How to Grow Meyer Lemon and Key Lime Trees

Turn the juice from Meyer lemons and Key limes into delicious drinks and desserts.

This dwarf Key lime tree is studded with juicy, full-sized Key limes. Courtesy of Gardens Alive! van Bourgondien Photography

I’m hungry for something that’s sweet, yet slightly tart, with a refreshing, summery taste. In other words, I’m thinking about lemon meringue pie, strawberry jam flavored with tangy lemon juice, and a gorgeous Meyer lemon tart with a gingersnap cookie crust. Lemons and limes are the gems of the citrus world, as far as I’m concerned, fruits that cost way too much at the supermarket. This year, I’m growing my own.
 
In my Zone 7b garden, winter temperatures can average as low as 5 to 10 degrees F. Meyer lemons are hardy in Zones 8 to 11, and Key limes overwinter in Zones 9 to 10. So how do I plan to grow and harvest all those juicy yellow and green fruits?
 
It’s easy. I’m growing my dwarf Key lime and Meyer lemon tree in containers that I’ll move indoors when the mercury drops. I had a Meyer lemon for almost ten years before an unexpected freeze caught me off guard in 2018, and my tree perished. (It was in a large pot that I forgot to move in time.) Until then, it flowered and fruited beautifully, giving me enough lemons to last all summer and perfuming my cool basement when its flowers opened.

Dwarf Meyer lemon tree Courtesy of Gardens Alive!

 
This spring, I’m starting over. My dwarf Key lime tree promises to give me golf-ball-sized limes while topping out at just two feet tall. I could plant it outside if I lived where the winters are warmer, but it’s ideal for my container garden. It’ll start bearing in one to three years, and while it’s self-pollinating, I’ll put it outside every summer to let the bees help. If I planted it in the ground (it prefers loamy, sandy soil), it could reach four to six feet tall and wide.
 
Of course, I had to plant another Meyer lemon too. It’ll get a little taller, hitting four to six feet high in a pot or six to ten feet in the ground. When it blooms, the flowers will release a sweet scent that can fill a room. Little green lemons follow and soon ripen to an orange-yellow color.
 
I’ve read that the original Meyer lemons were imported from China, but today’s trees are a kind of cross between regular lemons and oranges, which accounts for their tangy, slightly sweet flavor and good disease resistance. The fruits are thin-skinned and juicy. I’ll need a little patience because I know it can take up to two years for a Meyer lemon tree to start bearing. Like Key lime trees, it’s self-pollinating.
 
If you’re planting lemons and lime trees in the ground, give them a spot with at least six hours of sun a day. If you live where the summer heat and sunlight are intense, Meyer lemons like morning sun and some afternoon shade.
 
You can these trees in garden soil or a commercial potting mix but be sure the soil drains easily. Keep the crown of your trees just above the surface of the soil when you plant. Then gently firm the soil over the roots and water.
 

Citrus Alive Citrus Fertilizer
Citrus Alive! fertilizer
Courtesy of Gardens Alive!
van Bourgondien Photography


When you water again, give your trees a good, deep drink. Shallow watering, especially if you do it often, encourages roots to grow near the surface where they can dry out too fast.
 
A sign of overwatering: yellow or cup-shaped leaves. Underwatering: wilted leaves. My best advice is to watch the weather and adjust as needed. Give your trees more water when it’s hot and less if it turns cloudy, overcast, or cool.
 
I fertilized my original Meyer lemon tree each spring with citrus plant food, and that’s what I’ll do with these new trees. A special citrus fertilizer has the extra nitrogen they need. I’ve also started using a Four-Way Soil Analyzer that gives me info on light levels, my soil’s pH, and how moist my soil is. It even tells me about the amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium in my soil.
 

4-Way Soil Analyzer
Courtesy of Gardens Alive!


My old tree didn’t need much pruning, although I cut off any shoots that grew below the graft union (the knobby spot on the stem). I didn’t know for a long time, but it’s okay to remove the thorns.
 
I never had to spray my first Meyer lemon for diseases, but if I was trying to prevent fungal or bacterial disease, I’d use a bio-fungicide like Garden Sentinel. It’s fine for organic gardening and comes ready to use or in a concentrated formula.
 
I’d love to hear how you use your Meyer lemons and limes in recipes. Please share a link with me in the comments!
~Lynn
 
 
 

Black Petunias: Black Magic For Your Garden

I know, I know. This petunia doesn’t look very black in the photo. It’s more dark purple. But I promise–when you see it in person, it looks like black velvet.

You know what they say about a little black dress. Every woman needs one in her closet.  But black flowers in your garden? Aren’t black blooms usually dead blooms?

Well, no. I recently found a basket of gorgeous, near-black petunias at our local Home Depot, and they were so velvety and unusual, I just had to bring them home. But they aren’t completely black. It’s hard to find truly black plants, and many are just very deep, dark shades of purple, purple-red, or blue.

