By Julie Christensen
Lime trees are among the most cold-sensitive of all citrus trees, growing outdoors only in warm, mild climates. But, you don’t have to live south of zone 9 to grow lime trees indoors. If you’ve got a sunny window with southern exposure, you can grow lime trees indoors no matter how much snow piles up outside.
Lime trees, with their glossy leaves and fragrant flowers, are gorgeous in their own right, but if you can bring a lime tree to harvest, so much the better. Lime trees typically need at least 3 to 4 years to bear fruit, depending on the size of your tree at purchase. They also need ideal growing conditions, including plenty of sunlight, adequate moisture and well-draining soil. Trees moved outside for the summer are most likely to bear fruit. Once the limes appear, they’ll take several months to mature on the tree. They do not ripen off the tree, but can be picked when they are sweet enough.
Planting and Caring for Lime Trees
The first step in growing lime trees is in tree selection. Opt for a dwarf variety for indoor growing. Dwarf trees have been grafted onto a dwarf root stock so the trees stay under 10 feet tall. Some grow less than 8 feet tall. Buy lime trees through a reputable nursery – preferably one that offers a guarantee on its trees. Lime trees are susceptible to some root diseases that can be contracted in the nursery. Starting with clean, healthy stock is absolutely critical.
Plant the lime tree in a plastic, ceramic or clay pot that’s slightly larger than the root ball of the tree. Make sure the pot has plenty of drainage holes. If you want to move the tree outdoors in the summer, consider choosing a pot with coasters so you can easily wheel the tree about.
Fill the pot partly with a light, loamy potting soil. The potting soil should be somewhat sandy and well-draining. When possible, use a potting soil made specifically for citrus trees. Gently place the rootball in the pot and continue filling it with soil. Tamp the soil down lightly and water until the soil feels moist to the touch.
Lime trees, like all citrus trees, need at least 6 to 8 hours of bright sunlight daily. Place your lime tree in a sunny window. During the winter, you may need to supplement the natural sunlight with a grow light, especially if the leaves drop or turn pale green. Keep lime trees at temperatures between 55 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit. A temperature of 65 F is ideal. Sudden changes in temperature can harm the tree, so don’t place it near heaters, radiators or exterior doors.
During the summer, you can move the lime tree outdoors. Wait until the last expected frost and then gradually move the tree outdoors, bringing it inside at night until it acclimates. Keep the tree on a patio or terrace in a protected area that gets full sun. Reverse this process in the fall – gradually bringing the tree indoors. It may lose a few leaves as it makes the transition from indoors to outdoors, but if you acclimate it slowly, it won’t experience too much shock.
Water the lime tree just enough to keep the soil slightly moist. Soggy soils promote fungal growth and root rot, so allow the soil to dry out slightly between watering. Lime trees appreciate humid surroundings so place the tree near a humidifier or mist its leaves with a spray bottle. This is especially important during the winter when the air is particularly dry.
Fertilize lime trees every three weeks from spring to summer with a citrus fertilizer or one made for tomatoes or vegetables. Fertilize at a rate of 2 tablespoons per tree, or according to package directions. During the fall and winter, fertilize every six weeks. Lime trees are prone to micronutrient deficiencies, such as iron and magnesium. Apply a micronutrient fertilizer each spring.
Lime trees don’t need the extensive pruning of orchard fruits, but you can prune them occasionally to remove dead wood or branches that rub against each other. You can also prune to control the tree’s size.
Lime Potential Pests and Problems
Disease problems are usually related to moisture levels and include root rot and fungal diseases. Provide well-drained soil and don’t overwater to reduce these issues. Aphids, leafhoppers, mites and scale all afflict lime trees. Before you bring a lime tree indoors for the winter, spray it with warm, slightly soapy water to dispatch any insects. If insect pests become a problem, treat them with insecticidal oil or soap.
Lime Varieties Worth Trying
The most important consideration is to purchase a disease-resistant variety that will stay small.
- ‘Persian’ limes (also called ‘Bearss’) are a favorite choice. They are a disease-resistant, naturally dwarf cultivar.
- ‘Eustis’ limequats are a cross between a lime and a kumquat. They have the flavor of limes and are more cold-tolerant.
Want to learn more about growing lime trees?
