Answer to: Kaffir Lime tree question


One very sad kaffir lime tree

Well the S.M.G (save my garden) question came from my friends (Janet & Nick) who are worried about their very sad looking kaffir lime tree.

Kaffir lime trees are a great one to have in the garden or on your balcony (especially if you LOVE cooking asian style foods) but here are a few essentials to growing them:

  • they need full sun and a warm spot (so a north facing balcony, just like J&N have,  is ideal)
  • they need good drainage
    • if growing in a pot….. a good quality potting mix and a pot with good drainage holes is essential.
    • if growing in the ground…….improve the soil with compost before planting and check that the site you’ve chosen doesn’t collect water.
  • they need feeding……I like using a pelletised, composted chook manure that has added seaweed as a gentle feed or tonic for the plant. You can also use a citrus specific fertiliser – just please please pick one that has an organic (eg. manure) base to it!

Yellowing leaves on kaffir lime tree

So what is wrong with J&N’s kaffir lime tree? They’ve had it since Christmas 2010 and they said it has barely grown at all, not much new leaf growth and the leaves are turning yellow.

My suggestion would be that this plant is STRESSED!

What makes me think it is stressed?

1. It is not responding to the citrus fertiliser they’ve given it.

2. It IS in the ideal spot – warm and sunny north facing balcony.

3. It HAS good drainage, so wet feet aren’t it’s problem.

So what this plant needs is a bit of nurturing. It’s roots aren’t happy, it is not taking up nutrients and it is suffering.


The Road to Recovery is a 3 step process for this tree

1. Be cruel to be kind! I trimmed off 1/3 of all the branches – yep it looks rather sparse after the trim but it will come back.

2. Sprinkle over a GENTLE plant tonic such as Seamungus (full of seaweed goodness) – this will give the plant a slow feed of chook manure, seaweed and fishmeal – “chicken soup” for sick plants!

3. Fortnightly use a liquid plant tonic (look for something that is JUST a seaweed solution or a mix of seaweed and fish solution……nothing with added chemical boosters!)

The idea with the above tips is to recover the root system of the plant, get it up taking nutrients correctly and then actively growing. Miracles won’t happen over night (and the warmer weather of spring/summer will help it along) but with a bit of TLC it will recover.

HINT: Don’t waste the leaves you trim off your kaffir lime when it needs a prune. The leaves freeze really well – pop them in a zip lock bag in the freezer and use in cooking as you need. YUMMMMM……I can almost smell the laksa!

photography by hynesite photography

3 Responses

  1. Mac

    Dear Chloe– may I ask: this kaffir lime of Janet & Nick’s — *WHY* was it stressed? If it got good sun, warmth, fertiliser and drainage, why wasn’t it happy? Would you mind explaining this intriquing point a little further, as I have some kaffir lime seedlings, and would like to avoid the pitfalls J&N inadvertently couldn’t. Thank you so much in advance. –Mac

    • Chloe

      Hi Mac,

      I believe this plant probably had transplant shock – it wasn’t growing any new roots to take up nutrients and therefore was suffering from stress. Choosing a gentle plant tonic, that is rich in seaweed will help encourage the regrowth of the small, fragile feeder roots that were damaged during transplanting. You’ll be glad to learn that the tree is STILL looking fabulous after it’s bit of TLC.

      Check out this fantastic explanation of transplant shock:

      Good luck with your seedlings :-)

      Happy gardening,


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