I’m telling you, so when you look at the pictures of my petunias, you won’t wonder what I’m talking about. That’s because my “black” petunias, when photographed in the sunlight, look purple. But when the light is right, they’re dusky and mysterious and beautifully, velvet-black. Each bloom has a pale yellow star in its throat.

I  don’t know the variety name, or I’d share it.  It’s possible that mine are ‘Pinstripe’ petunias; click here to see for yourself.  I don’t think I have ‘Phantom,’ which is sold by other seed sellers and garden centers, because the yellow markings look too wide.  But I bet if you look around, you can find something similar.

If a dip into the world of inky plants makes you yearn for more, check out a book called Black Plants: 75 Striking Choices for the Garden, by Paul Bonine (Timber Press). The author covers black pansies, lilies, agapanthus, hollyhocks (like the ‘Black Watchman’ heirloom hollyhocks in my gardening book), and more, all of which might persuade you that black is the new green.

I’m not ready to convert my garden, with its springlike palette of pale blues, yellows, pinks, and rose-red, to all-black, but it’s fun to try something really different–and that’s how gardeners are. We always want someone to visit and ask, “Where did you get that?”

Update: Thanks to Gary, at PlantCareToday.com, who wrote to tell me that King George III sent Napoleon Bonaparte’s brother, Joseph, to explore Argentina. While he was there, he collected samples that were used later to confirm that petunias and tobacco are related. Learn more about petunia care here.

Beautiful, Useful Rain Chains

Rain chain from Rain Chains Direct

A chain of hammered copper cups. The cups are open at the bottom, so rainwater can flow through to the ground.  Image courtesy of Rain Chains Direct.

I love watching water move, whether it’s at the beach or in a puddle stirred by the wind. I love the sounds of water, too, and sometimes I know it’s raining before I look outside, because I hear the water  gurgling down our gutters.

Recently we replaced one of those gutters – the ones my husband complains about, because they get choked with pine straw every fall – with a rain chain. It was super-easy to install. All we had to do was take off the downspout and measure the distance from the bottom of the gutter to the ground, so we’d know how long the chain needed to be.

Then we attached a gutter installer, a device that holds the chain.  You put the installer into what’s called the leader hole (the opening in the gutter that directs water to the downspout). Add the chain, tighten a bolt, and you’re done.

rain chain gutter installer, courtesy of Rain Chains Direct

Here’s the gutter installer. The chain hangs from the bar in the middle. You tighten the bolt to hold the installer in place. Image courtesy of Rain Chains Direct.

To keep the chain taut, we tapped a stake into the ground and attached it. Next I’ll put some rocks from our creek under the chain to help distribute the run-off, but you can also buy catch basins to match your chain. They don’t hold a lot of water, but they add to the charm.

And rain chains really are charming, although they’re functional, too. Best of all, they don’t clog, so nobody has to climb a ladder and dig out wet, decomposing leaves.

Rain Chains Direct

Rain chains come in many styles. Some look like flowers or small cups; others are lengths of single or doubled loops. This 100% copper rain chain has aged to a soft patina. Image courtesy of Rain Chains Direct.

All I need now is rain, since we’re currently in a drought. I’m looking forward to seeing the little copper cups on my chain channel the water to the thirsty shrubs around our foundation, and to hearing it splash and tinkle. I’m watching the skies for clouds…and watching…and watching.

Thanks to Rain Chains Direct for providing the rain chain used in my review.  The opinions are my own, freely and sincerely given.

2016 Old Farmer’s Almanac Garden Guide

The 2016 Old Farmer’s Almanac Garden Guide is out! There are articles on making the most of a small garden space, and another on how to landscape when water is scarce.

I wrote two of this year’s stories: one on heirloom flowers, and one on garden trends.

Garden Guide 2016One trend won’t surprise most gardeners, because it’s ongoing. Our bees are in trouble. Their populations have been declining for years because of disease, parasitic mites, overuse of pesticides, and other issues.

Now gardeners are actively trying to help them, says Jeanine Standard, a spokesperson for Proven Winners. We’re using fewer chemicals in our yards and planting more flowers, shrubs, and other plants they can use for food and shelter.

Another trend: gardeners want to replace the impatiens they’ve been growing in shady spots, since the plants are still dying from powdery mildew. Standard recommends using caladiums and Browallias, although she says she thinks impatiens will make a comeback, since developers are working on their genetics.

As for trendy edibles, look for ‘Suntava Full Season Purple’ corn, available from W. Atlee Burpee & Co. It’s a stunning variety that’s purple from cob to husk to stalk. Burpee’s is also offering ‘Meatball,’ an eggplant that makes a great meat substitute in your recipes. I’ve tried them, and they’re delicious. The fruits are heavy, firm and sweet tasting.

Read about more new varieties in the issue–it’s on newsstands now.

