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Much Easier Than You Think

Kaffir lime (Citrus hystrix) has many benefits, in both food and medicinal.  Using its leaves is much common in cooking.  Fruit is too sour to use but rind is also used in cooking.  I love the scent of its crushed leaf and have been using them in my cooking.  The oldest and biggest tree I have is around 20 years old.

The left one is around 20 years old.  If I had let it grow naturally, it probably would have grown higher than the roof by now.

The left one is around 20 years old. If I had let it grow naturally, it probably would have grown higher than the roof by now.

It’s a pretty tough tree.  Aside from being dragged up and down steps to the basement twice a year, it has been tipped sideways by strong wind many times.  But, it’s still growing and pushing out new leaves every year.  I have to prune it down every year so it can fit in the basement during winter.  The rest of the limes are at various ages.  I grow all Kaffir lime from seeds.

Kaffir limes at various ages.  This group are around two to three year's old.  They only spend time outside from spring to autumn when daytime temperatures are above 50 F

Kaffir limes at various ages. This group are around two to three year’s old. They only spend time outside from spring to autumn when daytime temperatures are above 50 F

Kaffir lime is a small tree, native of Asia.  Growing it from seed is not difficult even in a cold climate.  Just take seeds from a ripe fruit, select the healthy looking seeds and discard the flat ones.

  • Clean jell off the selected seeds and put them in seed starter medium.  Put one seed per container so seedlings can be replanted in a bigger pot without their roots disturbed later on.
  • Water, keep the container covered but leave a small gap for air to circulate then set it where it can get direct sun.
  • If you have a heat mat, set the temperature at 80° F.  Keeping the soil temperature constantly at 80° F will help the seeds germinate faster.  Fertile seeds will germinate within three weeks.  It may take a little bit longer without the heat mat.  With one batch I didn’t use the heat mat but put the tray out on a cement floor under direct sun during the day and took it in at night.  Some seeds may rot if the soil is too wet.

    Two month old Kaffir limes I germinated this year

    Two month old Kaffir limes I germinated this year

Clean, dry seeds can be kept in a dry airtight bag for a few years.  The seeds I germinated this year are three years old.

  • When you start Kaffir lime seedlings from dry seeds, soak the seeds for a couple of hours before putting them in the soil to soften the seed shell.  The wet seeds will feel a little bit slimy but that is common for lime seeds.
  • Once the seedlings develop a second set of true leaves, put them in a slightly bigger pot.  The potting soil should be loamy and kept moist at all times.  The key word is ‘moist’.  Kaffir lime hates wet, soggy soil.  Root rot can be a major problem.  So, if keeping the soil ‘moist’ is difficult, stay on the dry side… much safer that way.
  • If growing it in the house, keep it on the windowsill where it can get direct sunlight.  Plant lights will do if there is no access to direct sun, but the light need to be on at least 8 hours a day.
  • Kaffir lime can stay outside if the temperature is above 50° F both day and night.  It can deal with nighttime temperatures between 40-50°F if the pot is situated close to the house.
  • Change some of the potting soil every two years if possible.  Loosen the old soil off the roots around 1/3 from the bottom but not more than half then put the plant in a new pot with fresh soil mix with compost at the bottom.  Cover topsoil with some fresh soil and compost mix as well.  Water thoroughly.
  • Prune branches that crossed and rubbed one another.  Nip the tip off a plant  when it’s around six inches tall.  It will start to branch out.  Keep the pruned leaves in the freezer for future use in cooking.
  • Feed monthly and keep soil moist.  Stop feeding a month before taking the plant inside to over winter and start feeding again a month before bring it outside in spring or when new leaves start to bud.

    New leaves will start to bud in late winter, an indication to start feeding

    New leaves will start to bud in late winter, an indication to start feeding

  • Even keeping Kaffir lime in an apartment, stop feeding in late fall and during winter time.  Let it stay in semi-dormant stage until late winter.  The plant will tell you when to feed.  It will start sprouting new leaves, even in the house, when spring approaches.  This is an indication to start feeding.  Water it less in winter as well.

Spider mites are a known pest for houseplants, kaffir lime included.  An indication is the web and tiny specks on the leaves.  Leaves start to dry out and drop.  If this problem occurs, give it a good shower both top and bottom of the leaves.   Aphids like fresh new leaves, just spray them off with water.  A spray bottle works very well for this.

The easy part, growing, is done.  The difficult part is to refrain from eating it until it’s big enough to tolerate the leaves being picked off.