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Monday, January 17, 2011

Buying Citrus Lime Trees for Chinese New Year

Tangerine tree
The Chinese New Year falls on February 3rd, 2011 which is equivalent to the first day of the first month according to the Lunar Calendar. This is a Spring Festival and it is the most important one. Many of us are busy making preparations, decluttering, spring cleaning, baking and decorating our homes to welcome the Year of the Rabbit 2011 and say bye-bye to the Tiger, another Chinese Zodiac Animal sign.

Just like you have Christmas trees for Christmas, we have the citrus lime trees. Eventhough the meaning may be different, both play an important role in our festive celebrations. We buy auspicious citrus lime trees to decorate our homes for good fortune and prosperity, also hoping that they will bring us lots of money luck. We usually buy them in pairs and place them near entrances for the multiplier effect. How nice if good luck and prosperity comes in multiple doses and superlative figures!

A few days ago, I visited Ah Chui Nursery to shop for citrus limes and other auspicious plants. Some readers have written to me asking about where to get the plants at reasonable prices, so I have provided the contact information and location map in My Garden Directory. You can click on the links provided to check them out. Please take note that this information is provided on a personal basis, i.e. honestly in my humble opinion, therefore you may not agree with me. I am not being paid anything for this.

Tangerine Tree
The above 2 pictures are live tangerine trees.  This looks like a pot fully laden with gold nuggets! Now, that's what I call 'over the top'.

Live tangerine trees can cost from RM 88, 198, 1688 up to RM 8,888 depending on the height of the tree, size and abundance of fruits.

These plants have been made to bloom perfectly and the fruits are neatly held in place by wires or strings. If we like, we can request them to add some red and gold ribbons and auspicious ornaments. Alternatively we can decorate it ourselves just like how you decorate the Christmas trees. Can you see those leaves jutting out on top? I think it is to symbolize 'growing and rising' prosperity.

Mandarin oranges are called 'kum' meaning gold (金) in Chinese. Citrus limes like calamondin, tangerines and kumquat are called 'kat' (吉) meaning 'auspicious'.

Tangerines (Citrus tangerina) and mandarin oranges (Citrus retuculata) look alike but with some differences.To find out the difference between tangerine and mandarin oranges, you can visit this link at eHow.

“Buying Citrus Lime Trees for Chinese New Year”, a copyrighted post, was written for My Nice Garden blog by Autumn Belle @ on January 17th, 2010.

Dragon Lime = Blessings from Heavan
This is called 'loong tam kat' (龙胆吉) or Dragon Lime in Chinese. It has a larger orange-yellow fruit that is oblong in shape but the flesh is coarse, less juicy and doesn't taste as nice. Mind you, this type is much more expensive than the calamondin type. After all, the dragon is a celestial figure, hence it is hoped that good luck and fortune will come from heaven.

This is a picture of a citrus lime tree decorated with auspicious red/gold ribbons.

Kumquats - Golden Auspice
Kumquats (Citrus japonica) are native to South Asia and Asia-Pacific. Kumquat (金吉) is a combinition of 2 fave Chinese words i.e. 'gold' and 'auspicious', hence it is regarded as extra auspicious. In short it means 'golden auspice'.

The edible fruits are either oval or round and looks like miniature oranges. Cantonese people e.g. in Hong Kong and China preserved them in brine as a cure for sore throat.

Calamansi (kat cai, limau kasturi, calamondin) = Four Seasons Lime for Everlasting Prosperity
This is Citrus x microcarpa, also called calamansi, calamondin or limau kasturi. Calamansi is thought to be a hybrid between the kumquat (C. japonica) and the mandarin/tangerine (C.reticulata). This is the cheapest and most common type.

It is commonly called 'kat cai' (吉子) meaning small auspice but during Chinese New Year season, nurseries give them a special name called, 'Four Seasons Lime (四季吉).' Therefore, the 'small auspice' takes on a whole new meaning, and it becomes 'never-ending prosperity'!.

