How to Grow a Key Lime Tree in a Pot


The key lime (Citrus aurantifolia) is a citrus species cultivated for its fruit and native to Southeast Asia. Its name comes from its use in Florida as the main flavoring agent in key lime pie. Key limes can be grown permanently outdoors only in frost-free areas but can be grown successfully in containers that are protected during the winter. Potted plants will flower and produce fruit provided they are properly maintained.

Things You'll Need

  • Peat-based compost
  • 15 gallon container
  • Grow a key lime tree from seed or buy a potted plant from a nursery or store. A plant grown from seed will take up to seven years to flower and fruit. Many potted plants from stores are thornless varieties grafted onto rootstock and will flower after 3 or 4 years.

  • Place your potted key lime tree outdoors once all danger of frost has passed. Key limes will not tolerate frost and are dormant at temperatures below 54 degrees Fahrenheit. Choose a well-lit site with plenty of direct sunshine that is sheltered from the wind.

  • Water your lime tree when the surface of the compost is dry and allow any excess water to drain away. Fertilize your tree once a month while it is outdoors using a balanced liquid fertilized enriched with trace minerals. Prune away any shoots that grow out of the main trunk and remove any spindly growth in the late spring. Remove the main growing tip of your plant once it has reached the height you require.

  • Move your plant indoors as soon as night time temperatures drop to 54 degrees. Place your key lime in a bright spot such as a west or south facing windowsill. Water when they surface of the compost is dry but do not soak through. Do not place the pot on a saucer to prevent water logging of the soil. Mist every day and wipe the leaves once a week with a damp cloth.

  • Re-pot your tree only when it is completely pot-bound or you want it to grow larger. A 15 gallon container is suitable for a key lime plant up to 10 feet high. Use a peat-based compost that is slightly acidic. Make sure that the whole trunk of your key lime is above soil level to prevent rotting.

Tips & Warnings

  • If your key lime plant flowers before you have moved it outdoors, transfer pollen between flowers using a paintbrush to ensure pollination and the development of fruit.
  • Key lime plants are vulnerable to a deadly disease called foot rot if over watered or kept in cool, damp conditions.

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  • Photo Credit lemon on tree image by Tomislav from
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