Finger limes, or Australian native caviar, are a sought after fruit in many kitchens. These delectable fruits offer a fantastic burst of flavour in dishes and can even be grown at home.
These attractive trees, also known as Citrus Australasica, have long been an essential food source for indigenous communities but also offer wonderful landscaping opportunities for home gardens.
Considering growing Australian finger lime in your garden? Here is everything you need to know to cultivate, care for and grow wonderfully fruiting finger limes.
What are Australian Finger Limes?
Finger limes are found growing naturally amongst most tropical and subtropical regions across Queensland and New South Wales.
Due to the fantastically citrus flavour of the fruits, they’re a very popular choice for professional chefs and home cooks. However, these larger growing trees also offer some dense and beautiful foliage.
Each fruit produces lots of little caviar looking pods which can be enjoyed fresh, as a topping on a meal or as part of a desert. However, not every finger lime fruit looks and tastes the same. The little pods may range in colour from very light yellow, green and pink.
The most common finger lime varieties include:
- Pink Ice
- Crimson Tide
- Red Champagne
How to Grow Citrus Australasica
The finger lime tree grows fairly throughout most parts of Australia and is even suitable for container growing. Naturally, finger lime trees will grow as big as 5 metres in height. However, in a pot, it will be significantly less.
Although accustomed to Australian conditions, there are a few aspects you will need to consider to ensure a large and fruitful harvest each year.
Choosing the Proper Location
Due to a large number of thorns present, your finger lime fruit can be damaged quite significantly if grown in areas that receive strong winds. As such, it is recommended to plant your finger lime tree in an area that is largely wind-free.
More so, Australian finger lime needs a consistent stream of dappled light to bear fruit. A north-facing, semi-shaded spot is often ideal.
It’s also essential to give your roots plenty of space to grow. So, when growing in soil, avoid overcrowding with too many other plants.
Start With the Right Soil
Australian finger lime is a citrus tree, and as such, you will need to find a rich, citrus specific soil mix. Soil needs to be quite rich and still well-draining. An average PH balance between 6 and 7 is also recommended.
Supplementing the soil with a slow-release fertilizer every 2 or 3 months will also be beneficial.
Look After Your Flowers & Fruit
The citrus australasica produces gorgeous white and pink flowers throughout the year. These are very powerful pollinators and may attract many honeybees and other pollen feeders to your garden.
Your finger lime tree will only begin to bear fruit 3 to 5 years after planting. The first two fruiting seasons will likely be a very low harvest. However, this will pick up after the second fruiting season.
Fruits come in colours of green, yellow, black, purple and red.
Propagating Finger Limes
Propagation of finger limes can be done via seed, cutting or graft. Unfortunately, propagation from seed is very slow, and it can take as long as 15 years for seeds to reach maturity.
It’s also important to use very fresh seeds as they do not maintain viability for very long. Semi-hardwood cuttings can be a successful method. Although, it does also take some special care and attention.
As such, most gardeners will recommend purchasing a young finger lime tree from your local garden centre.
How to Take Care of Finger Limes
Citrus Australasica does require regular care and maintenance for an ideal fruit yield. You will need to regulate general conditions to ensure your finger limes are getting enough water, your soil is draining properly and that the inner leaves are receiving enough light to photosynthesize properly.
For container growing, it is recommended to re-pot your finger lime tree every 2 or 3 years to keep the soil fresh and filled with nutrients.
When it comes to watering, potted finger limes will dry out far quicker than those planted in soil. As a rule of thumb, check general moisture every 2 to 3 days if the soil feels dry, water.
Should You Prune Your Finger Lime?
Pruning is an important part of maintenance, which will encourage fruit growth and maintain tree shape. Take extreme care to use a decent pair of loppers and wear a pair of gloves, as the many thorns can become a large hazard.
Pruning should be done after harvesting to encourage growth for the next season. Take care to remove any damaged or old wood and clear the inner branches to allow light to reach everywhere it needs to.
How to Harvest Finger Limes
In the right conditions, fruits will begin to drop of their own accord, usually between the months of November and March. It’s important to wait until the fruits have matured before harvesting, as they will not continue to mature once removed from the branches.
You can keep your tree base well mulched to encourage a natural fruit drop or tug gently at the fruits. If mature, they should come off fairly easily. Take care not to damage the fruits in the removal process.
Pests & Diseases to Look Out For
Citrus Australasica is a natural host of the citrus gall wasp. These pesky insects will reduce the size and quality of your fruit yield if left unattended.
To prevent citrus gall wasps nesting in your trees, you’ll want to:
- Regularly check your finger lime tree branches between January & September.
- Remove and Burn any infected branches immediately. Do not leave removed branches on a compost heap.
- Use commercial wasp repellent traps.
Other pests which may be drawn to your finger lime tree include:
Cooking with Finger Lime
Finger limes are nibble ready from harvest, but you can also add them to a wide range of dishes. Not only do they look fancy, but they’re delicious too.
You can use finger limes as a topping for salads, canapes and ice creams, as a citrus element for Tex-Mex meals, on Seafood, Sushi, Poultry and any other white meat that pairs well with citrus.
Check out these fantastic finger lime recipes.
Australian Finger Lime – A Gardening Must
Yes, growing finger limes in your garden really is a great idea as long as you take extreme care around their thorns. Looking for some other fantastic Aussie natives to grow at home? Take a look at our other growing guides.
Be sure to regularly check the level of moisture in the soil and the branches for any pesky invaders. You are all set to start growing finger limes.