Mexican Limes Go With Tequila

T Updated

The Mexican variety is tequila's best friend.

When life hands you lemons, break out the tequila and salt.

These days, gourmet tequilas offer new variety to today's consumers. There are more than 600 brands of tequila on the market. High-quality imports elevate this drink from spring-break slammers to uptown tasting parties, so with tequila coming up in the world, you'll want to know a bit more about the requisite lime.

Centuries ago, Arab traders brought limes from Asia to the Middle East, where Crusaders carried them home to Spain. And that was only a stopping-off point before the fruit reached the shores of Mexico. The species Citrus aurantifolia has since split into varietal groups to include larger Key limes and the smaller Mexican, or bartender's, lime. The latter produces the best lime for tequila aficionados.

The Mexican limes have the thinnest rind of all citrus. This means cold storage allows the fruit to dehydrate so quickly that its life is severely limited and store-bought limes rarely retain that fresh-picked flavor. But if you grow your own Mexican limes, you'll enjoy with the freshest fruit possible with every tequila tasting.

The Mexican lime available from premier citrus grower Monrovia is Citrus aurantifolia "Mexican Thornless." Their stock is available through quality garden centers nationwide. Mexican limes are damaged by temperatures below 30 degrees, but in frost-free climates it makes an excellent bushy small tree for the garden. They bloom over spring and summer with small, fragrant white blossoms. The green fruit matures in the late fall and winter.

In climates where there is an occasional winter frost, you must provide protection for the entire plant. You can erect a small portable vinyl greenhouse over the plant to create its own mini-environment for the winter. While not particularly attractive, it allows you a much larger in-ground tree and crop than you would get from a tree limited by a portable container.

In still colder climates, the lime tree must be brought indoors or into a greenhouse for the winter. Limes are best adapted to this method because the sour fruits do not require winter sun to encourage their sugar content. Limes continue to ripen even after you've brought them indoors.

Mexican lime trees adapt well to containers, so they can be moved with the seasons. They require very good drainage, which means a citrus potting soil blend or a light potting soil with plenty of perlite or coarse sand mixed in. The container should have numerous drain holes in the bottom to ensure that there is no over-saturation deeper down. Feed as directed on the label with any fertilizer formulated for citrus.

Position lime trees on the south side of the house, where there is maximum solar exposure in all seasons. Citrus also can be espaliered onto south-facing walls to provide more protection and maximize benefits of reflected heat. Indoors, over-wintering lime trees are best in south-facing windows and solariums.

The bark of young trees with small foliage heads is vulnerable to sunburn. To keep a potted tree to a limited size, thin out interior branches at any time. To prune gently overall, wait until after fruit harvest. If you're growing the Monrovia "Mexican Thornless," any thorny suckers from below the graft union should be promptly removed.

With limes, freshness is everything. So why not bring a little bit of Mexico to your own back yard, so you can always break out the tequila and limes.

Contact the writer: Maureen Gilmer is a horticulturist and host of "Weekend Gardening" on DIY Network. Go to or visit

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