Growing Kaffir Lime From Seeds

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.

18 thoughts on “Growing Kaffir Lime From Seeds

Add yours

    1. Fresh ingredients always make food taste better. There is something special about fresh picked Kaffir lime leaves. As I have written, it’s very easy to grow. Let me know if there is anything I can do to assist.

    1. It’s tough since I can do it only on my days off and early in the morning. But it’s something I love to do and it’s very satisfying when I see the outcome. I think, as an accomplished gardener yourself, you already know that. The way your garden looks, there is a lot of effort, love, caring, and all the time you have been putting in.

  1. Nice article,
    maybe you can help me, the leaves of my seedlings are not fragrant (only a fairly scent on some when I rub the leaves between my finger)
    is it normal ?

  2. I am debating on whether to grow from seed or hunting down an established tree. How long would you estimate before you can start picking off leaves for use when growing from seed? Thank you, Karen

    1. You should be able to pick some leaves after three years. I usually let them grow to around 8 inches tall before I start pruning. Logee’s sells them but they sell by pot size so I have no idea how big the plant is.

    1. There is a nursery that see Kaffir lime, Logee’s. They offer very good service and plenty of tropical plants. However, I don’t know if they grow kaffir lime from seed.

    1. Thank you. No, I don’t sell them, just gave most of them away to friends who garden and cook. At this point the seedlings I posted are too big to ship anyway. We are in New York.

  3. So jealous of all your little (and big) KL trees! I one, bought as a 12″ sapling in Texas and carefully nurtured in/transplanted to central Mexico, where it eventually grew into a bush that provided as many leaves as my Thai food loving heart could want.

    Unfortunately am now in India, have tried growing from seeds bought in the States, very little luck so far. And no plants to be had here. Anyway, this was a wonderful post, thank you. Link saved for the great advice for when I hopefully find a plant in the future that will be delivered here.

    1. Hope you can find fertile seeds. It sounds to me like you had a problem with the seeds you used. It should be much easier to grow it in India since the weather is much warmer than the States.

    1. Asian grocery stores that sell fresh kaffir lime should have some. I have only a few years old seeds left and don’t think they will sprout. If I come across fresh seeds, will let you know.

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