How to Grow Citrus Indoors: Bearss Limes

Bearss Lime ©Kim Smith 2013Bearss Lime

No, that is not a typo! Bearss Lime is a cultivar of the Tahiti Lime (Citrus latifolia) and was first discovered by T. J. Bearss in 1895 in his California grove. 

Bearss Limes ©Kim Smith 2013

Have you ever thought about growing dwarf citrus trees? We have grown Meyer Lemons successfully but this year was the first with our little Bearss Lime tree. We were blessed with a bumper crop!

I had read conflicting information on when to harvest limes–some sources said when green, others when greenish yellow, and still others claimed limes are sweetest when fully yellow. The longer the lime grows on the tree, the more yellow it becomes until, and as you can see in the above photo, it develops the appearance of a lemon. I wanted to do a side-by-side comparison and see for myself which ripeness was best for the limes from our tree and yesterday picked one yellow, one green, and in the process, a smallish one fell off. (when picking citrus, grasp the fruit gently and twist upward with a firm, but again gentle, hand).

I grow citrus firstly for its fabulously scented flowers and secondly for its fruit. Oil of citral is harvested from lime blossoms and is the base of many perfumes. One of the strongest threads running through my book, Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities!, is the wealth of information on the most highly scented cultivars covering a wide range of plant families including roses, narcissus, lilacs, jasmines, gardenias, and even fragrant daylilies! The fragrance of citrus blossoms, especially that of the orange, lemon, and lime, is up there at the top of my list, alongside gardenias and roses, for most beautiful scents found the world over.

Citrus plants are fairly indestructible, although they will quickly let you know when they’re unhappy. A few leaves will yellow and fall off, and if the problem is not resolved immediately, the entire plant will defoliate. This is typically due to overwatering and/or a soil mixture that does not allow for excellent drainage. Do not be discouraged, even if the entire plant becomes leafless. Water less frequently and try repotting the plant in a more suitable growing medium. Usually, they can be revived and the survivor will be healthier.

Lime Pellegrino water ©Kim Smith 2013 copy

Back to our experiment ~ Without doubt the yellow lime was the sweetest. The green lime made my mouth fully pucker, the yellow not at all. Both had a wonderfully zesty-fresh-limey fragrance and taste, but the yellow was less tart and I think would be delicious in pies and and lime-aid. With the remaining limes on our tree I will definitely wait until they develop more yellow than green before harvesting.
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To learn more about growing citrus indoors see the chapter on fragrant plants for patios and terraces, Chapter 17, in my book Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities! Notes from a Gloucester Garden.

Oh Garden of Fresh Possibilities! sells for only $15.00 on my publisher’s website, which is a $2o.00 value off the list price of $35.00.

Click here to purchase a copy of Oh Garden.

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A citrus plant would make a very special holiday gift. Logees Greenhouse mail order is a great source for a wide range of dwarf citrus plants, the common and the not so common, including Buddha’s Hand, Blood Oranges, Key Lime, kumquat, Mandarin orange, and many more.

9 comments

  • I could smell the limes….and what a great website, Kim!

    • Thank you Cynthia for the kind words re my website. I have been working on it and there are still a few pages under construction, but i am so glad you like it!!

  • Good hint on the limes most I have seen this way are green – but there is also transit time invovled and many of the vetables and fruits are grown this way from all over but tropical JEJU island.

    • I did not know limes would eventually turn yellow until I began growing the little Bearss tree. I think it would be too confusing in stores if they suddenly began selling yellow limes that look identical to lemons!

  • Paul Morrison & RD

    Great article Kim. I wish that stores would figure out they could market ripe yellow limes. They are starting to get close when they sell key limes every once in a while but still they are picked unripe. We have had a lime tree (let’s see Ted is 23 so …) for 21 years that we purchased three feet tall at Lexington Gardens. It is in its third pot and is about seven feet tall. Out in the back yard after last frost and brought in about three weeks ago to stare out a window for the winter.

    It blooms three or four times a year and I pick off most of the flowers after they start going to seed leaving about 15. If I do it right I have two to three crops of sizes from marble size, ping pong ball sized to three or four full limes turning yellow. It seems like you cannot leave them on the tree too long they just get sweeter and sweeter.

    Nothing is better than the first gin and tonic of the season with a squeezed wedge of ripe lime along with some home made Pad Thai with lime slices on top. (Thai Choice on Main Street comes close.)

    We came back from a two week trip to a sad lime tree in the backyard as it had been two hot weeks with no rain. I touched it and pretty much every leaf but two fell off. It seemed dead as a door nail but I watered it anyway. The next day those two leaves perked up and new growth came out in a week.

    Key: water once a week. Citrus fertilizer and a large iron nail in the soil once a year. Don’t ask me what the nail does, Sue is the chemist.

  • Wow. It never occured to me that I could do this. I just came back from a trip to California where we had citrus trees in the yard – and I was in love. I’m gonna give this a try!

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