The Kaffir Lime Tree has a distinctive double-lobed, glossy, deep green leaves that look like two leaves joined together and with one growing at the tip of the other. The fruit of this citrus tree is dark green in color and unlike any other fruit with a bumpy rind. The rind and zest can be used for mouth-watering dishes.
Citrus hystrix, commonly known as a Kaffir lime tree, makrut lime tree or Mauritius papeda, is a citrus tree native to the tropical Asian countries such as India, Malaysia, Philippines and Thailand. Its fruit and leaves are popularly used for Asian cuisines and are essentially indispensable especially to Thai dishes.
Kaffir lime trees are evergreen trees that reach 5-10 ft in height when fully grown and grows best in USDA growing zones 8-11. Although they can be grown in-ground outdoors, these citrus trees flourish in potted environments in a container with satisfactory drainage.
The Kaffir lime tree has a distinctive double-lobed, glossy, deep green leaves that look like two leaves joined together and with one growing at the tip of the other. These leaves are the most used part of the Kaffir lime tree and are typically used for flavoring Asian dishes like soups, curries, salads, fish, and other stir-fried dishes. When you crush the leaves of this fruit tree, fragrant oils that emit an exquisite citrus aroma are released. Young leaves are shredded for salads and mature leaves are cut in smaller pieces or tossed whole to add a lemony-spicy taste to dishes.
Kaffir Lime Tree Fruit
The Kaffir lime tree fruit, which is the size of a Western Lime, is not as popular as the leaves. The fruit of this citrus tree is dark green in color and unlike any other fruit of lemon lime trees it has a lumpy surface. The juice is seldom used because it is rather acidic, bitter, and overly sour. The rind is used in creating curry pastes and the zest is used to leave a poignant flavor to mouth-watering dishes like fried fish cakes.
Finding a lime tree online is a piece of cake and growing a citrus tree is fairly easy as well. However, we still need to properly care for a Kaffir lime tree to make sure it is alive and fruit bearing for years to come.
Citrus trees, including the Kaffir Lime tree, prefer full sun all year round, but under the right conditions, can tolerate a Mediterranean climate or mild, dry winters. The USDA recommends growing these lime trees in growing zones 8 through 11.
Kaffir Lime trees thrive in deep, well-draining, slightly acidic soil.
Drip watering with a timer is highly recommended to ensure regular watering that encourages the growth of healthy fruit. Make sure to allow the soil to dry out a little bit before the next watering, since the roots are prone to root rot when left wet for too long.
When removing weeds around the base of the lime tree, use your hands to prevent damage to important surface-feeding roots.
For the first two years of your sapling fruit trees, remove the fruits so the fruit tree is able use all the nutrients in the soil and all its energy into growing the root system. Furthermore, it is a good idea to remove fruits from young and weak branches, because their weight can cause damage to the growing lime tree.
Growing A Kaffir Lime Tree in a Pot
If you are buying a one year-old Kaffir lime tree, the recommended container size to be used for re-potting is a 6-9-inch container. A two to three-year-old tree can be replanted into a 12-14-inch pot. Find a pot with drainage holes and fill it with an inch of potting soil.
Gently ease the Kaffir lime tree out of the container it originally came in, and carefully untangle the roots. Inspect the root stock and snip any damaged or diseased shoots before putting it into its new container.
Cover the root ball with a mixture of one-part compost, one-part sand, and 2-parts cedar shavings. Make sure that the root collar is above the soil. Gently firm the soil.
Deep water the re-potted Kaffir lime tree before moving it to a south facing location where it can get full sunlight and good air circulation. Deep water your tree once a week and use a moisture meter to check if the soil is dry near the roots before watering it again. Cut back on watering during cooler weeks and just spray the foliage with water.
All lemon lime trees needs lots of nitrogen and Kaffir Lime trees are no exception. Sprinkle well-composted chicken or sheep manure pellets around the base of your Kaffir lime tree after planting and spread it out to the drip line. Once you water the plant and soil, the pellets would slowly release nitrogen into the soil.
Use a 2-1-1 ratio (Nitrogen, Phosphorous and Potassium) citrus fertilizer around the base of the lime tree; use a citrus fertilizer that contains iron, zinc and manganese, and follow the manufacturer’s directions for application amounts.
Fruit & Harvesting
Kaffir limes are rough, green fruits that are small and usually just around 3-5 cm wide and 5-7 cm tall. They are easily distinguished by its bumpy rind that is absolutely unique to this lime species. Kaffir limes are somewhat dry, and the juice is acidic, overly tart, and bitter. The leaves are utterly aromatic, and the most often used part of the tree.
Besides being used for Asian dishes, Kaffir limes are said to promote oral health, help in detoxifying blood, improve skin and hair health, help with digestion, and possibly decrease inflammation. Kaffir limes have a high concentration of alkaloids, limonene, nerol, citronellol, and other organic compounds which are beneficial due to their anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties.