When buying the citrus lime plants choose those plants which have healthy green leaves and laden with lots of semi-ripe fruits. Since it is still 2.5 weeks to the new year, you can select one with green fruits just like the picture above. Do not buy those with fully riped fruits and almost barren of leaves as we do not want the fruits to drop off one by one even before the season is over, or worse still if the plant dies during the first 15 days of Chinese New Year. Usually the prices will depend on the quality, type and size of the tree. Some potted trees are more than 6 ft tall.

The picture above is a comparison between the Dragon Lime (left) and calamansi (right).
See the difference?

To experience Chinese New Year with me in Malaysia, you are welcome to visit my 'Virtual Open House' at My Nice Garden Facebook Page which is accessible from my sidebar where I shall be updating it regularly. Open House is a unique Malaysian tradition whereby during major festivals, we open our doors to welcome our friends, relatives and even strangers (friends of friends) to our homes to savour our homemade food and experience our culture and traditions. We do it for Christmas, Deepavali, Hari Raya and all major festivals, the host is usually the person who is celebrating the occasion.

My NST Article, Gold Nuggets in a Pot dated 8 Jan 2011 - click here.


  1. Another great lunar year round the corner! How time flies! The morning market are already selling CNY decor, cookies and dried food stuff two weeks ago! CNY mood is definitely around, but this year, everything being expensive, there's budget to consider!
    Love all the citrus plants, but each time ended up buying the calamansi ones. Got to go shopping for these soon. I love the kumquat variety, but they are usually very expensive. I noticed that the calamansi variety will continue to yield more fruits for at least another 2 years or so, making it my choice when buying. Sometimes I saw very reasonable prices for these at Tesco, Giant and Jusco. Have you got yours yet?

  2. Hi Autumn Belle,
    You're good in differeciate the varieties of lime! I didn't buy any lime tree as usual, but after reading your post, you make my heart itchy wanna get one for this coming Rabbit year! There is one new nursery opened opposite my office, will go later after work! :))

  3. I really want to try and find these for CNY this year. I can't think of where I might be able to find them though on the east coast of the us at this time of the year. I think my parents would be overjoyed if I showed up with a pair of these little trees!! ha ha!

  4. A citrus tree would be nice to have to grow on my patio. Your photographs of the citrus plants are quite beautiful.

  5. Happy Chinese New Year!
    Thanks for sharing informative post on lime and CNY!

  6. How beautiful these trees are laden with so much golden fruits. We only get the already bunched fruits here from China before the normal New Year. I wonder why the trees are not yet grown here. Can you probably searched or talk to a gardener how these trees are managed to bear lots of fruits? I want to do it myself, as a challenge, only for me. Or maybe you can do it yourself and teach me how, haha! We have calamansi but i dont like it, i like the mandarin orange better, as also they can be eaten nicely.

  7. I bought one smaller ones many years, finally put it on the ground and it lived happily ever after.... but with smaller fruits. It's a sure sign of chinese new year coming!

  8. Hi Autumn Belle, wah I can just imagine how CNY decoration is up in tanahairku at the moment. Very meriah! Did you know where orange actually originate? I read this one gardening book it said that the original type of orange actually originate from Tanah Melayu before people to start to cultivate it and now we have many different type of citrus@orange. I am not sure whether the fact is true or not.

  9. Somehow those 'kum' look exceptionally beautiful in your post. :) I am very happy that my very bushy lemon tree is producing lots of lemons for the first time. Those will be my 'kum' for 2011.

  10. Wow! Those are beautiful fruit laden trees especially the mandarin orange, very attractive indeed! But by the time CNY those ripe fruits will be dropping one by one. I prefer the limau kasturi too because even after CNY you can still enjoy their fruits for sambal belacan and lime juice drinks for years to come! Great photos Autumn Belle!

  11. Kitchen Flavours, I am like you. I like to admire all those expensive citrus plants but end up buying the calamansi due to budget constrains. I purchased 2 calamansi plants from Ah Chui Nursery.

    Milka, most of us end up buying the calamansi because it is our 'orang asli' and easy to take.

    Wendy, I wonder if you have any Chinatown near your area.

    Theanne, citrus trees will look nice in your patio. If you grow them in big containers, you can push them into the greenhouse during winter.

