How to tell when limes are ripe

Key lime: Handle with care

At first glance, Key limes are hard to resist. Bright green, shading to lemon yellow, smooth, compact and tiny, they’re adorably cute — yeah, cute, just like a little puppy. It’s hard not to want to snatch a bag or two along with your other groceries.

Of course, once you have gotten them home, you have to use them. You can break out the cocktail shaker — a no-brainer — Key limes have often been referred to as the “bartender’s lime,” and they readily complement a whole host of libations. But then what? Fix margaritas for a small party and you may still be left with several cute little limes, sitting sadly alone on your counter like a tragic still life. What to do?

You might be tempted to substitute them for the larger limes, lemons or even some other citrus in a recipe, but be careful, because these cute little puppies pack a powerful bite.

Pair them with the right ingredients, however, and they can brighten an otherwise ordinary dish, adding depth and dimension. Give them a little room and they can add wonderful complexity, shining as a main flavor, highlighting a layered harmony, even working as a seasoning. They’ve got a wonderful personality if you just get to know them.

Like all members of the citrus family, Key limes have a definite acidity. They’re tart, sharp and incredibly sour, even more so than other limes — they’re almost borderline bitter. Key limes are extreme. And despite their yellowish cast, don’t confuse them with lemons.

But after you get over the initial acidity, you might notice the herbal notes — Key limes have their own harmony going on — a bouquet almost. They’re not a one-note fruit.

The key to cooking with them is balance. Because their flavor and nose are so assertive, Key limes don’t always go well with other flavors. They won’t readily share the stage. You really need to fine-tune to get a good balance.

Lime differences

There are differences between Key limes and the limes we find in stores (commonly called “Tahitian” or “Persian,” even though they are not grown in Iran). Key limes (also called Mexican or West Indian limes) are the most common lime found throughout the world; the U.S. is the exception in preferring the Persian lime.

That’s largely due to an accident of history. Key limes were commercially produced in Florida back at the turn of the last century, but the crop was wiped out by a hurricane in 1926. When the growers replanted, they chose the Persian lime, which is more disease-resistant and heavier bearing, though Key lime trees can still be found in many residential backyards.

Along with cocktails, probably the most popular way to use Key limes is in the eponymous pie. About the only thing everyone agrees on is that it includes Key lime juice, but that’s where the agreement ends. Most recipes combine the juice with sweetened condensed milk (some devotees swear by Borden’s, now marketed as Eagle Brand) and egg to form a rich custard. After that, almost anything goes. It can be spooned into either a graham cracker or pastry crust, and topped with either meringue or whipped cream.

Many older recipes do not call for baking the custard even; the lime juice alone thickens the mixture over time to “set” the custard.

Cookbook author Rose Levy Beranbaum takes the pie in a different direction, which I like better. She lightens the custard with a bit of Italian meringue. Not only does it improve the texture, but it also helps distinguish the flavors on the palate, brightening the lime. The custard is baked in a classic graham cracker crust (baking helps to thicken the texture and firm up the slices) and topped with the remaining meringue, which is baked just long enough to slightly brown the edges.

Incidentally, Beranbaum prefers the Persian lime for the pie. She says the Key lime’s “bitterness seemed to penetrate the sweetness.” I prefer the punchiness of the Key lime.

The recipe is simple. Probably the hardest part is waiting long enough for the pie to chill sufficiently to eat.

One quick note here: You can’t bottle fresh flavor. Packaged Key lime juice may look easy, but it tastes like the shortcut that it is. Generally made from concentrate and treated for preservation, it lacks punch and often has metallic undertones.

Anyway, it’s not hard to find fresh Key limes in most Mexican markets (technically, they have a season, but they’re grown in so many places that you can find them year-round). Look for limes that are heavy for their weight, green shading to yellow (yellow signals ripeness, and makes for a slightly less tart lime). Store them at cool room temperature because refrigeration can speed decay.

Sweet or savory

It seems, more often than not, that Key limes (and limes in general) appear in sweet recipes, but they can be just as great in savory dishes.

Again, balance is the key. Sweet dishes tend to “tame” lime with sugar or other sweeteners, toning it down and softening it. At the same time, in many savory dishes, the sharp flavor is often contrasted with a spice and/or rich texture, as with guacamole. Lime juice is frequently used in marinades and dressings. Toss some arugula with grapefruit and avocado, then finish the salad with a light dressing of lime juice, honey and cumin. It’s a simple presentation, but the flavors can be stunning — the balance comes from the sweetness of honey, the spice of cumin and the richness of avocado.

