2 Little Limes were Sitting in a Tree…

…G.R.O.W.I.N.G! 

Maybe anyways. An unfortunately timed heat wave here last week stressed the key lime so out of the ~15-20 flowers only two turned into limes that stayed on the tree, and it is quite possible that it’ll drop those soon as well. That’s okay though, the flowers were exciting and lovely themselves and now I know to be ready for next year.

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Lime Tree Blossoms and a Brief Update

Hello, it’s been a while. I’m still here, still making things (and selling them on Etsy here and here), still growing plants, and still learning. I’m also still sick and looking for treatments that help (so far not much luck). I do hope to start writing a bit more or at least sharing my projects sometime soon, and the format of this blog will likely change but I’m not sure how yet.

Anyways, that’s not really what this post is about. This post is about my Key Lime tree. Remember it? I started it way back in 2013 (four years ago) and shared updates about its growth on a fairly regular basis. Well, it’s time for another update: there are flowers! My key lime tree is flowering!

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I’ve been pretending to be a bee and pollenating the flowers with a paint brush and doing a bit of reading to see what I need to do to help the tree set (and keep) the fruit, so we’ll see what happens!

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Lanky Lime Tree

My lime tree has been growing like crazy this winter and is now a whopping 3 feet tall (well almost). I know that this isn’t actually tall as far as trees are concerned, but since my lime is an indoor tree, if it grows much taller it’ll be a bit too big.

Lime tree and measuring tape
A whopping 33.5″ tall.

In order to halt vertical growth, and hopefully redirect growth horizontally to form branches, I’ve decided it’s time to head my lime. This involves chopping off the top few inches, which will remove the apical meristem. The apical meristem is responsible for the upward growth and also secretes hormones that inhibit certain other types of growth (like branches) from taking place near the top of the plant. Hopefully with it gone the lime starts to branch out and become more tree-like instead of looking like a leafy stick. I have no idea if it’ll work that way, but I’ll keep you updated.

Lime tree after pruning
Post Pruning

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!

 

Sources

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.

FoodReference.com – Has some interesting information about the different types of limes.

Key Lime Time

Did you know that Key Lime Trees have thorns? I didn’t, until today that is. It was while picking my first key lime that the thorns made themselves known.

Being from the Midwest, citrus trees are relatively foreign to me. The only ones I had ever seen were the orange trees whirring by my windows on my drive through Florida and the lemon tree in my cousins’ back yard. My previous knowledge of citrus trees consisted solely that they were finicky; they made headlines at home when 32F (0C) temperatures would threaten the groves in Florida.

You can imagine how I felt when I found myself standing in front of a key lime tree in the community garden on the marine campus. It was like encountering an alien; one part of me wanted poke it with a stick and the other part of me was afraid that if I touched it, it’d die. I decided on the first one, and when I poked it, it poked me back. Now I had two f-words to describe citrus, finicky and feisty.

I continued my investigation of this new plant, wary of the thorns, and picked a fruit. It was yellow, about the size of a nickel, smelled like lime, and tasted like lime, so I decided I liked it, because I like limes. I wanted a tree of my own. I couldn’t take the tree from the garden because that’s not very community-like behavior, so I took the rest of the lime I had sampled and with it the seeds. Time to grow my own lime tree!

Now remember, I know nothing about growing citrus what-so-ever beyond the sun+ water+ growing medium (and nutrients) requirement of plants. Thankfully I have the internet. It really is a blessing for an insatiably curious person like myself.

I cut the lime in half (It was green on the inside! I have no idea why this surprised me but it did.) and took out the seeds.

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A quick Google search told me that I needed to take the covering off the seeds if I wanted them to germinate faster. This was a bit easier said than done because the seeds were tiny.

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I put one seed in an Italian ice cup and one in a “planter” made from a toilet paper tube [Instructions for how to make toilet paper planter from SimplyForties] about an inch deep in Miracle Grow Organic Choice Potting Mix and watered them.

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Now the waiting game begins. Gives me time to brush up (read: quickly learn everything) on growing key limes. That’s for a later post.