    Malar, thanks a lot for your early new year wishies. I appreciate it very much.

    Andrea, I think it is not easy to achieve this consistency, even for the growers. I heard that this year the uncertain weather and rainy season has caused them to ripen prematurely. Some trees are already having the limes dropping off.

    Bangchik, you are right. Calamansi can live for a quite a long time.

    Diana, yes, I have read that citrus family like to cross breed and produce hybrids, just like the orchids. The orange originated from Southeast Asia, was cultivated in China since 2500BC but only introduced to Europe in 1400AD.

    The orange is a cross between the pomelo and the mandarin/tangerine.

    One, this year you have many 'kums' to make lemonade.

    P3Chandan, me too. I will wait for it to fruit a few rounds before I eat them, so as to get rid of all the harmful chemicals used if any.

  12. These citrus plants grow so amazingly in Malaysia. I almost bought an orange tree the other day, but I know it would new be very happy in my sunroom.

  13. I love calamondin! I have not tasted calamondin for as long as I have been in US, that will be more than 16 years now! I envy all the choices you have over there. I need to search harder to find a calamondin tree here in Florida! Happy preparation for lunar New Year!

  14. My family started to clean up the whole house, we have hung the red lanterns, we play the new year songs....

    That's the new year mood.

  15. Great shots! Our nanny tried to plant mandarin orange before. Nada! I'm not Chinese but a lot of good friends are and Filipinos are generally a superstitious lot so we do follow most of CNY traditions. Strange, yes?

  16. Good idea to inform us all about the popular chinese new year lime trees. I bought the kum quat tree this year.
    The ripe ones are falling oof the tree, as the wind is very strong nowadays. Oh no, I'll be left with a very green kum quat plant this new year!!!

  17. Golden and luscious citrus lime fruits! Gong Xi Fatt Choy!

  18. Wishing you a 'golden' lunar new year... the pictures are very pretty...

  19. Wow those look amazing! I had never seen citrus growing like that.
    Hope you have a really great lunar new year!

  20. I found your post fascinating, and it was interesting to learn what kumquat means.
    Happy Chinese New Year!

  21. Fantastic when citrus are growing that way its looks really great.

    have a nice week


  22. Hi Autumn Belle!
    Isn't it amazing that plants can be trained exactly when and where to bloom/fruit? I love, love, love the fragrant blooms of citrus! And now I want some mandarin!

  23. Amazing information. I did not realize there were so many different kinds! Happy Chinese New Year.

  24. Whoa! Very fruitful and propserous..

  25. I love those tiny mandarins which we call kiat kiat, so sweet and I can't get enough of it!

  26. I often pity these barren looking plants usually lay dying or already dead thrown out. Often seen them in hotels and banks.
    I really wonder why they usually suffer this way.
    Probably they are chemically laced to the point where the exhaust themselves with fruits till they drop.
    Whats your thoughts on this matter?

  27. Donna, the calamondin and lime are native plants here, so it is easy to grow them.

    Ami, maybe you can find calamondin at the Asian stores. This fruit has multipurpose uses here. I can taste it from breakfast to supper, eg. in fruit juice and squeesed into our fried/curry noodles.

    Rainfield, now you are all ready for CNY!

    Bom, I'm delighted to know about the quite similar Filipino way.

    Rosie, Oh wow, you have 'gold nuggets' everywhere in your home now.

    Keats, Lron, Fer, Mac, Gunilla, Patty, Bananaz, thanks a lot for the early new year wishes and nice words.

    Lynn, I love citrus scent too. We can smell it on the leaves and skin of the fruits.

    Ayie, kiat-kiat is so cute.

  28. James, I am not happy to see those plants being subjected to such torture and I don't agreee with the way the growers treat those trees. A long time ago, I had the same experience when I purchase a cheap plant (RM 20.00) from a home centre. The plant died about 1 month after CNY despite all the tender loving care I gave.
    I guess the plant was overworked and over-sprayed with chemicals.

    I have learnt my lesson that quality also comes with a price. The key is to choose a healthy plant. That's why I go back to the same supplier every year.

