the amount of limes compared to the 1980’s. Where once we consumed a half-pound of limes per person per year, we now consume about 3 pounds per year. That’s a lot of Margaritas.
‘Tis an Ill Wind That Blows
Things were growing well for those Floridian farmers with their lime groves. Then in 1992, Mother Nature unleashed her fury in the form of Hurricane Andrew. Andrew made landfall in Dade County, Florida, (Homestead’s county) and pretty much wiped out all the lime groves there; essentially ruining the lime industry in Florida.
After a slow comeback tragedy struck again. In the year 2000, another plague found its way to Florida. This time in the form of a disease known as citrus canker. The Department of Agriculture, along with the orange growers, were afraid the disease would spread by wind and rain to their groves. They soon required that any lime tree that had fruit with a canker had to be burned along with all surrounding trees. The trees were cut down, bulldozed into piles and burned. Effectively ending lime production in the USA by 2007. Today we import 97% of our limes from Mexico.
But That’s Okay…We Can Grow Our Own!
With just a little TLC and some patience, practically anyone can grow a lime tree. You can grow from seed or buy a plant that is already established. My issue with seed is that they take a while to get going. You have to germinate them, wait for a shoot, plant them and wait for them to grow. Sometimes it takes a couple years or longer (if at all) before you get fruit but take heart, there are easier ways. I recommend buying the living plant. It costs more initially but well worth it to me.
If you’d like to begin with a nice little tree that may reach 6 or 7 feet tall eventually and produce limes within the first year, buy an established plant. In fact, buy a dwarf lime tree. With their diminutive size, you won’t have to worry about it growing through the ceiling and you’ll get fruit a lot sooner. Dwarf trees can grow to over 6-feet tall so don’t be put off by the name. You can also prune them down.
Some gardeners prefer to start from scratch which means, from seed. However, plants from seed seldom produce fruit. This article will address growing an established cultivar indoors. In this instance, a lime tree. Buy your established tree (2-5 ft.) and an appropriately sized container for transplanting because it will grow bigger.
Growing your lime tree requires only a few, but very important and necessary steps. Miss one of these and you could kill your tree and your hopes. Here’s what you do to avoid that from happening.
- When transplanting or repacking the soil in your container it is imperative you fill in all the spaces around the root ball and pack the soil in tightly. Leaving a pocket of air will kill your tree. Add some soil, pack it down. Pack and repeat leaving no gaps until completely covered. You may want to sprinkle some water on the soil as you pack.
- Excellent drainage should be a top priority. Amend the soil with rocks if necessary to assure water is drained away from the plant quickly and easily. Roots sitting in water will kill a lime tree in very short order. Don’t ignore this very important step. Use a moisture meter
- Plenty of sunshine. By growing in a container you can move the tree outdoors on sunny days. For much of the summer it can be placed on a patio, deck or porch. Anywhere that has good sunshine. Southern exposure to the sunlight is best.
Indoors, place your tree in front of a window or glass door where sunlight is abundant. They need at least 8-12 hours of sunlight each day. If you can supplement with artificial lights, of which there are many that cost little to purchase or operate, all the better for your tree.
These trees like to eat so fertilize them every couple months using a nitrogen rich fertilizer or compost. You know about over-watering but the soil needs to stay damp…damp not wet. Water deeply 2 to 3 times a week. Soil should be semi-dry but don’t let it dry out entirely.
Like many citrus plants, limes don’t do well in the cold. Anything under 50 degrees F. (10 C.) is bad news. Keep them nice and warm and their beauty and fruit will reward you all year round.
Just in Case
While many citrus trees these days are bred to be pest and disease resistant, resistant doesn’t mean impervious. Insects can appear anytime and disease can still strike. Especially if you set your tree outdoors for sunlight. The usual suspects include grasshoppers, caterpillars, spider mites, citrus whitefly and citrus thrips among many others. Keeping a sharp eye out (especially on the underside of the leaves) can stop an infestation before one begins.
Products like Diatomaceous earth (organic and natural) as well as Horticultural Oil Spray (HOS) will help ensure your plants remain pest free. HOS should be sprayed directly onto the insects and their eggs. To learn more, ask your nursery operator or do some research online.
And that pretty much covers the basics of growing your own limes. Give it a try. By following these simple steps you will be on your way to growing and making your very own key lime pie or refreshing Margarita!
Lime trees are beautiful to look at and impart a fragrance into the room that is tropical and pleasantly sweet. Should you decide to grow a lemon tree instead, go ahead. Or better yet, grow both! The requirements are quite similar so just follow the grower’s instructions.