Eight Steps to Growing Kaffir Lime Trees in Containers
Kaffir Lime is also known as Makrut lime, Mauritius papeda or Combavas with the Latin name Citrus hystrix
This exotic citrus fruit produces an incredible amount of oily juice that is wonderfully fragrant, and the leaves are highly prized in Thai and Indonesian cuisine as a spice and garnish.
Kaffir Lime Fruit
Features of the Kaffir lime:
- The peel or rind is used to make Thai curry paste and in aromatherapy.
- This small and bumpy citrus fruit has both culinary (garnish) uses and medicinal properties in many cultures.
- Also, oils from the rind have uses ranging from sour dish flavoring to an insect repellant.
- The pulp of Kaffir limes is yellowish green, very sour, slightly bitter, and very fragrant.
- The fruit is not edible, is incredibly oily and has a fragrant aroma.
- The lime tree reaches full maturity in late winter to early spring, with the rind turning yellow.
Kaffir Lime Tree
Features of the Kaffir lime tree:
- The lime is more commonly known and used for its leaves consisting of a large petiole and a equally sized leaf blade.
- The Kaffir lime tree is grown and harvested primarily for its dark green leaves to create spices or oils.
- Dried Kaffir Lime leaves are sold online for nearly $30 an ounce!
- Other uses include blending into massage oils, natural shampoos, and various herbal products.
- The tree is less cold hardy than Persian Lime.
- The tree exhibits good growth with full sun.
- The Kaffir Lime tree produces some of the most exotic limes in the world with all of its unique uses!
Where Will Kaffir Lime Grow?
Generally in the US, planting citrus in the ground is limited to certain regions such as California, Arizona, South Texas, Louisiana and Florida.
If you do not live in those regions, we recommend planting kaffir limes as container plants. We consider this a good thing, because it's going to make your kaffir lime growing a lot easier.
Growing Kaffir limes Outside of Growing Zones
There are several options for growing kaffir limes as container plants. You can use a plastic barrel, a wooden planter, a nice decorative pot, or really any sort of container that has adequate holes on the bottom for drainage.
Fabric pots are another option. Even though they do not have holes, the entire container is made of a fabric mesh which allows proper drainage and aeration of the soil.
The Planting Process for Growing Kaffir lime Trees in Pots
Below is the simple step by step process for planting our citrus trees.
You can keep any citrus tree pruned back, but the Kaffir lime is naturally a smaller dwarf type variety which gets to be about 4 to 6 feet, while still producing an abundant harvest.
Step 1: Container for Kaffir lime trees
Proper container drainage is crucial for successfully growing kaffir lime plants. Ensuring that your choice of container has adequate number and size of holes at the bottom of your planter is important for proper plant growth. We typically recommend SmartPots which are composed of a mesh cloth in order to allow good soil drainage.
In addition to container drainage, container size also plays an important role in successfully growing container plants. For citrus trees, the size of the pot should be at least 5 gallons, with our favorite size recommendation being 15 gallons. We find that anything above 25 gallons is quite difficult to physically move by only one person.
Step 2: Soil for Kaffir lime trees
Choosing soil for your Kaffir lime trees is simple. All you need is potting soil that can be purchased at your local hardware store or gardening center. We would advise against the use of gardening soil or topsoil to use for container gardening, because of the varying composition of soils throughout the US.
For example, US Citrus is based in the Rio Grande Valley, and we have a wonderful sandy loam type soil which drains very well. Other types of soils may contain different levels of clay or limestone leading to inefficient draining. This can lead to poor root growth and general plant health overall.
With a standard potting soil for your container gardening, you do not need to worry about any of these factors. You also don't have to worry about the pH balance of the soil. We have just removed a large part of the headache of growing citrus by having all customers grow their kaffir limes in containers and using any standard potting soil which is available at your local nursery garden center supply store.