Visit the following links:
Growing Citrus Indoors in Cool Climates from Purdue University Extension
Citrus Trees: An Ideal Indoor Plant Selection from Colorado State University Extension
Hawkins Corner covers some of the basics of lime tree care:
I grow plenty of different citrus trees at my place, in containers and the ground. Limes are pretty easy to grow once you know how, so here are my top tips to getting it right > http://bit.ly/1pKlnmD
philip ryan says
Same as Kathy , and all cirtus are prone to the leaf miner , which distorts new leaves .Particularly with limes ( I have a Key Lime tree) pick the fruit early to capture that limey tang , because as the fruit ripens it looses that green colour and starts to turn yellow , and then tastes like an ordinary lemon !
Robert A. Mogil MD [retired] says
I have a small Lime tree, which has been productive for 7-8 years. This spring abundant flowers eventually produced many adult limes , which seemed to do well until three to four weeks ago. Some of the leaves started to curl, while others seemed to produce some dark spots. Then, most of the leaves developed a white coating on the back of the leaves, not on the anterior surface at all, It almost looked like a group of many white particulate fungi, but they did not appear to be alive at all. Multiple black ants seemed to be attracted to them , one per leaf . I know what aphids look like, but I`ve not seen any at all on the leaves. A few tiny white flies sprang from the leaves as I cut the leaves and branches off yesterday, but the white particles remain intact and are still on the leaves I removed. The limes turned white and many fell off the tree. I have many questions about this disease process. What can it be? Viral or fungus? By the way none of the rest of my plants in the enclosed garden, including blooming orchids, many other tropical plants in bloom and even a few tomatoes, have developed the ” white disease “. I would like to have you contact me about the diseased lime tree, and advise me whether to buy another, and what to do with the remaining large pot that grew the Lime and its roots.
Joseph Aditya says
Yoyr problem seems to be from Mealy Bugs. Mealy Bugs are soft-bodied, wingless insects that often appear as white cottony masses on the leaves, stems and fruit of plants. They feed by inserting long sucking mouthparts, called stylets, into plants and drawing sap out of the tissue. Damage is not often significant at low pest levels. However, at higher numbers they can cause leaf yellowing and curling as the plant weakens. Feeding is usually accompanied by honeydew, which makes the plant sticky and encourages the growth of sooty moulds and this honey dew attracts ants. Mealybugs are a common greenhouse pest that affect ornamentals, houseplants, avocados and fruits. High levels of nitrogen can cause mealybugs to reproduce faster. If your plants don’t need a nitrogen fertilizer, use a non-nitrogen fertilizer instead.
The best way to control is :
1. Dip a cotton swab in 70-percent isopropyl rubbing alcohol. Avoid using other kinds of alcohol or you could damage the plant you’re treating.
2. Spray water thru a pressure hose so that the insects gets washed off.
3. Spray Neem Oil twice in a fort night it helps a lot. Spray until the plant soaks in the solution mainly the affected area.
I would follow the third method since its very effective.
Dont worry its a minor problem. But prophylactically spray your other plants too once a week with Neem oil it help in preventing the outbreak of mealy bug as well as other pests to new plants.
I have a healthy key lime tree that I bring out in the summer (Washington DC , so hot summers) and then I bring it in before the first frost. Two years in a row now, it has flowered about a month after I bring it inside. I don’t think that we get enough sunlight in the winter for fruit to mature though the tree is set beside a window that gets afternoon sun. How can I get this tree to flower in the spring before I bring it outside?
Where can I buy Eustis Lime trees for indoor growing?
US Citrus says
This is a great information, growing citrus can be tricky. You can gather some more information on this blog.
Our founder is a Ph.D. plant pathologist and we have a Ph.D. entamologist on staff, we hope our information is useful to you.
If you have any other questions – [email protected]
I have a lime tree that just thrives, and gives me over 30 limes, she lives in the house in the winter, and out on my patio in the summer. My question is, it’s getting so big, can it be pruned? Shaped? I’m having a hard time getting it threw my door.
I would like to plant a dwarf lemon tree about 12 ft to the side of my septic tank. Will this be far enough away as to not cause damage to the tank
Be aware of your leech field. Plant your dwarf lemons no closer than 12′ from the leech field Be aware of the full size of any trees close around the leech field if too close trees can plug it up with roots. I planted 3 full sized mangoes and made sure they are at least 30′ from my leech field.