Or try a ceviche. Toss cubed fish in lime juice just until it turns opaque. The acid from the lime firms the fish, much like cooking, and it’s balanced by fresh-chopped serrano or jalapeño chile and cilantro. Indeed, lime and chile are frequently paired. Try combining them for a spicy, tangy marinade. It works well with chicken and makes for a particularly fun take on hot wings.

Or try a spicy Thai-inspired marinade: lime juice, chiles, onion, ginger and garlic. Season with a little soy sauce and toss in a bit of chipotle powder to add a smoky element. Marinate a couple pounds of chicken wings for a few hours, up to overnight, then fry until golden. Brush the wings with a sweet peanut sauce and finish them in the oven until the sauce cooks to a nice shellac. The combination of flavors is striking: First, you get the sweet peanut sauce, followed by the sharp acid and heat from the marinade.

Key limes also go particularly well with coconut. While the lime can be overwhelmingly tart, it works nicely with the rich, sweet flavor of coconut.

Try pairing Key lime and coconut in a scone. Substitute coconut milk and a little fresh lime juice for the liquid in a standard recipe, adding some toasted coconut for crunch and a little fresh lime zest to brighten the composition.

It’s a fun recipe, not overly sweet, and you don’t have to wait as long for scones to chill as you would a pie. Besides, they’re cute. But these puppies won’t bite.

Why are my limes taking a long time to ripen?

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Lime Tree Tips: Care Of Lime Trees

Lime fruit has enjoyed a boost in popularity in the U.S. in the past few decades. This has prompted many home gardeners to plant a lime tree of their own. Whether you live in an area where lime trees can grow outdoors year round or if you must grow your lime tree in a container, growing lime trees can be rewarding and fun. In this article we will talk about how to plant a lime tree and go over some lime tree tips.

How to Plant a Lime Tree

Many people choose to purchase a lime tree from a local nursery rather than grow them from seed (though they are very easy to grow from seed). Once you have purchased your lime tree, you will need to plant it. The steps for how to plant a lime tree are pretty much the same whether you plan on planting it in the ground or in a container.

First, when

growing lime trees, make sure that where your lime tree will be planted will receive plenty of sunshine. If at all possible, choose a location that gets southern sun.

Second, make sure the drainage is excellent. If you pay attention to no other lime tree tips, you must pay attention to this one. Growing lime trees in soil that does not have excellent drainage will kill your lime tree. Amend the soil in improve drainage to make sure that your lime tree will never be exposed to standing water. If planting in the ground, make sure the soil around the tree is a little higher than the ground outside the planting hole to prevent pooling of water around the lime tree.

Third, when backfilling the hole or container, be sure to make sure that the soil is firmly in place around the root ball. If a pocket of air is created, the tree will die. Tamp the soil continually or water the soil every few inches while you backfill.

Lime Tree Tips for Care

Care of lime trees is pretty straightforward after you know how to plant a lime tree. Some lime tree care tips include:

  • Water consistently – Lime trees will drop their leaves if left dry for too long. This being said, too much watering will kill them as well. Best care of lime trees mean that you water consistently but not obsessively.
  • Fertilize frequently – Lime trees are heavy feeders. They will quickly deplete the soil around them, in the ground or in a container. Be sure to fertilize every few months with compost or a nitrogen rich fertilizer.
  • Keep them warm – Lime trees cannot tolerate temperatures much under 50 degrees F. (10 C.). Keep the trees in a place where it doesn’t get colder than 50 degrees F. or they will die.

Lime vs. Lemon Trees

To the inexpert eye, lime trees and lemon trees look just about the same except when they have ripened fruits hanging on them. These trees may both develop in the same counties and have equal shapes in general color and the texture of the bark. Nevertheless, there are a few telltale signs that make distinctions between lemon trees and lime trees. Regardless what portion of the developmental cycle the trees are in, you can distinguish whether they are lemon or lime in as short as 60 seconds.

To differentiate between these two trees, a person may take a look at the size of a tree. A full-term lemon tree can develop up to 20 feet tall with broad branches. A lime tree is, in general, more slender and shorter. Typically, this type of tree does not grow more than 13 feet at its fullest. You can also assess the leaves of these trees. The leaves of lime trees are shorter and rounded and typically three to four inches long. Leaves from lemon trees are narrow and long, typically about five inches long. You can tear a leaf of each tree open and smell them. A lime leaf has a bold smell of lime while a lemon leaf has a very gentle, citrus scent. You will have to examine the flowers of each tree only if they are at hand. Flowers of lemon trees develop in singles or pairs and are purple. Leaves of lime trees grow in small groups and are entirely white. Lastly, you can examine the fruit of each tree if it is present. Lemon fruit is keen-shaped on both ends, a great deal like footballs, and has a substantial skin. Lime fruit is more like a soccer ball. It is more rounded and contains a thin skin.

