How to Use Garden Lime (and Why You Need It In the Fall)

How to Use Garden Lime (and Why You Need It In the Fall)


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When we think about gardening, things like planting, watering, and harvesting usually come to mind first. But in reality, there’s a lot more to it—including what’s going on just below the surface.

Yes, we’re talking about soil. And while it may not be as aesthetically pleasing as blossoming flowers or plump, red tomatoes, soil is an absolutely crucial part of any garden. This means that it’s important to put in the time and effort necessary to keep it in good shape.

One way to do that is to make sure that the soil has the ideal pH level, and that can be done using garden lime (not the citrus fruit). In a recent article for BobVila.com, Mark Wolfe breaks down how to use garden lime, and why fall is the best time to add it to your soil. Here’s what to know.

What is garden lime used for?

Think back to the part of science class where you learned about acids, bases, and pH levels. The ideal pH level for a garden is between 6.0 and 7.0, Wolfe explains. If you have your soil tested (either by sending a soil sample to your Cooperative Extension Service lab or using an over-the-counter test) and the pH level is below 6.0, then you’ll want to reduce its acidity. Adding garden lime to your soil is one way to do that.

How, exactly, does it work? We’ll let Wolfe explain:

When soil is too acidic, some plant food elements are chemically locked up, or unavailable for plants to take up, even though they are present in sufficient amounts. This leads to sick plants. Adding fertilizer might appear to help, but it is a costly, temporary solution that risks polluting groundwater and streams with excessive nutrients. The better, more efficient solution is to apply inexpensive garden lime to unlock existing plant food in the soil.

How to use garden lime

When you get the results back on your soil’s pH and they indicate that you need to reduce the acidity, Wolfe says to pay attention to the instructions regarding how much garden lime to add to balance your soil, specifically. When adding the garden lime, always do so cautiously—adding it incrementally, rather than dumping it all at once. You don’t want to go overboard and end up with soil that’s too alkaline, Wolfe explains.

According to Wolfe, the best way to apply garden lime is to “spread it evenly over the ground, then cultivate it into the soil.” For smaller gardens, a garden spreader will help you apply the lime evenly. But if you’re working with larger garden beds, use a hard rake or rototiller to gently loosen the top three or four inches of soil after liming.

When to use garden lime

Applying garden lime during hot, dry weather can dry out your soil, so it’s not really a job for the summer. In fact, Wolfe says that fall is the best time to use garden lime.

“Cool fall temperatures, combined with upcoming winter moisture, allow pelletized lime to do its work without the danger of drying out the soil or stressing out plants,” he writes. “By the time spring gardening season arrives, the soil will provide an ideal growing environment.”

But if your soil could benefit from garden lime and you don’t get around to adding it in the fall, don’t panic—Wolfe says that spring is another option. Just apply it “as soon as is practical, and be sure to closely monitor soil moisture after planting,” he advises.



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