November 9, 2018
Hopefully I am writing this post just in time (for those of you in my part of North Texas) to serve as a reminder to bring indoors, or at least heavily cover, your citrus, tropicals and other freeze-sensitive plants before the weekend. You would think we would have done this task by mid-November, but in my part of the country temps fluctuate so drastically in the winter most of us simply wait for the night a frost is forecasted before taking such measures. Speaking for myself, this lends to me covering and uncovering and rolling in and rolling out plants sometimes on day after day basis. However, this week’s upcoming forecast shows the temps will dip below freezing and stay there for several nights so I may as well bite the bullet and bring my sensitives into the sun room to stay for a while.
One of the plants I will be “rolling” indoors tonight is my lime tree. I don’t look forward to this for many reasons but mostly because my Persian lime variety has quite a few thorns!
I’ve had my tree, purchased as a sapling, for about 4 years now. It has reliably produced about two dozen limes to maturity per year. This past year, however, we had a horrendous hail storm in the spring and I lost the pollinated limes. However, due to an incredibly wet summer/early fall, my lime tree re surged and bloomed in full for a second time and I now have three times the bounty, albeit immature, than I usually have this time of year. (Actually, many plants became confused by the extensive rain we had in North Texas and re-bloomed – it was as though we had two springs this year!)
Although I titled this post “late limes” and mine are indeed maturing later than usual, it truly isn’t late for limes to be hanging on the tree in November. I discovered this many years ago when, on one rare occasion, I traveled to Florida for Christmas. Oranges and grapefruits were still on the trees, just getting ready for picking.
Depending on your climate, limes can mature at just about any time of year, but usually they do so between August and December. The variety of lime tree also determines maturity times. In the US, the most common lime tree grown is the Persian – the type I have. A Persian lime tree produces the large (2 1/2 inch), green-skinned fruit that we typically see in grocery stores. The second most popular variety is the Mexican lime (also known as Key lime). The fruit of the Mexican or Key lime is smaller (1 3/4 inch), rounder, and more yellow-green than the Persian and it can also be a bit more sour in flavor. There are several other, perhaps more exotic, varieties of lime trees available, including the Kaffir which produces a bumpy-skinned green fruit.
Today, I have a lot of immature fruit still on my tree and a freeze is coming. I am moving my tree indoors this evening, as close to a sunny window as possible, and hoping I can harvest the fruit later in the winter. If it looks like a long warm sunny spell approaches before then, I’ll roll it back out for a while as sunshine is the best medicine for a lime tree (and any citrus tree for that matter!)
Before I go prepare my other sensitive plants for the freeze, allow me to leave you with a few tips and bits of info regarding growing lime trees:
- Keep in mind, if you live north of Zone 9 (basically anywhere north of the subtropical zones of the US, i.e., Southern California, South Texas and Central Florida) you will need to follow the “potting” tips below.
- Plant or pot in full sun.
- It is best to use potting soil specific to citrus.
- It is best to use fertilizer specific for citrus and the leaf spray and liquid forms are preferred.
- Do not over water your tree, even during the hot summertime.
- When you do water – every 4-5 days maximum – water abundantly. Don’t be afraid to soak the soil/pot.
- Plant or pot with good drainage in mind. Using citrus soil is helpful, especially if potting.
- Most lime trees have thorns so handle them carefully and harvest with this in mind!
- Fully mature limes are yellow like lemons, but they are incredibly bitter at this stage and, thus, are generally harvested when light green (Persian) or just when a little yellow appears on the skin (Mexican).
- If you don’t harvest many fruit, don’t fret as the leaves of your lime tree are just as valuable and can add delicious flavor to soups, teas and cold drinks. If your fruit drops immature, you can also salvage it for zest. And, as a last resort, the tree itself is simply a beautiful addition to a landscape or patio.
- Although it is not recommended to freeze limes, I do so anyway. They may not be as luscious as when they are fresh, but the frozen pieces become just as flavorful when added to soups, cold drinks, and beer.
- If you have to bring your potted tree indoors for the winter, keep watch for those pesky indoor pests such as mealy bugs and scale. If you see them, lightly spray the trunk (and leaves if necessary) with Neem oil.
- Lastly, lime blooms have the intoxicating aroma of gardenias! A lime tree will attract many pollinators to it (and surrounding plants) when outside and if it happens to bloom a little when you are overwintering it indoors – bonus!
I hope the above tips are handy or confirming for those of you with lime trees. If you’ve been on the fence about obtaining a lime (lemon, orange or other citrus) tree, I hope you will consider moving forward. The rewards are many, even if the fruit is a little late now and then!
Until next time,