Lemon trees and lime trees, also the citron tree, are all citrus trees wherein they are very sensitive against cold weather conditions enabling them to live suitably in Asian nations. These countries have a high enough quantity of heat coming from the sun. The fruit of these trees are rich in calcium and Vitamin C. A lime tree is commonly 6 to 13 feet tall when developed and fully grown. The flowers can measure three inches only. During the past decades, the fruit of lime trees is utilized to treat scurvy. Scurvy is an inflammatory disorder located inside the mouth due to the deficiency of Vitamin C in the system of a human body.

A fully grown lemon tree can measure up to 20 feet high, and its leaves develop to around 4 to 5 inches. A lemon has antiseptic elements that in a few Asian nations they are accustomed to cleaning wounds or lesions with and are also utilized as a remedy for minor poisons. The fruit of a lemon tree is typically oblong or oval in shape and is larger if you weigh it against its family member, the lime tree. Regarding their vitamin compositions in their own respective fruit, limes contain more Vitamin A whereas lemons contain more Vitamin C. Lime fruit is in color green while lemon fruit is in color yellow.


1.To differentiate between these two trees, a person may take a look at the size of a tree. A full-term lemon tree can develop up to 20 feet tall with broad branches.

2.A lime tree is, in general, more slender and shorter.

3.The leaves of lime trees are shorter and rounded and typically three to four inches long. Leaves from lemon trees are narrow and long, typically about five inches long.

4.A lime leaf has a bold smell of lime while a lemon leaf has a very gentle, citrus scent.

5.Lemon fruit is keen-shaped on both ends, a great deal like footballs, and has a substantial skin. Lime fruit is more like a soccer ball. It is more rounded and contains a thin skin.

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You can always buy the fruits you will serve your family and friends, but wouldn’t it be nice to grow your own tree and have healthy and nutritious fruits within your arm’s reach? If this thought has crossed your mind, then now is the right time for you to search for a lemon lime tree for sale online and start growing your own lemon lime tree at home.

Lemon and Lime

There are many fruit trees to choose from, however, lemon and lime citrus trees are two of the best options you can get. Why? Let me tell you:

  • Lemon Lime trees are available in standard and dwarf sizes making them a great option for those who have limited space at home. The dwarf lime tree height is just around 6 to 10 feet when planted directly in the ground and can be kept lower when planted in a pot.
  • Both the Lemon and Lime trees are evergreen, meaning you can just sit down and relax as you enjoy gazing at the green leaves that never wither no matter what season it is. Be amazed by the white, tiny, beautiful blossoms that turn into lemons or limes when the fruiting season begins. Aside from the aesthetic appeal the lemon lime fruit tree gives your house, it also emits a refreshing floral, citrusy scent that leaves your house smelling good all the time.
  • Whether you pick a lemon or lime tree, rest assured that you will not find it hard to grow them. Also, the benefits of growing them are fully rewarding. Furthermore, lemon lime tree hybrids and the regular ones are cold hardy and can withstand temperatures around 30° for hours without any significant damage.
  • You can use the fruits from dwarf lemon lime tree or hybrid lemon lime tree to season and add flavor to your fish, seafood, chicken and other meat dishes. Make decadent desserts like Mango-Lime Ricotta Parfaits, make refreshing limeade infused with cilantro and syrup, or other iconic drinks like Eggnog-lime Lassi or daiquiris. You can also simply bake cookies, biscuits, or the famous Key Lime Pie.

Lime Tree Varieties

Now that you are convinced that growing a lime tree is great, which cultivar should you grow? Let me introduce you to different cultivars including the lemon lime hybrid tree or cocktail tree lemon lime.

