How to Grow a Potted Key Lime Tree?


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Key lime trees can be grown in a bucket or large plant pot whenever there is not enough space to grow them directly in the soil.The advantage of having them potted is that you can have the plant grown in a balcony, porch or even indoors.

Key lime trees grow well when planted in a bucket or plant pot. Although the environment is confined, the plant can thrive well with the available soil and adequately supplied nutrients. A potted key lime tree can be easily managed within a bucket since the plant doesn’t grow a large canopy and can produce fruit just as if it was planted in the ground.

Key lime is a member of the Citrus community of plants and is grown in subtropical and tropical climates. Limes (Citrus aurantifolia) are the fruit of tropical citrus trees closely related to lemons. 

Key Lime trees are evergreen and can grow up to eight feet tall within the ground and within 3 to 5 feet when planted in a pot or a bucket. The branches are often slim and slender with 5mm to 10mm thorns which mature and become hard and prickly as the branches grow out.

Citrus trees when planted in buckets or pots, do not grow as big as they would if they were grown in the ground. Most tree roots are located in the top 6 to 18 inches of soil. Therefore, a pot that is 16 to 24 inches or larger in diameter should be used when potting the plant.

Planting citrus trees in a potted environment comes with many benefits and there are a few noteworthy things to consider when doing so such as nutrient addition, watering, temperature considerations and pest control, which we will discuss further in this article.

Key lime plant in a bucket
Key Lime Planted In a Bucket

Key Lime History in Florida

When we hear the term Key lime, we think “KeyLime Pie”. This is because Key lime Pie is well known and often associated with the state of Florida and for good reason. 

Before the 1920’s key lime was grown commercially within the state until natural disasters took a heavy toll on the in the mid 1920’s causing a collapse in the industry when the citrus groves were destroyed.

After the fall of the Key Lime industry the Persian Lime came to the rescue.

Key lime can be mistaken with its cousin the Persian lime which is a hybrid, seedless version found in your local supermarket. The Persian or Tahiti Lime (Citrus latifolia) was developed in the early 20th century and is larger than the Key lime. Both key limes and persian lime turn yellow when fully ripe.

Planting ConsiderationsSuggestions for Best Key Lime Plant Production
Pot SizeFairly large pots should be used to compensate for roots. Pot size 16 to 24 inches in diameter with holes at the bottom.
Soil CompositionUse a well aerated soil mixture rich in nutrients. A citrus fertilizer such as Citrus-tone, can be used as an all round fertilizer.
Planting RequirementsPlants should be placed In the Center of the pots and roots covered with at least 2 inches of soil
Fertilizing PeriodsFertilize before and after flower and fruit production, Usually in three months intervals. Liquid fertilizer can be used intermittently.
Watering FrequencyPlants should be watered depending on factors such as Soil type, pot size, Weather conditions and plant size
Pest ControlUse Biological control such as Neem oil or mechanical control such as cloth and rubbing alcohol
HarvestingPlants propagated by grafting will flower within a year, while plants grown from seeds can take between 3 – 5 years to bear fruit.
Potted Key Lime Planting Best Practices

How Long does it take for Key Lime to Grow?

Trees cultivated from seedlings take 3–5 years before producing a harvest. 

They reach their maximal yield at about 8 years of age. However, Trees produced from cuttings and air layering bear fruit much sooner, sometimes producing fruit a year after planting. It takes approximately 10 months to start flowering.

The flowers produced are white in color and sometimes the entire canopy can be dotted with white 5 petal flowers. 

Key lime doesn’t require other key lime trees to fertilize the flowers; they are self pollinating trees. As a result, bees and other insects play a vital role when it comes to pollination of the flowers and within two weeks small lime fruit can be seen growing out from the flowing sites.

The fruits can take between a month or two before they mature enough for harvesting. Fruits can be harvested when the lime is full and totally green in color or when the fruit is fully ripened and yellow in color. 