Like other lemon lime tree fruits, the optimal time for harvesting Kaffir lime trees can be a bit baffling. Limes are generally harvested while still green for us to get the zest we need and the best taste we are looking for; fully ripe limes’ exterior are yellow, and the juice is bitter.
Universally, limes take about 3 to four months until they reach the peak flavor. To know when your green Kaffir lime is ready for harvesting, look for a fruit that has light-green rind and give it a slight squeeze. If it gives a little just like other ripe fruits, you can gently pluck it from the tree
and cut it in half. If the juice is sufficient it means the fruits are ready for harvesting. Fruits can be kept in fridge for up to 2 weeks.
Kaffir Lime zest and finely chopped rind can be used for making curries and added to soups and stews. Whole Kaffir limes can be used to make “rhum arrange” or “rum with macerated fruit”. It can also be used as a substitute for lemon juice and zest to make desserts, tarts and other pastries; just remember that it has a stronger taste and aroma, and a small amount of it can go a long way.
A Kaffir lime tree can reach up to 10 ft tall and grown outdoors in USDA hardiness zones 8 through 11 but are best suited for indoor planting. It usually blooms in spring and bears fruit in fall. Also, since it is a subtropical fruit, it flourishes in warm climates and must be protected when the temperature falls below 32°F.
Place your lime tree in a pot full of well-draining soil and an area where it can get full sunshine which is required for it to produce the nutrients it needs to grow.
Snip away any brown or dead branches as they can strip away the nutrients from the healthier parts of your lime tree. Prune the diseased limbs as they could spread the disease around the tree.
Pests and Diseases
When buying citrus trees it is a good practice to get them from a reputable nursery to ensure you will get a healthy plant free of diseases.
As other citrus trees, Kaffir lime trees are not exempt from pest infestation. Common pests that harm lime trees are scales, citrus mites, aphids, and leaf miners. When solving pest problems first try an organic approach and use beneficial bugs, citrus sprays, or neem oil. In the event the tree has major infestation and can no longer be controlled using organic solutions, then you can use insecticides or pesticides. Just make sure that you use the right spray at the right time of the year, according to the manufacturer’s instructions, to be sure you get the best results.
Most diseases can be prevented or minimized by proper care. However, even with proper care and precaution, lime trees can still suffer from fruit and foliage disease and fungal infection.
For fruit disease like brown fruit rot, you need to spray your Kaffir lime tree with a copper-based fungicide before the rainy season and store the infected fruits separately. Meanwhile, to prevent Stylar end rot, harvest the fruits in the afternoon during dry weather.
Bacterial infection citrus canker that causes leaves and fruits to turn yellow can be thwarted by spraying copper-based fungicide in spring. Citrus greening, a disease spread by Asian citrus psyllid that causes the stem and leaves to die and fruits to taste bitter, on the other hand cannot be cured and infected trees need to be destroyed.
Are there other uses for the Kaffir lime?
Kaffir lime seeds are traditionally used to help solidify fruit jams, because the seeds are high in pectin. The seeds are crushed and steeped in a filter bag within the heating fruit mixture, when jam is being made. The steeped seeds add pectin, which is helpful in thickening the fruit jam once cooled.
Is it true that Kaffir Limes have medicinal uses?
Kaffir lime tea made from the leaves is said to help congestion and relieve coughs. Also, traditional wisdom holds that adding Kaffir Lime Leaves and rind to foods can aid in digestion. The oil in Kaffir Limes is thought to have some antibacterial properties.
How big will a Kaffir lime tree get?
Kaffir Lime Trees will grow to a height of 15 to 18 feet tall in ground, and reach a width of about 15 to 20 feet but remain smaller in pots.
Where are Kaffir lime trees grown?
Kaffir lime trees are native to Asia, but they are also grown in Australia, California, and Florida.
In what kinds of dishes can you use Kaffir limes?
Many Thai, Malaysian, and Indonesia dishes use Kaffir Lime leaves, such as fruit salads, curries, seafood, poultry, and soups. The fruit rind is also used as zest in curry paste, marinades, and stews. Because of their fragrant citrus flavor, Kaffir lime leaves pair well with fish, shellfish, poultry, rice, and a wide variety of vegetables.
What does Kaffir Lime smell and taste like when used?
Kaffir lime leaves provide dishes with an unmistakable, floral fragrance and tart but not sour citrus flavor. They are often used like bay leaves, to simmer in stews or soups, and have a similar flavor to lime juice, but with a more citrus blossom aroma.
How do you use a Kaffir lime?
Kaffir limes produce a dry, seedy fruit that is sour and acidic. The fragrant leaves are used in Thai and other dishes to lend a unique, fragrant, citrus-like flavor. The fruit rind is also used for bittering or to add a citrus zest to recipes. Since the leaves and fruit lose much of their flavor when dried, a living tree can become a chef’s prized possession.