Thursday, September 6, 2012

Growing Lemons and Limes

Foodies know how fresh ingredients take a recipe from good to great. For gardeners, the idea of harvesting fruits and vegetables and being able to serve healthy, tasty meals, is a source of pride. And, with success, comes the anticipation of being able to try more exotic plants to grow different foods. So, its not surprising that more and more people are asking for citrus trees, particularly lemons and limes to add to their fresh food mix.
Key limes

The citrus plants that we carry at Valley View Farms are shipped in from either California or Florida. While not winter-hardy here, they can be grown outside in spring, summer and early fall, and inside during cooler weather. The sour fruits, including lemons, limes, kumquats and miniature oranges, do better in our area that sweeter citrus like grapefruits and oranges. The lemon trees that we received this spring were chock full of ripening fruit. Twenty or more yellow and green fruits loaded the tree, causing their branches to droop with weight. In addition to the beautiful fruit on citrus, the fragrance of the blossoms as they open is wonderful!

On a trip to Florida, many years ago, I brought back a small lime tree in my garment bag for a friend who had asked me to get him a citrus plant. The plant survived the trip, was repotted into a larger pot, was given sunshine and superb care. The two foot tall tree rewarded my friend with fifty-five fruits! The plant was so heavy with limes that it had to be supported with a scaffolding system made with small bamboo stakes and string.

Citrus plants are relatively slow growers especially when grown in containers. Following are a few facts about growing citrus here in Maryland.
  • Indoors, citrus should be placed in front of a window that gets plenty of direct sunlight. Plants can be moved outdoors when all danger of frost has passed.
  • Once outside, provide six hours of direct sun. Water when soil is dry to the touch. Provide a good, well-drained potting mix.
  • Consider placing larger pots onto a plant dolly, making the transition indoors when temperatures fall much easier.
  • Feed with Espoma Citrus Tone according to package directions.
  • Repot into a larger container every 2-3 years.
  • Scout for insects, particularly scale, and treat promptly with horticultural oil.
Lemon and lime trees produce a plentiful harvest. Use fruits fresh or freeze the juice from both to use in recipes later.
    Jan's Key Lime Squares
    1 cup all-purpose flour
    1/2 cup butter
    1/4 cup powdered sugar
    1 cup granulated sugar
    3 teaspoons grated Key Lime peel
    2 tablespoons Key Lime juice
    1/2 teaspoon baking powder
    1/4 teaspoon salt
    2 eggs

    Heat oven to 350 degrees F.
    Mix flour, butter, and powdered sugar. Press in ungreased 8x8x2 baking pan.
    Bake crust for 20 minutes.
    Beat granulated sugar, lime peel, lime juice, baking powder, salt and eggs with mixer at high speed for about 3 minutes or until light and fluffy. Pour over hot crust.
    Bake 30 minutes or until no indentation remains when touched lightly in center. Cool. Dust top with powdered sugar. Makes 25 squares.