 

How To Take Care of Your Christmas Cactus

Have you kept your grandmother’s Christmas cactus growing?  I don’t have my grandmother’s; wish I did. But I do have this one, given to me several years ago by a friend from church.

When I kept it on my desk inside an artificially-lit office, it didn’t re-bloom much. Worse, I made the mistake of re-potting the first year, only to discover later that these plants like to be somewhat root-bound.

Finally, I took my Christmas cactus home and left it on my shaded porch all summer and fall. One day I realized it was studded with buds, and today—ta dah! It’s turned out to be more of a Veteran’s Day cactus than one for Christmas, because it’s already blooming and it’s not quite mid-November, but that’s okay. It’s beautiful anyway, and I know the ones in stores have been cultivated in greenhouses, so they’re timed to bloom at the holidays.

I’ve done some reading about these plants, and I’ve learned that even though they are called “cacti,” they’re really epiphytes, and they’re in the same family as orchids. They’re native to Central and South America, where you’d find them growing in the forks of trees, rooted in the fallen leaves and other debris that gets caught in the branches.

To coax your Christmas cactus into bloom, give it cooler temperatures starting in September and October, around 50 degrees F. Keep it in a room where no lights will be on at night–even a little light will disrupt the bloom cycle. It will need 12 to 14 hours of total darkness each day.

Water your plant, but keep it on the dry side throughout the fall and winter. (Overwatering can cause the buds to drop.) Don’t expose it to freezing weather, or you’ll have mush and blackened stems. You can use an all-purpose liquid fertilizer during the growing season, which is roughly April to September each year.

Or you can do what I do, and just put your cactus outside in a shady spot starting in the spring, and water it when the top soil feels dry. Bring it in when the buds start to form. Keep it out of drafts, and in a spot that gets good light–but not in a window where direct sunlight will burn it.

By keeping your plant outdoors, Mother Nature will take care of the light exposure as the days grow shorter. Of course, your cactus will also bloom before Christmas, as mine is doing right now. That’s okay…it’s beautiful! And I’m grateful for the glory of flowers :-)

P.S. –Want to know more about caring for your Christmas cactus? Click this link to tips from Purdue University.

 

 

 

Recipes Every Man Should Know

Readers, some of you have been asking me to post recipes, and I’ve got a treat for you today! Susan Russo, co-author with Brett Cohen of Recipes Every Man Should Know, has generously agreed to let me share some of the delicious goodies packed into their little black book (see the cover, below). You can purchase a copy at bookstores, or online from Amazon or Barnes and Noble. If the book is sold out, just ask. Your bookseller should be able to order it for you.

You can also find more of Susan’s recipes at her blog, Foodblogga (and believe me, once you’ve tried these, you’ll want more).

I confess that I seldom post recipes simply because I’m not much of a cook–but my husband is, which makes Susan’s book even better. I just gave a copy to him for an early Father’s Day gift–sneaky, yes? He gets to cook, and I get to eat.

Ready to break out the chips? Susan’s recipe for bacon guacamole is up first. Read on:

Bacon Guacamole

6 slices bacon

Flesh of two ripe avocados

1 medium tomato, chopped

4 scallions (white parts only) finely chopped

Juice of one lime

A couple pinches salt

A couple dashes hot sauce

Small handful fresh cilantro leaves, finely chopped

1. Place bacon in a skillet over medium-high heat and cook until crisp. Drain on a paper-towel-lined plate. Let cool and chop into small pieces.

2. Combine remaining ingredients in a blender or food processor and pulse until chunky (or you can use a fork to mix).

This dish takes about 15 minutes to prepare and yields 6-8 servings.

Now, how about a main dish? Beef and beer chili is a perfect choice for a quick meal:

Beef & Beer Chili

1 tablespoon canola or olive oil

1 large yellow onion, diced

1 large green or red bell pepper, chopped

1 to 1 ¼ pound ground beef

1 ½ to 2 tablespoons chili powder

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon ground cumin

Several shakes of salt

2 tablespoons light brown sugar

2 (14.5 ounce) cans pinto or red kidney beans, drained

1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes, with juices

1 (12 ounce) bottle dark beer, such as stout

1 tablespoon cornmeal, optional

1. Warm oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add onions and peppers and sauté 5 minutes. Add meat. Cook until browned, about 10 minutes. Stir in spices, salt and brown sugar. Add beans, tomatoes, and beer. Stir and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer 20 to 25 minutes, or until thick and soupy. Stir in cornmeal in you want a thicker chili.

2. Serve chili hot, topped with any of the following: shredded Cheddar cheese, sour cream, diced avocado, sliced scallions, or fresh cilantro.

This dish takes 30 to 45 minutes from start to finish and serves 6 to 8.

A huge THANKS to Susan Russo, who allowed me to reproduce these recipes and photos, and to my friend Lucy Mercer, for directing me to Susan in the first place. Don’t miss Lucy’s blog, A Cook and Her Books, which is delicious and delightful and always fun to read. Ladies, you are both awesome!