  • Bearrs Lime Tree – Also called Persian lime and Tahiti lime, Bearrs lime tree is a tri-hybrid tree with genes coming from pummelo, citron and micro-citrus. It has a spreading from, nearly-thornless droopy branches, broad green leaves, white blooms, and produces limes as big as lemons. Its fruits are a savory blend of lemon and lime without the acidity, and boasts of a spicy aroma you will not find in other cultivars. If you are interested in buying a Persian lime tree for sale keep in mind that a standard tree can grow up to 15 to 20 feet in height, while the dwarf Bearss Lime tree can grow up to 6 to 10 feet high when planted directly into the ground but can be kept smaller if planted in a container.
  • Kaffir Lime Tree – When you do your search you might come across standard-sized Kaffir Lime trees for sale and Dwarf Kaffir lime tree for sale. Kaffir Lime Tree Florida is famous for its remarkable glossy, jade-green leaves that looked very similar to two conjoined leaves. They are mostly used to give a spicy-lemon taste to different dishes. Kaffir limes, which are dark-green limes that have unsightly and irregular bumps, are seldom used because they are overly sour and have a bitter taste. If you wish to get a Kaffir Lime Tree for sale understand that Kaffir Lime tree pruning is a must to ensure a healthy growth cycle for the growing tree. Prune and create an open vase-like crown, while removing shoots that grow below the graft union. Make sure to cut away diseased or spindly legs to prevent any disease from spreading all throughout the tree and at the same time allow circulation and sunlight to pass through.
  • Lemon Lime Cocktail Tree – You may find it hard to believe but there is such a thing as a Cocktail Tree wherein one tree produces 2 different fruits. The Meyer Lemon Key Lime Cocktail Tree is propagated using grafting process wherein two healthy budwoods taken from both a Meyer Lemon Tree and a Key Lime Tree are grafted to a citrus rootstock and nurtured in nurseries until ready to be sold. This dwarf lemon lime tree hybrid is an evergreen, ever-blooming tree that is cold hardy, and is pest and disease resistant. When you buy this tree, you get to enjoy not just one, but two types of healthy, home-grown fruits.
  • Key Lime Tree – This bushy citrus tree has spindling branches laden with thorns. It produces aromatic white blooms that, once pollinated, turn into Key Limes that boast a unique sweet-tart flavor all their own. With these famous limes you can make numerous tasty desserts like Key Lime-Pie Sundaes, Mango-Key Lime tarts, Key Lime Pie, Key Lime Cupcakes, and so much more.

Edible Landscaping – Edible of the Month: Lemons and Limes

Lemons and limes make great edible landscape trees for small yards in warm climates and are adapted to growing in containers in colder climates.

Lemon and lime flowers are sweetly scented and bloom in winter, making them perfect for indoor growing and enjoyment.

Winter is citrus time in much of the country. Whether you’re eating citrus shipped from warmer climates or lucky enough to live in a climate where you can grow citrus yourself, now is the time to enjoy these luscious fruits.

While oranges and grapefruits get most of the citrus attention, lemons and limes shouldn’t be discounted. They’re an easy to grow citrus that’s perfectly suited to a small space edible garden. Lemons and limes can be grown in the ground in warm climates or in large containers in warm or cool climates. Even gardeners in cold winter areas can enjoy these evergreen trees if they have a sunny space in which to winter them over indoors.

You can select trees that will produce an abundance of fruits for years without needing a pollinator. I remember visiting friends in California and being amazed at how the lemon and lime fruits were so abundant on the trees that many fell to the ground and rotted before they could be eaten.

So plan on growing a lemon or lime outdoors if you live in a USDA zone 9 or warmer climate. In colder areas plant one in a container to bring indoors. Even if you don’t have the perfect spot for it in winter and it doesn’t fruit, chances are it will at least flower, and the scent will perfume the whole house.


Lemons (Citrus limon) and limes (Citrus aurantifolia) need full sun and warm temperatures to grow their best. While many types of citrus varieties are adapted either to the high humidity of Florida and the Gulf Coast or the low humidity of the Southwest, lemons and limes can thrive in either climate. However, lemons and limes are more sensitive to cold than other kinds of citrus and shouldn’t be allowed to be touched by frost. They actually stop growing when temperatures dip below 50 F. The trees are in a semi-constant state of growth all season long. That’s why you’ll see a tree with flowers, young fruit, and mature fruit hanging on the plant at the same time. This is an advantage for gardeners since it extends the fruiting season for months. You can grow lemons and limes from seed collected from store-bought fruit, but although a fun home project with kids, the trees will take longer to flower and the quality of the fruit may not be very good. Stick with buying a nursery-grown variety instead.

While ‘Meyer’ lemon and ‘Bearss’ lime are perhaps the most widely known lemon and lime varieties, there are other varieties available for the adventurous gardener. Here’s a rundown of some of the best.

‘Bearss’ lime- Also known as the Tahitian lime or Persian lime, this is the most widely grown lime variety for home gardeners and one usually found in grocery stores. It grows to 20 feet tall and wide producing 3-inch diameter, seedless fruits with a strong lime flavor.

‘Eureka’ lemon- Considered a true lemon, it was brought to the United States by Christopher Columbus, but originally hailed from India. It’s the most popular commercial lemon variety available. ‘Eureka’ is widely grown on the West coast, producing 20 feet tall, bushy trees that are mostly thornless. ‘Lisbon’ is another similar true lemon variety that is more resistant to cold weather. There is also a variegated ‘Eureka’ variety available.

