The Australian native citrus commonly known as finger limes (‘Citrus australasica’) are more than a native botanical wonder, they are also a culinary curiosity. These small, elongated tangy fruits, distinct from regular limes, are highly sought after in restaurants across Australia.
Described as the ‘caviar’ of the citrus world, pearl-like vesicles burst with a tangy, lemon-lime flavour, making them a favourite among chefs for adding a zesty tang to dishes. As ornamental plants, they offer lush, thorny, evergreen foliage and delicate fragrant flowers.
At Garden Express, we specialise in helping enthusiasts successfully cultivate finger limes so everyone can enjoy the unique native delight of finger limes in their garden.
Varieties of Finger Limes
Finger limes come in a variety of cultivars that differ mainly in the size and colour of the fruit. The skin of these unique fruits can be green, burgundy, or a muted orange, while the pulp inside varies from green to pale peach or red. These differences are mostly just aesthetic, as the flavour profile across different varieties remains consistent.
This diversity in appearance makes finger limes a delight in the kitchen and an appealing addition to any aussie backyard. Garden Express stock a variety of finger lime plants including:
Finger Lime Growing Zone
Finger limes are native to the sub-tropical rainforests of southeastern Queensland and northeastern New South Wales in Australia. In their natural habitat, they can grow up to 6 metres tall. Grown at home, they typically reach about 3 metres tall, allowing easier access to the fruit. They grow naturally as understory plants and can tolerate more shade than typical citrus trees. They will, however, produce more fruit when exposed to full sunlight.
Ideal Growing Conditions
Ideal growing conditions will be a balance of climate, soil, and care. While they are comfortable in various climates, they flourish in temperate to subtropical regions. Coastal gardens work provided they are sheltered from strong winds.
In dry regions with intense summer heat, finger limes benefit from afternoon shade to prevent leaf burn. Understanding finger lime growing conditions helps gardeners replicate the ideal environment in their own settings, whether in the ground or in containers.
How to Grow Finger Limes
Selecting the Right Spot
When planting, choosing the right location is crucial. They thrive in areas that get ample sunlight, but can tolerate partial afternoon shade. A well-draining soil rich in organic matter is best for healthy growth. Consider raised beds or mounds if drainage is a concern.
Soil and Watering
Soil preparation is vital for finger limes. They thrive in well-drained soil with a pH between 6 and 7. In clay soils, adding gypsum and creating a raised mound can improve drainage. Regular watering is key, especially during dry spells. However, avoid over-watering, as they are susceptible to root rot.
Finger Lime Planting
Start by digging a hole slightly larger than the root ball and add your compost and well-rotted manure. Position the plant, ensuring it’s at the same depth as it was in its nursery pot, and fill the hole gently with soil. After planting, it helps to water with a seaweed solution to reduce transplant shock and encourage root growth. Finally apply a layer of mulch, keeping it away from the trunk to prevent fungal problems.
Sunlight and Temperature
Adequate sunlight is essential for strong fruit growth. While finger limes can withstand light frosts, protecting them in their early years will ensure you get better growth and fruiting.
Growing Finger Limes in Pots
Growing in pots is an excellent alternative for gardeners with limited space. A large pot with ample drainage holes filled with a quality citrus potting mix will support healthy growth. Use a premium quality potting mix and a pot with a minimum diameter of 50cm. Water in with a seaweed solution and mulch the surface. Ensure the potted plant receives plenty of sunlight and is watered regularly.
Finger Lime Grafting
Grafting is a valuable option when growing finger limes, especially for those seeking quicker fruit production. Grafted varieties typically bear fruit within a year of planting, which is significantly faster compared to non-grafted trees and can take up to 15 years to start producing. Grafted plants can be more expensive, but are worth the investment for their faster yield. Additionally, grafting can improve the plant’s adaptability to different soil types and climates, enhancing the overall success rate of cultivation.
You can expect fruit for grafted varieties within a year of planting. It’s worth noting that non-grafted forms can take up to 15 years before they begin producing any fruit.
Good quality gardening gloves and thick padded sleeves are a must when harvesting due to sharp thorns. Finger limes should be harvested when they are fully ripe, as they do not ripen further once they have been picked. Ripe fruit will feel firm to the touch, and detach easily from the tree. Some varieties will also change skin colour when ripe. Regularly check the base of the tree for any fallen fruit as this is a good indication that your finger limes are ripe. Harvesting at the right time is important to getting the best flavour and texture from your fruit.
Ongoing Care and Maintenance
Like other citrus plants, finger limes are heavy feeders. Apply compost, manure, and organic pellets in spring, summer, and autumn. In warmer climates, winter feeding is also beneficial. Additionally, provide some liquid seaweed every 2-4 weeks for abundant harvests, especially for young and container-grown plants. Water thoroughly during flowering and fruiting as they have a relatively shallow root system. Prune dead or damaged wood as needed.
Pests and Disease Management
Finger limes are susceptible to pests like aphids, mites, and scale. These pests can be controlled with organic sprays. They may also face issues with sooty mold. Use traps or bait sprays for fruit flies and prune galls caused by wasps. Root rot and collar rot are fungal diseases that are prevented with well-drained soil and careful watering.
Finger Limes from Garden Express
Finger limes offer a unique native addition to both your garden and kitchen. Their distinct appearance, flavour, and adaptability make them a rewarding choice for gardeners. Whether for culinary use or ornamental purposes, Garden Express can help you source the perfect Finger Lime plant suitable for various Australian climates. For quality plants and expert advice, get in touch with our friendly team today.