By Gene Sumi Homestead Education Coordinator
Lemons and limes are among the best plants to grow in containers. These tropical trees/shrubs are also unusually attractive to more than one of our senses. The deep-green leaves mixed with bright colored yellow fruit of the lemon have definite eye-appeal, while the blossoms of citrus plants put out some of the sweetest fragrances known. The fruits are used extensively in so many ways in our preparation of foods and beverages.
I single out the lemons and limes from all the different kinds of citrus for several reasons. First, two varieties in particular, the Meyer lemon and the Bearss lime are normally small plants, maturing to a height of about 6 feet tall, making them perfect in size for containers. Secondly, both lemons and limes are capable of producing blossoms and fruit several times a year, rather than once during a specific season of the year, as with oranges, mandarin oranges and tangerines. Sour citrus like lemons and limes may produce more desirable tasting fruit crops under conditions of less-than-optimum light and warm temperature. This is because sweet-fruit citrus must have the enough of the required light and heat exposure to build up the sugar content of the fruit.
The Meyer lemon was once thought of as strictly an ornamental plant. It produced abundant numbers of round, thin-skinned fruit, whose juice was slightly sweeter than the commercial Eureka or Lisbon lemons found in most grocery stores. Its popularity in the kitchen increased in recent years when prominent chefs praised the flavor of the Meyer lemons used in their dishes. The slightly sweeter flavor of the juice comes from the fact that the Meyer is thought to be the result of an ancient crossing of a lemon and a mandarin orange. The heritage of the orange gives the Meyer lemon the hint of orange color in the peel when the fruit is at full ripeness and its characteristic hint of sweetness. It is a native of China, which was introduced to the US by Frank Meyer, an employee of the US Department of Agriculture, who brought a plant back with him from a trip to China in 1908.
The Bearss lime is a popular lime used for many purposes from flavoring drinks and all kinds of dishes and desserts. In commerce, it is second in popularity only to the Mexican or Key lime, which is the type usually found in the produce department of most stores. Mexican limes are not grown widely in the US, because of its sensitivity to the effects of cold weather. Although a green skinned fruit, the Bearss and other limes may take on a light-green to yellow blush when fully ripe. The Bearss is often referred to as Bartender’s lime. Its sweet, strong lime flavor makes it a natural for the gardener/chef.