59January 12, 2011

It seems that everyone is looking for more bang for their buck. If you can put out a little bit of money and get a big return for that money, it can be a great experience. People can spend a lot of money on maintaining their lawn and gardens. If you want to spend a relatively small amount of money on your lawn and gardens and get a big return, you can’t go wrong with spending money on lime.

If you have been a gardener for a while, you probably know what lime is and you probably know what it does for your gardens and for your lawn. Lime neutralizes the acidity that is in our New England soils. What you may not know is how critically important it is to apply lime to your lawn and gardens.

Let’s take a minute and figure out what makes our soils acidic. First of all, most of you have heard of acid rain. The rain acidifies the soil each time we get some rain. Fertilizers tend to make the soil acidic. The natural breakdown of leaves and other organic matter makes our soil acidic. You may ask,” What’s the big deal about acidic soil?” When we have acidic soil, the fertilizer we apply to the soil does not get to the plants. The fertilizer needs to dissolve in water to be drawn up by the roots of the plants. When the soil become more acidic, it is harder for the fertilizer to become available to your plants. With acidic soil, you need to apply larger amounts of fertilizer to get your plants to grow. In some cases, established plants decline in health when the soil is too acidic.

If your lawn has acidic soil, it is very hard for the grass to grow. Weeds are not bothered by acidic soil. If you apply the correct amount of lime to your lawn, your lawn can actually grow well enough to force many of those weeds out of your lawn.

Most of your vegetable plants won’t grow well if they are growing in an acidic soil. You will get smaller crops and smaller size vegetable if the soil is acidic.

The question that always comes up is ” How much lime do I need to apply?”  The easiest way to find out is to do a pH test on the soil. You can buy these soil test kits at many stores. The kits are not that expensive and they will give you an accurate assessment of the level of acidity in your soil. Many plants do well when the ph is 6.5. The ph scales go from 1 to 14. Acidic conditions are from 1 to roughly 7. 7 is a neutral condition. Anything above 7 to 14 indicates alkaline soil. You hardly ever find alkaline soils in New England. If you have not applied lime to your lawn or gardens in a few years, you may find that the ph can be in the 5 range. Soil that is at a 5 is 10 times more acidic than soil that is at 6. The difference between 5 and 7 is a 100 fold difference. The lower the number, the more lime you will need to add to your soil.

If you run the pH test and your soil is 6 and you want to raise the pH to 6.5 you will need to add approximately 40 to 50 pounds of lime per 1,000 square feet of lawn or garden. This may seem like a lot of lime but lime is a lot less expensive than fertilizer! By raising the pH to the desired level, your plants will need less fertilizer. You may find that by raising the pH to the desired level, your lawn or garden can use existing fertilizer that has been tied up in the soil for years!

Once the soil thaws in the spring and has some time to dry a bit, you should do a pH test on your lawn and gardens. This test will give you a better idea of how much lime you should apply this spring. If you apply the correct amount of lime, you will find that your plants will grow better, with less competition from weeds. You will wind up using less fertilizer and you will have a better lawn and better gardens.

Well, that’s all for this week. I’ll talk to you again next week.

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