    If you get a good one, it can last many years. The fruits can be eaten after a few rounds of flowering. Every year I buy 1 or 2 citrus trees to brighten up my garden. After the season, I plant them like any normal garden plant. They are easy to care for as they are indigenous to Southeast Asia. Some are as old as 6 years and I convert 1 or 2 to bonsai. I will only throw them away if they die back. Calamansi can live on for many years.

  29. A lovely post with such marvelous pictures...sort of pop-up from the screen. Thanks for the treat, A. Belle!

  30. Hi, I'm new to Malaysia and work at a school where we are fortunate enough to have a large garden area.. I don't know the soil, or what grows well here. I love gardening, and have a wonderful tomato and flower garden at home. But I was wondering if you have any suggestions on what would grow well here, in the shade.. We tried Bok choy but no luck. I work with 3 and 4 year olds and I was hoping for maybe some kind of vegetable or herb.
    Thank you and hope to hear from you.

    Green eyes

  31. Green Eyes, Welcome to MNG! I'm sorry for the late reply as my system was down so I was off computer for some time. If you look around the places where they sell seeds, you find that the common ones are okra, long beans, kangkong (water spinach/water convolvulus), choy sum and sunflowers. These are quite easy to grow. Whether you be successful also depends on the soil of your plot. Sunflowers are rewarding because kids can see the seeds sprout into live plants, then into a beautiful flower that follows the direction of the sun, thereafter produce many seeds which can be collected for future sowing, also will attract birds and butterflies. Good luck and hope to hear from you soon!

  32. Hi Autumn Belle, do you know if lemon trees are available in Malaysia especially one that could grow in the pot like Sorrento Lemon Tree? Thanks for advice.

    1. DR-evil, I am not sure about Sorrento Lemon, but I do know that we can get a lemon tree at our local nurseries in Malaysia. If you stay in the Klang Valley, try Sg Buloh nurseries.

  33. Hi Autumn Belle. May I know where can I get anak pokok limau kasturi or purut? Your reply is much appreciated

    1. Limau kasturi and limau purut are quite common plants here. You can check with the nurseries near your place. They usually have them.

  34. Please advise how to maintain the kasturi plants which I have just bought. I dont want it to shed leaves and drop fruits so soon

    1. Just water your plant well. The leaves and fruits won't drop unless the fruits are over-riped or the leaves are diseased or yellowed and old, so they wither off. Place the plant in a bright and well ventilated location, i.e. no overcrowding and preferable under a sunny place.

  35. Great article, u saved me lots of trouble.

  36. Hi,

    I am looking out for Orange plants (Preferably Dwarf mandarin orange plant) for my home garden. Could you please point me to the right plant nursery where i would get the same.

    PS: i am from Pusat bandar puchong.

    1. You can find lots of these plants during Chinese New Year season. At other times, you can get them at flower shows such as Floria or MAHA 2016 (now ongoing from 1-11 Dec) or any local nurseries specialising in herb and fruit plants. Can try asking Lot 61 at Selangor Green Lane. During flower shows, nurseries from other states of Malaysia also come here to sell.

  37. Thanks for the reply.
    Is there any way to find out whether the plants are available before going to MAHA?
    Which place would be the best bet for me to buy the plant, i am from pusat bandar puchong?
    Is there a chance to buy these plants in TESCO/GAINT?

    Your help is much appreciated.

  38. Sanjeev, I did not see any mandarin orange plants at MAHA. They should be arriving for Chinese New Year season by early Jan 2017 at nurseries near your place. I'm not sure if Tesco/Giant will have them this year.

  39. Hi u hv a rich knowledge of limes that is powerful, do u know where i can buy them in Kedah area like mature trees in quantities. Hope u don't mind sharing with me looking forward to planting. I read an article that the calamansi tree only bear fruits after 2 years is that true?

  40. If you plant a calamansi from seed, it will most likely flower in 2 years time, depending on your climate and soil conditions. Nowadays, we can buy grafted plants which are already fruiting or will fruit in weeks. You can buy them from your local nursery especially those that specialise in herbs, spice and fruit plants.


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