Grow a lime tree

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Grow limes

Growing limes can be a tricky business, but given the right spot – sheltered from winds and away from frosts – lime trees will generally come to the party. In cool areas they can be planted in containers and moved indoors over winter.

Tahitian lime, also known as Persian lime (Citrus latifolia), is the most cold tolerant of limes, although it still requires a frost-free spot. It has small, thin-skinned fruit that matures predominantly from May to July. The juice is acidic, giving it a distinct ‘lime’ flavour and an all-round usefulness in the kitchen. Tahitian limes are usually picked green. If left to mature (when they’re yellow) the base of the fruit can develop what’s known as stem end rot and the fruit will fall from the tree.

Bearrs lime (Citrus latifolia cv. ‘Bearrs’) is a Tahitian lime that was selected for its heavy fruiting and superior fruit. It’s often referred to as the best variety for home gardens. Fruit is usually harvested from June to August, November and February/March and can be picked green or yellow. While Tahitian limes are generally slow to produce their crop, this cultivar often bears fruit when two or three years old.

Rangpur lime (Citrus x limonia) is thought to be a hybrid between an acid lime and a mandarin, hence its mandarin-like appearance. It has yellow-orange fruit, orange flesh and peels like a Satsuma mandarin, but its juice is very tart. It’s a good substitute for both limes and lemons in recipes and it makes a lovely orange-coloured lime marmalade too. It’s reasonably cold tolerant (for a lime) but it’s hard to find.

Kaffir lime (Citrus hystrix) is used extensively in Southeast Asian cooking – not so much the fruit, but the leaves, which are produced in pairs, one growing from the end of the other. The fruit itself is bumpy-textured, with several seeds and very little juice. What juice there is is very bitter. Flowers appear in spring, followed by the fruit. Kaffir limes like heat, so grow in a sheltered, frost-free spot. In cool areas grow indoors or on a sunny patio or a conservatory.

Limequat is a cross between a key lime (aka Mexican lime) and a kumquat. As kumquats are fairly cold hardy, the cross gives this plant good cold tolerance too. It also gives limequats their thin edible sweetish skin, which is a pale yellow colour. The juice is acidic and can be used in place of limes.

In the garden

Plant your lime tree in the warmest part of your garden or grow it in a container so it can be moved indoors over winter. Limes, like all citrus, are shallow rooting, so they grow well in pots. But because their roots don’t dig deep, they need frequently watering. Surface roots dry out quickly, so make sure you give them a regular drink. Mulch in summer to conserve water and protect the roots.

Citrus are also gluttons for food, so feed your lime tree regularly. Apply a citrus food at six-weekly intervals. Continue until March, then stop feeding over the winter.

Jane Wrigglesworth

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