Did you know that the most fashionable citrus tree at the moment is the lime tree? Demand for varieties like Tahitian and Kaffir has built up significantly over the last few years, probably because they are so popular in Asian cooking. Limes are an excellent source of Vitamin C and provide a great substitute for lemons. They can be used for seafood dishes, chicken, meats, drinks, desserts, cakes, biscuits and marmalade.
Lime trees are frost sensitive, small and leafy, and grow to 10 feet (3 meters) with smallish, generally round yellow to green fruit at maturity. Limes have the highest requirement of all citrus varieties for heat. Tropical and subtropical areas suit them best however you can grow lime trees in cooler climates as they can tolerate light frost. Ensure they have a sheltered position, fully sunlit throughout the day and protected from cool winds.
There are distinct varieties of lime trees which are grown extensively. These are the small-fruited acid or sour limes (Citrus aurantifolia) and the large-fruited acid limes (Citrus Latifolia). Other limes are the Indian or Palestine Sweet lime (Citrus limettioides), the Rangpur lime (Citrus limonia) and the Kaffir lime.
The Tahitian lime is the best lime to grow in a container as the West Indian lime tree has vicious thorns and needs much higher temperatures than the Tahitian lime.
This variety is the best lime for a cool climate. It has very few thorns and produces very juicy fruit all year round. The plants grow to around 3x3m (10×10′) tall, and they do well in the garden or in pots. The seedless fruit is small and green when ripe, although it can be left on the tree until it turns yellow. Tahitian limes are easy to grow.
West Indian or Mexican or Key lime (Citrus aurantifolia)
This lime tree is has sharp thorns and grows to 6-13 feet (3-4m) high if grafted to Trifoliate orange (Poncirus trifoliate) rootstock, but taller when grafted to other rootstocks such as Citronelle. This variety prefers tropical to semi-tropical climates and is frost sensitive.
The fruit are small, round to oval, with a small nipple, many small seeds and a strong flavor. The skin is slightly rough and pale green at first, turning light lemon in color at maturity. Fruit are produced year round and when mature, they fall from the tree and are picked up from the ground for use.
Kaffir or Makrut lime (Citrus hystrix)
This lime tree is a variety grown mainly for its aromatic leaves rather than the fruit. Kaffir limes will reach 1.5 metres (5′) tall, but because the leaves are constantly being picked for cooking, the trees usually remain small in size. They have large sharp thorns and also grow well in containers. They prefer tropical conditions but can be grown in cold climates if protected from cool winds and given plenty of sunshine.
The dark, glossy leaves of the Kaffir look like two separate leaves joined together. They are an essential ingredient of many Thai recipes, including curries, fish dishes and soups. The flesh of the fruit is usually thrown away, but the rind and zest is sometimes used.
Best climate: Lime trees grow well in the warmer climates. They also grow in cooler cimates, but protect from frost when young.
Lime Tree Care: A position in full sun is best for lime trees. Keep trees well watered when the fruit is forming in spring and early summer. Water well before and after fertilising. Keep the area beneath your trees free of grass and weeds. Mulch with compost or other organic material, but make sure that the mulch does not touch the trunk of the tree.
To find out which of these varieties would suit your climate read our Best Lime Trees to Grow in the Home Garden Blog.
You will find full details about caring for your lime trees and other citrus trees and great advice and photos on recognising and correcting nutrient deficiencies, pest and diseases and problems in Grow Citrus: The Insiders Secrets to Growing Great Citrus