I was recently amazed to learn that some fruit tree growers can have a single tree that produces different varieties of fruit, such as limes and oranges. For example, the tree picture above has both lemons and oranges. But I was wondering how this happens, given that many fruit trees are grafted onto a rootstock. For example, does the rootstock grow fruit, or do you have to graft another tree to it? I set out to find the answer. So, can a lime tree grow oranges?
A lime tree can grow oranges in two ways. First, the rootstock (commonly from an orange tree) can take over the tree and grow fruit. While it’s not common for this to happen, it can occur if the grafted tree dies. The second way is if you graft an orange tree scion onto the lime tree.
So, while your lime tree can grow oranges from these two methods, how can this be done, and how long does it take to fruit oranges? Let’s take a closer look.
How Do You Grow Oranges on a Lime Tree?
Before we can grow oranges on lime trees, it’s important to know how grafting works. So, first, let’s quickly summarize what grafting is and why you may want to do it.
What Is Grafting and Why Is It Important to Grow Fruit?
So, why should you heavily consider grafting your fruit trees? Here’s a short, bulleted answer, followed by a longer answer.
- Increased resistance to pests, diseases, and frost
- “True” fruit
- Faster time to fruit
- Grow multiple types of fruit on the same tree
First, you may already know that most fruit trees can be grafted onto other related trees. Lemons are often grown on orange tree rootstocks and peaches can be grown on plum tree rootstocks. You also likely know that the two parts of a grafted tree are the scion and the rootstock. The scion is a small branch of the tree you’d like to fruit of, while the rootstock is the lower half (or root system) of another tree.
Let’s take the lemon and orange example. The main reason why it’s smart to graft a lemon tree onto an orange rootstock is that orange trees are often more resistant to pests and cold weather. So, a lemon tree with an orange rootstock will grow lemons and have a better chance of surviving pests or frost than lemon trees grown from seed.
Additionally, many fruit trees aren’t true to seed, meaning if you grow a lemon tree from seed, there’s no guarantee it will produce the same fruit as the one it came from. However, if you take a scion of a mature lemon tree, and graft it on another tree, you’ll likely get the same lemons. This is because you’re using the same DNA from the mature lemon tree, instead of using the new DNA from the seed.
Grafting can also significantly speed up the time the tree will start fruiting. This can mean fruiting in about 2 years instead of up to 6-10 years for trees grown from seed.
So, by grafting your fruit trees, it will have better survivability, grow the same fruit, and speed up fruit production.
How to Grow Oranges on a Lime Tree
So, how does this translate to growing oranges on a lime tree? Well, since orange rootstocks are used for most grafted citrus trees, there’s a good chance your lime tree might have an orange tree rootstock too.
The first way your lime tree can grow oranges is if the orange rootstock grows and takes over the lime tree (the upper tree). This can happen if the lime scion dies, or if the orange rootstock is too aggressive.
The second way is if you have a lime tree and you decide to graft an orange tree scion onto it. Even though your lime tree might already have an orange rootstock, you could still graft an orange scion onto one or more of the lime tree’s branches. Once those scions grow into a branch, it should start producing oranges.
So, you don’t need to graft the entire tree. You can choose to graft a single branch or two. You can also do this multiple times and even with different fruit trees. This is commonly known as fruit cocktail or fruit salad trees.
Here’s what it looks like if you graft different apple scions onto the same rootstock.
So, while you can’t really control if the orange rootstock overtakes the lime tree, you can graft an orange tree scion onto your lime tree to make those branches start to fruit oranges. Grafting onto limes trees can also work with just about any other citrus tree scion, so you can have multiple varieties on the same tree.
How to Graft an Orange Tree Onto a Lime Tree
So, if you’re ready to get started growing oranges (or other fruits) on your lime tree, let’s find out how to graft and merge the two. In this case, the scion will be from an orange tree, while the rootstock, or host tree, will be a lime tree (remember, your lime tree could already have an orange tree rootstock, so if you’re wanting to grow limes as well as oranges, you should keep some lime branches on the tree).
First, there are multiple ways to graft. One way is to graft the scion onto the main stem of the rootstock (so that the scion becomes the upper half of the tree), and another way is if you graft individual branches.
I’ll include steps on the first method of grafting a scion onto the main rootstock stem, and will link to a video showing the second method with grafting individual branches.
Here’s how to graft a scion onto the main stem of the rootstock:
- Cut the rootstock by making an angled cut (a 45º cut is standard) that is two inches long, and several inches above the soil
- Select an orange tree scion (about 1.5 to 2 inches long) that’s under a year old with at least two buds on it
- Cut the orange tree scion and on the bottom half make the same type of cut as the rootstock
- Match the two cuttings together and wrap tightly with grafting tape
- Seal with a grafting wax (optional)
After you allow the graft to heal, the scion will start growing with the rootstock, will bear the scion’s fruit (oranges in this case).
Alternatively, to learn how to graft a branch into the main stem, check out this video by fruitmentor.
How Long Does It Take to Grow Oranges on a Lime Tree?
Grafting an orange tree onto a lime successfully can take weeks to months. The graft needs to heal and the scion needs to be accepted by the rootstock. This depends on the season and if there’s any contamination from the grafting process.
For best results, try to graft at the beginning of spring since it’s warmer and the growing season can help the trees can heal faster. Also, make sure to properly disinfect your pruning shears before grafting to prevent bacteria or fungus from being introduced to the wound.
You can tell if a graft took if the scion looks green and plump. If it’s beginning to brown, then it probably didn’t take and is starting to die. You should be able to tell if it took within a couple weeks of grafting.
Do You Need Two Fruit Trees to Pollinate?
A common question with fruit trees is if you need two of them to cross-pollinate. Does this apply when you’re growing oranges on a lime tree? Here’s the answer.
For fruit trees grown from seed, it’s best to have multiple trees for pollination, and even then, you still might have to assist by pollinating manually with a toothbrush or paintbrush.
However, grafted fruit trees are often self-pollinating. This is especially helpful when you’re growing multiple varieties of fruit on the same tree.
Still, it won’t hurt to have multiple fruit trees to increase the chance of pollination. If you don’t have the space to grow two or more fruit trees, consider planting flowers that attract pollinating insects.
While an orange tree rootstock can take over a lime tree, it’s more likely that oranges will grow from an orange tree scion, grafted onto a lime tree. It’s not hard to graft, but it can be a sensitive process that involves sterile equipment and time for the tree to heal.
If you have the time, and the budwood, consider taking a scion or two and experimenting with grafting. Having your own cocktail fruit tree sounds like a lot of fun and it’s something I’ll definitely be trying in the future.