The more yellow the color the more juice you will get from the fruit but the potency of the citric acid may be a little weaker.

Can you Grow Key Lime from a Seed?

The seeds must be kept moist until they can be planted, as they will not germinate if allowed to dry out. If the plants are propagated from seed, the seeds should be stored at least 5–6 months before planting. 

The average Key lime fruit produces between 5 to 10 seeds when fully grown.

Plants can also be propagated from grafting and air layering techniques. This is sometimes done to maintain a pure strain of the key lime plant, by taking a cutting from a known healthy productive key lime tree and grafting it onto another smaller tree.

Environmental Conditions for Key Lime to Grow

Key Limes are susceptible to frost than other citrus fruits. Which makes growing them in buckets very convenient as they can be moved or covered to prevent the plants from dying of cold temperatures.

Apart from the frost limitations Key Limes are a year long fruit since the tree tends to produce fruiting flowers at least three times per year. 

Environmental conditions and fruit maturation are crucial in cultivation of the lime tree. In warm tropical conditions, potted key lime trees can be planted during any season, whereas the best time for planting in temperate regions is late winter or early spring. 

Key Lime trees grow exceptionally well in full sunlight, well-drained soils and good air circulation with temperatures above 60F. A simulation of near tropical conditions would work well and produce fruitful healthy trees.

Watering Requirements for Potted Citrus

Watering is very important when it comes to key lime plants. The plant should be watered every three to four days. Depending on the pot or container you may have, you may have to water more often

Other factors for watering you should consider is

  • Pot size
  • Weather conditions the plant is subjected to
  • Type of soil used 
  • The size of the plant in the pot.
Key Lime plant fruiting

Key lime loves loose well aerated soil and with this water would tend to run right out from the soil after watering. Therefore if you use this type of soil you may have to water a little more often. 

Additionally if the plant is in an area where it is getting adequate rainfall this may be helpful to the plant. Too much rainfall may become a concern however, as the rainwater washes through the soil it will also carry with it vital nutrients which the plant needs to grow.

The safest bet when it comes to watering your Key lIme plant is to monitor the soil and see whether it needs watering or not. Usually whenever the plants need watering is when the top 1 to 2 inches of the soil appears dry.

A moisture meter can come in handy when monitoring soil moisture and can give a good indication when the plant needs water.

A cheaper, and in some cases, a more effective method of monitoring soil moisture is by using a skewer and sticking it into the soil, pulling it out and noticing how wet it is.

Nutrient Requirements

When plants are potted the only nutrients that they are getting is what you are providing for them. Initially the potting solid will contain a good amount of nutrients for the plant to grow and for a while you may not need to fertilize the soil. 

But as the plant ages it will tend to use up the initial nutrients and additional fertilizer will have to be added to the pot or bucket.

A fertilizer formulated specifically for citrus plants such as Citrus-tone is a great choice since it provides all the nutrients required for growth and fruit production. 

Typically fertilizer should be added according to the instructions on the product, before and after the plants produce flowers and fruits. Following this method, the plants are fertilized once every three months.

Pest Control for Key Lime Trees

Key lime plants can be attacked by spider mites, mealy bugs and leaf crawlers. If left unchecked these insects can wreak havoc on your plant and eventually cause the plant to die. 

The best organic pest control you can use is neem oil which applied topically by spray onto the leaves of the plants. This removes the insects if they are already attacking the key lime tree and will also prevent any other insect from coming close.

Mealy bugs can be removed easily by using a small cloth dipped in rubbing alcohol and just wipe them off. 

My tree was attacked by mealy bugs so bad that I had to prune almost all the branches after which you could barely notice if it was a key lime tree. 

Luckily these citrus trees are very resilient and after a week or two it started producing new shoots and branches.

JayLea

JayLea has a passion for plants and has been gardening since 2015. He has valuable knowledge about gardening and houseplant care and can answer everyday practical questions that every plant owner has.

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