Looking around our driveway, you may notice I have a few citrus plants.
The area around our driveway happens to provide a microclimate that these plants enjoy. There’s the lemon tree I was given around a decade ago by a former employer. The mandarin tree that I purchased after lockdown. And five – yes, five – lime trees.
I purchased my first lime tree for about $12, around 3 years ago. It’s a Tahitian lime. It was small when I got it, and I’ve been increasing the pot-size each year. I’m not going to lie – at the beginning of spring, it was looking super sad.
It was yellow and defoliated. It had lived outside the greenhouse for a while and just got a bit neglected. But in September I gave it a bigger home. I added some Tui Citrus Food and Epsom Salts to the soil. Then I topped it off with Mulch and Feed. Over the last 5 or 6 months it has more than doubled in size and set around a dozen fruit. It has absolutely taken OFF.
We should be getting our first Tahitian limes this winter. I’m very excited.
Next up, is the finger limes. Finger limes look a lot like a chili in shape (hence ‘finger’ lime). When you cut them open, the flesh of the fruit resembles caviar – but lime flavoured. It makes for a wonderful addition to fish, salads, and – of course – cocktails and drinks.
I first learned about them two years ago, and immediately sought out and purchased two plants from Neville Chun, a well-known grower of interesting things in Wellington. When they arrived, they were maybe 15cm tall, and in 9cm pots. Today, they are in 13 litre pots and about 45cm tall.
I think he sent me two varieties. Finger limes are native to Australia where they seed freely. This means there are dozens (maybe hundreds) of individual cultivars. They can range in colour, flavour, and – I think – growth habit.
One of the trees (above) has larger leaves, and grows much faster than the other. It’s always had larger leaves, and it’s always been more vigorous. It’ll be interesting to see what I get when they start producing fruit – which may still be 2-3 years away.
Last week, I walked into my shift at work and found a half a dozen finger limes sitting on the table. I couldn’t help myself – I selected one and put it aside until the end of my shift. That evening, a new finger lime was added to the collection.
It resembles my more vigorous cultivar, and I’d estimate it’s been growing in the nursery for about 18 months, based on my other plants. These prickly little monsters make me happy: even if they take ages to grow and I’ve never even seen a finger lime – let alone tasted one.
The problem with my Tahitian lime is it’s going to give me lots of limes in winter. Why is it limes ripen in winter, when they are so particularly delicious in summer?
When I realised this, I set my sights on finding a Bearss lime. Apparently it has a later fruiting window and might be able to hold the fruit into summer.
A month or two ago, I had to make a trip to Whangarei to pick up our giant wheelbarrow. On the way, I stopped in at a couple of garden centers for a nosey. At Palmers, I found a stand of limes – about the size I originally purchased my Tahitian lime at. On that stand was my Bearss lime.
I gave it a hug and did a little dance. The garden center staff laughed at me. They had a sale on so it wasn’t very expensive at all. I bought it home, potted it up with citrus food and mulch, then introduced it to the collection.
It’ll be a couple of years, but eventually I will be swimming in limes.
Keeping them alive
Citrus is pretty easy to grow, but I’m noticing when I put the effort into giving them care, they respond by growing faster and producing more fruit.
This season, I’ve spent more time (and money) on a nutrient and spray regime. I use Tui Citrus Food every couple of months. I put the last application for the season on last night. I’ll hold off for winter, and start again in spring. Where I had yellow leaves, I also used some Epsom Salts to correct that.
I’ve kept them mulched with Tui Mulch and Feed. This product includes blood and bone and sheep manure, so it’ll help keep the nitrogen and organic matter levels up. It also helps the plants retain moisture.
And about once a month they get sprayed with Conqueror Oil. This is an organic-certified product that controls a lot of problems, including scale, which seems to be our biggest issue. It basically works by suffocating the insects.
I spray in the evenings using a 5l pressure sprayer with a wand so I can really get in there and direct the spray. Each plant is sprayed until it drips, making sure to get the stems and underside of the leaves. Spraying in the evening is really important as Conqueror is an oil. The heat of the summer sun can cause it to act like oil in a pan, burning the leaves. I would love to do it less regularly, but the insects keep coming back, so it needs to be done.
This winter I’ll be doing some pruning. I’ve been itching to do it since spring, but in New Zealand we have a native insect commonly called the lemon tree borer. It is most active in the warmer months and lays its eggs on cuts made while pruning. Once those larvae are in your tree, it’s a big headache, and I’d rather not take the risk.
These plants will probably stay in pots for a while – at least until I find really good homes. They are all growing happily in there, and I don’t want to risk messing up a good thing.