Lime trees are large, deciduous broadleaf trees, also known as Linden trees. They have fresh green, heart-shaped leaves, hanging clusters of yellow-green flowers, and small round fruits. There are three types of lime native to the UK: the large-leaved lime (Tilia platyphyllos), small-leaved lime (Tilia cordata), and common lime (Tilia x europaea), which is a natural hybrid of the large- and small-leaved varieties.
Lime trees used to be a common feature of British woodlands but are less common now. Instead, you'll find them in parks, churchyards and gardens. The most commonly grown lime tree is the common lime tree, Tilia x europaea, which has the most uniform shape of the three species.
Lime trees are well-loved by wildlife, particularly aphids, which feed on the leaves and secrete honeydew, which ants and bees feed on. The common lime is particularly attractive to aphids, and their honeydew can make a mess on any cars parked beneath. Bees visit the nectar-rich flowers and the leaves are attractive to several species of moth, including the lime hawk-moth.
How to grow lime trees
Grow lime trees in moist but well-drained soil in full sun to partial shade. Stake the tree in the first two years and water in periods of drought. Once established, there should be no need to prune.
Where to grow lime trees
Grow your lime tree at the back of a large border or as a standalone feature in a lawn. Lime trees can also be grown as a hedge, or pleached. If you have a large garden, you could even plant an avenue of limes as pictured, here.
How to plant a lime tree
Plant a lime tree as you would any tree. Dig a square hole and soften the edges with a garden fork. Check the depth of the hole before planting – look for a soil 'tide mark' for bare-root trees and line this up with the soil level of the hole you've dug, or ensure the top of the rootball sits flush with the top of the hole for pot-grown trees. Back-fill with soil and firm gently. Stake your tree and water well.
How to care for a lime tree
Lime trees need staking for the first two years to prevent root rock. Water in the first few weeks to help it become established and then in very dry periods for the following two years. For the first few years, prune only to remove damaged or crossing branches, or to even out its shape. Thereafter there should be no need to prune.
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Growing lime trees: problem-solving
Lime trees suffer from few problems, however the common lime can be very attractive to greenfly, which secrete honeydew. In large amounts, honeydew can drip off lime leaves and, if cars are parked beneath the tree, can cause damage to the paintwork. However, planting a lime tree in your garden will pose no such problems – indeed, the aphids will provide food for a wide range of bird species.
Both the common and small-leaved lime have a tendency to produce suckers from the base of the tree. Simply remove these annually with secateurs.
Lime nail galls (pictured) are caused by microscopic mites, which overwinter in the bark of lime trees and crawl on to the underside of the foliage in spring to feed. The mites secrete chemicals into the leaves causing them to produce the unusual projections into which the mites move to feed in summer. Lime nail galls don’t affect the health of the trees and there’s no way of controlling them.
Advice on buying lime trees
- Choose your lime tree carefully – the common lime is the most popular lime tree to grow, but small- and large-leaved limes are also a good option for a large garden
- Always buy trees from a reputable supplier, who sells British-grown or certified disease-free stock, to guarantee against pests and diseases
- Check your tree for signs of damage or disease before planting
Where to buy lime trees
Varieties of lime tree to grow
Small-leaved lime, Tilia cordata – tall and majestic looking with lime-green, heart-shaped leaves. Height x Spread: 20m x 10m
Large-leaved lime, Tilia platyphyllos – only slightly different from the small-leaved lime, with darker bark. Unlike small-leaved lime and common lime, it doesn't produce suckers from the base. H x S: 20m x 10m
Common lime, Tilia x europaea – a natural hybrid of the above two limes, with a more uniform shape. H x S: 20m x 10m