The Tahitian lime grows well in the Sydney climate, even though it is regarded as being at its best in subtropical and tropical areas. It develops into a small, attractive, spreading evergreen tree (ht 3 m) with dark green, glossy leaves. Beautiful creamy white flowers with a strong fragrance appear in spring then become dark green, round, seedless fruit with a thin skin. Peak fruit production is in late autumn to mid-winter. The fruit is fragrant and juicy, and ideal for use in the kitchen. Limes can be picked when deep green in colour but if allowed to ripen on the tree a little longer, they will develop a lighter yellowish-green skin and are said to contain more juice than those picked earlier. If you are lucky enough to have a bumper crop, the juice can be squeezed and frozen in ice-cube trays for use during the rest of the year!
Tahitian Limes are hungry feeders and prefer a very well-drained, slightly acid soil with lots of organic matter. They need a full sun position and to be protected from strong winds that can dry out the pots and damage the flowers. Fertilise in spring and autumn, and water regularly in the hotter months. Keep the area beneath the tree free of grass and weeds. Mulch with compost or other organic material, but don't let the mulch touch the trunk of the tree, as this can induce collar rot. Prune in late winter to remove dead, diseased or crossing branches. Remove the young fruit in the first two years of the tree's life, to allow it to focus its energies on growing! A Tahitian lime can be grown in a large pot, as long as the tree is grafted onto dwarf rootstock, such as the cultivar 'Sublime'. Repot the plant as it grows until it is eventually placed in a decent-sized container. Once the final pot size is reached, repot every three to four years, pruning congested roots that were at the edge of the pot and teasing away tired potting mix then repot with some fresh potting medium.Make sure the pot is well watered but not overwatered (this will leach nutrients from the soil) and don't have a saucer under the pot that can collect water, as this may cause root-rot. In cold-winter suburbs, pot-grown specimens can be moved to a sheltered position in winter, as Tahitian limes don't like too much frost. Keep potted limes well fed during the warmer months with a granular fertiliser every three to four months and a dose of Seasol every four to six weeks. Put a layer of mulch on top of the pot but keep it away from the trunk.
There are various pests which attack citrus - not all affect the fruit, but they can distort the foliage. Eco Oil can be applied on a regular basis to control most of the pests, which include citrus leaf miner (prevalent in summer and autumn), the horrid bronze orange bug (which can affect the fruit as well as the foliage), scale and aphids. There are also sticky traps available to hang in the tree to attract the male citrus leaf miner in order to reduce overall population numbers; this pest is particularly active from December through to April. When establishing a new tree, it is important to control citrus leaf miners, as they will severely affect its growth.
Wild limes are believed to have first grown in Indonesia or Southeast Asia, and then were transported to the Mediterranean region and north Africa around 1000 CE. To prevent scurvy during the 19th century, British sailors were issued a daily allowance of citrus, such as lemon, and later switched to lime, as these provided the vitamin C that was deficient in their diets. Limes are an important ingredient in various cuisines: those of Southern India, Mexico, Vietnam and Thailand. The kaffir lime, which is used for its aromatic, distinctively shaped leaves, is a different species (Citrus hystrix). Note that the so-called Rangpur lime is a hybrid between a mandarin and a lemon.