Step 3: Watering for Kaffir lime trees
Typically, when kaffir limes are planted into the ground there is a worry of proper drainage and/or overwatering your trees. Kaffir lime trees planted in the ground prefer to have their roots a bit on the dry side. We have found that overwatering of container citrus is mostly not an issue if the container has proper drainage.
An alternative way to determine if your tree needs watering is to take a look at the leaves. If the leaves are wilted and dry, your tree needs more water. After watering, the tree’s leaves should perk up. However, keeping to a regular watering schedule is the ideal option.
Overwatering Your Potted Kaffir Lime Tree
Overwatering is a possibility and we find that this especially happens when the trees are indoor and there's a garden saucer used underneath the pot. A garden saucer under the pot impedes drainage. That is helpful while you're on vacation and cannot water your tree for a week, or when you have trees indoors to prevent water seeping onto the floors and causing damage.
However, if trees are over-watered, the plant leaves will wilt and may turn a bit yellow and look sad. Watering more will not improve the condition of the tree obviously, and you will likely notice that the soil is waterlogged at this point.
Giving your tree a break by taking it outside if possible or letting the soil drain without a garden saucer in the bathtub for a day is a good solution. Afterward, you can adjust your watering schedule appropriately. Our watering schedule also has a section for indoor planting.
Step 4: Fertilizer for Kaffir lime trees
Your Kaffir lime tree will need both macro and micronutrients, just like a human. The macronutrients that all plants need are Nitrogen, Phosphorus, and Potassium. You have likely seen fertilizers and soil which state three numbers together, this is the N – P – K system which shows the concentration and relative amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium respectively.
These macronutrients are very important for the color of the leaves, development of the root system, proper flowering, fruiting, and taste of the fruit respectively and appropriate photosynthesis, the growth of the trunk of the tree in general. See our blog article on nutrition for more information.
Micronutrients are also very important - think of these as vitamins for humans. They are needed in much smaller quantities and plants can have characteristic symptoms if they have a micronutrient deficiency. We will detail out micronutrients and symptoms of deficiencies in later articles.
However, our promise to you is that we make this simple. Between regular potting soil and the fertilizer we recommend, you will have all the macronutrients and micronutrients that your tree needs and a simple fertilizing schedule for easy and effective fertilizing when you get your tree and for every February, May, and August. See our fertilizer schedule below for amounts that we recommend.
Ounces to use every Feb, May, and Aug
Miracle-Gro for Citrus, Avocado and Mango (13-7-13)
Espoma Citrus (5-2-6)
Step 5: Sunlight for Kaffir lime trees
Sunlight is crucial to kaffir lime trees, especially because it is A tropical plant. In most areas of the United States, you want to maximize sunlight with full sun exposure. If you are planting indoors, make sure that it has full sun next to the window, but we would also recommend having a grow light.
Citrus does best when it has at least six hours of sunlight a day. If the temperature is consistently above 90° especially for younger trees, there may be some wilting of the leaves. This wilting will reverse however and at this point, it would be advantageous to keep your tree by elementary and partial shade.
Step 6: Winter Protection for Kaffir lime trees
We recommend that under freezing temperatures, you move your citrus tree into a warmer area such as a garage or indoors for the entire winter. Utilizing a grow light would be a great supplement for continued growth.
There is nothing more frustrating than losing years of work and future decades of fruit than losing your citrus tree to a freak cold-snap which occurred while you were vacationing out of town! Citrus can die with exposure to temperatures in the teens for even up to 12 hours.
Step 7: Where do I buy my Kaffir lime tree?
First of all, if you live in the states of California, Arizona, Louisiana, or Florida, you will need to purchase your citrus tree locally as citrus cannot be imported into your state because of USDA regulations.
Step 8: Harvesting your Kaffir limes
The crop is distributed around May to October, with the fruit taking about 4 months to ripen.
Check out our citrus blog for more insightful information about this wonderful citrus tree, including valuable tips on growing citrus.
Growing Trees is fun, and every tree we send comes with a 20-page care guide