Key Lime Primer

While anxiously awaiting the arrival of my baby Key Lime trees I did quite a bit of research to make sure I’d have an idea what to do with them. Here is what I found:

Scientific Name: Citrus aurantifolia

Aliases: Key Lime, West India Lime, Mexican Lime

Origin: It is believed that the Key Lime was formed from a cross among Citrus medica (citron), Citrus grandis (pummelo), and Citrus micrantha (a microcitrus species).

History: The Key lime was brought to Spain and Portugal from North Africa by the Arabs, and brought to the Americas by Spanish and Portuguese explorers where it became naturalized in the Caribbean, parts of Mexico, Central and South America, and the Florida Keys.

Global Distribution: The Key Lime is found in subtropical and tropical regions of the world.

Size: Trees rarely grow taller than 12 feet (4.1m). The fruit range from 1 ½ to 2 inches (38-51mm) in diameter.

Water Requirements: Key Limes should be watered just enough to keep the soil moist, but not wet.

Soil Requirements: Key Limes are adapted to a wide variety of soils but require good drainage and can be damaged by salt water.

Light Requirements: Key Limes require part shade to full sun (4-12 hours of direct sunlight), the more light the better.

Temperature Requirements: Key Lime will grow best between 55-85F (13-29C). Leaf damage may occur if temperatures reach 32-30F (0 to -1C). Wood damage and tree death can occur if temperatures reach below 29F(-2C).

Nutrient Requirements: Key Limes, and Citrus in general, should be fertilized once a week in the summer and every two weeks in the spring and fall. The fertilizer should include iron, manganese, and zinc.

Fruit Productions: Trees started from seed may take 3-5 years to start producing fruit.

Random Interesting Fact: Citrus fruits are in the Rutaceae family, the Rue family, and are evergreens.

The Key Lime tree from the garden in all its thorny glory.
The Key Lime tree from the garden in all its thorny glory.

Because my tree is going to be an indoor tree (assuming it reaches tree stage), I also looked up some specific information about growing them indoors.

Growing Indoors:

Potting: Pots should be big enough for the tree and have holes in the bottom to allow for drainage. A 10-15 gallon pot is a good size for a 3-4 year old tree.

Soil: Ideally Key Lime trees should be potted in indoor citrus tree potting soil.  They can be potted in an all-purpose mix, which has been made slightly acidic by adding peat moss.

Light: If it is not possible for the tree to get the 8-12 hours of light it needs, it is possible to supplement the light with a 40-watt fluorescent shop light.

Pruning: Dwarf varieties do not require a lot of pruning. Regular varieties can be pruned to keep their size manageable.

Size Control: One technique for keeping a tree small is allowing it to become root bound; this will stunt its growth. Key Lime Trees can also be kept to a manageable size by pruning.

Pollination: Insects or bees will not pollinate indoor lime trees so they may need to be pollinated by hand. Hand pollination is done by using a paintbrush or a cotton swab to transfer pollen between flowers. Some trees do not need to be hand pollinated to produce fruit.

As for managing the thorns that I learned about from my encounter with this tree last week? The only way I’ve read about so far, other than just being wary of them, is to clip the tips with toenail clippers to keep from being stabbed. Apparently there are thornless varieties available but mine, if they grow, will have thorns. Perhaps the thorns are the tree’s version of puppy teeth and will get less sharp as it gets older. One can hope. Still, I can’t wait for my limes to grow!



Dave’s Garden – Has basic information about growing Key Limes and very useful notes from gardeners who have done so.

Do It Yourself – This article has basic information for growing a Key Lime Tree indoors.

Key Lime Pie Tree – Lays out the basics of growing an indoor Key Lime tree as well as what to do if you live in a cold area.

University of Florida IFAS Extension – A good all-around guide to the Key Lime tree and includes information about diseases, pests, and propagation.

Williams and Sonoma – You can buy your own indoor Key Lime tree here. – Has some interesting information about the different types of limes.

2 thoughts on “Key Lime Primer

  1. Pingback: Plants in my Apartment | Experiment No. 1

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s