‘Kaffir’ lime (Citrus hystix)- This bushy tree can reach 20 feet tall, but is easily kept pruned to under 10 feet tall. It is known as much for its aromatic leaves, which are essential for Southeast Asian cooking, as its small, juicy fruits. When I lived in Thailand, almost every home in the village had a ‘Kaffir’ lime tree for use in cooking, hair washing, and cleaning laundry.

‘Mexican’ lime’- Also known as the key lime or West Indian lime, this small bushy tree grows up 15 feet tall and produces 2-inch diameter fruits with a strong acidic lime flavor. There are thornless versions as well.

‘Meyer’ lemon is the most popular and widely known lemon variety and makes a great container plant.

Lemon and lime trees make great indoor houseplants, and you don’t need a conservatory to grow them. A sunny south facing window will do.

‘Meyer’ lemon- Although not a true lemon, ‘Meyer’ lemon has become the most widely recognized lemon available for home gardeners to grow. The fruits don’t have as strong a lemon flavor as true lemons and the fruits resemble an orange. However, the thornless, small bush only grows to about 10 feet tall (smaller in a container), is more cold tolerant than true lemons, and the flavor less acidic. Look for the ‘Improved Meyer’ lemon when buying this variety. ‘Improved Meyer’ has been certified disease-free, and it’s the best lemon for indoor growing since the trees are naturally dwarf.

‘Palestinian’ sweet lime (Citrus limettioides) – This round-shaped fruit doesn’t have the strong flavor of ‘Bears’ lime, but the juicy fruits offer a milder taste that’s perfect for making limeade. The plant grows into a large shrubby bush.

‘Ponderosa’ lemon- ‘Ponderosa’ lemon is a citron-lemon hybrid. The tree produces a 10- to 20-foot tall, rangy, thorny tree that has large, grapefruit-sized fruits with a strong lemon flavor.


Lemons and limes love plenty of sunshine and moist, well-drained soil. They don’t grow well in heavy clay soils or in any location where their roots will sit in water. In marginally hardy areas, consider planting lemon and lime trees against a south-facing wall, building, or fence to create a micro-climate to protect them from cold winter weather.


Plant lemon and lime trees in spring once the weather warms. Although lemons and limes are known for their acidic fruits, the plant itself actually likes a more neutral pH; sweeten the soil with lime if needed. Amend the soil with compost, and plant trees 15- to 25-feet apart, depending on the variety. Dwarf and bush varieties can be planted 8- to 12-feet apart.

For container growing, select a large (15 gallon or half whiskey barrel size) pot, making sure it has drainage holes in the bottom. Fill the pot with moistened potting soil. Keep the container well watered.


The key to developing a healthy lemon or lime tree is watering. Although lemons and limes don’t like wet soil, they do require a constant supply of moisture to grow their best. Keep soils moist with drip irrigation or soaker hoses, and mulch. Fertilize in-ground trees 2 to 3 times from spring until summer with a citrus fertilizer. Container trees require monthly fertilization until midsummer.

Prune out suckers that develop along the tree trunk anytime, and thin any spindly branches in late winter after the main fruit harvest. Especially with lemons, prune to create strong scaffold structure of branches that can hold up the heavy fruits. Thin lemon and lime fruits to about 4- to 6-inches apart when they’re small if you want fewer, but larger fruits to eat.

Watch out for pests such as aphids and scale on lemon and lime leaves. Aphids love to attack new growth. Spray them with insecticidal soap. Scale insects can be found on the underside of leaves, where their feeding creates a sticky, honeydew secretion that supports the growth of sooty mold. Spray horticultural oil to control scale insects.

In areas with frost, bring container-grown lemons and limes indoors when outdoor temperatures drop to 40 F. Keep trees in a sunny window, reduce watering, and watch for pests.


Your lemon and lime trees should start producing fruit when they are about three years old. Most fruits mature about four months after blooming. Pick lemons when the skin color is completely yellow, but before the skin wrinkles. Wrinkly skin is a sign the fruits are over-mature.

Limes are actually picked when they’re still immature and green for best flavor. If allowed to ripen, lime fruits turn yellow like lemons. Harvest about three to four months after flowering when the lime skins have a light green color, are smooth textured, and slightly soft when squeezed. Cut open a few fruits; if they are juicy inside, it’s time to pick.

More articles on lemons and limes:

Grow Citrus in a Container
Plant Citrus Trees
Growing Citrus

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