Lime for Lawns
Time for Lime: When to Apply Lime to Your Lawn
We weed, feed and seed our lawns, sometimes with disappointing results that leave us frustrated with yellow spots and insufficient growth. What we envision is a lush green grass under our feet throughout the growing season. Nothing beats the look or feel of a well-kept lawn, plus it provides the perfect backdrop for social events and quality family time, not to mention boost your curb appeal.
Nobody wants to play games on a rough, patchy, or brown lawns, so the endless quest for the perfect green lawn continues for any person who has grass to take care of. Cultivating a great yard goes deeper than mowing and occasionally spraying weeds. Lime treatment to your grass can make the difference.
The quest for a healthy green lawn seems a part of being human. We see inviting green lawns everywhere and feel envious of it, yet barely have time at home to scatter seeds and hope for the best. Those perfect lawns you admire, and maybe envy, probably undergo a rigorous care schedule that includes regular intervals mowing, watering, fertilizing, and lime applications.
The knowledge of liming grows as neighbors swap advice or generations pass down practices, but it remains a generally underutilized practice. Not many people realize that lime can resolve many yard issues, not just for grass but also in your landscaping, garden and flower beds. This is why we’re motivated to share facts about lime for lawns and empower people to tame their turf and achieve the yard of their dreams.
Lime is ground limestone, a rock formed chiefly by accumulation of organic remains such as shells or coral, and it consists mainly of calcium carbonate and magnesium carbonate. If you’ve looked into lime at all, you’ve probably seen many different types, some of which are caustic and hazardous to handle:
- Burnt (hazard)
Nearly all of the lime sold for lawn lime application is ground, dolomite lime for lawns.
Dolomite is a mineral found in limestone that is rich in calcium-magnesium carbonate, making dolomitic lime rich in calcium and magnesium. Calcitic limestone is also rich in calcium carbonate but has much less magnesium, so it’s not as nutrient rich as dolomitic lime.
Dolomitic lime is usually sold in the form of powder or pellets. The powder is exactly that, a powder of fine consistency that works into the soil. The pellets are placed on the ground then dissolve and breakdown into the soil when the yard is watered or there is a decent rainfall. For homeowners, we recommend pellets because the powder can be difficult to manage, hard to spread, can blow away easily or leave a messy dust. We typically use a powder product for our clients, though the applicator will usually finish with pantlegs covered.
The basic mission is to have the carbonates in the lime bind with the particles in the soil. Turf grass uses many different minerals, and when the pH level of soil drops below about a 6, it inhibits the availability of other necessary nutrients. We use soil tests to determine proper ph. A cheap PH meter that can be stuck in the ground is NOT accurate! Besides calcium and magnesium, other nutrients include:
What Lime Does for Grass
Lawn lime application corrects the pH balance in soil by neutralizing its acidity and alkalinity. You can almost think of it as an antacid for your grass.
Lime for the lawn provides grass with many benefits:
- Balances the pH level, also commonly called the acidity or alkalinity
- Inserts calcium and magnesium that grass needs to grow and be resilient through times of stress like extreme temperatures, drought or excessive snow or rainfall
- Helps with new seed, new sod or existing yards
- Puts nutrients in the soil that sometimes are not there
- Benefits other micro-organisms in the dirt that are needed for a natural balance
- Encourages thatches to decompose
- Maintains or restores soil affected by environmental factors
- Boosts the effectiveness of fertilizer and herbicide
- Makes application fast, simple and easy
- Grows strong roots for lasting beauty and endurance
As you can see, lime literally helps grass grow the strong roots needed to flourish.
You never know what Mother Nature will do, especially when the terrain can vary by the mile with woods, mountains, flatlands, rivers and quirky regional weather patterns. Factors affecting the pH balance of your soil include:
- Acid rain
- Surrounding land usage
- Fallen pine needles
- Rain totals
- Amount of decaying matter in the dirt
- What kind of soil it is
How many nutrients leach from the soil – and how often they leach – is a difficult thing to gauge without the help of a test because the conditions are truly different for everyone.
Lime for lawn care can actually help reverse the effects of damaging elements found in grass, including aluminum, iron and manganese. The calcium specifically has a sort of regulating effect on other soil nutrients such as copper, phosphorous and zinc, all of which can have damaging effects and inhibit growth.
There are a number of industries, entities and people that use a lime lawn application:
- Recreation or athletic fields
- Golf courses
- Commercial and retail business
- Lawn service
- Fruit growers
- Turf farmers
How Do You Know You Need Lime?
Weeds, patchiness, discoloration or poor growth can all be signals you might need lime for the lawn, but it’s best to have your soil tested. A soil test is a simple process, and once you do it you’ll know the exact acidity level and can plan the best care regimen. Do not allow your lawn care company to use a cheap soil tester that uses a probe inserted into the ground. These are simply inaccurate, and lazy! Demand more from professionals.
You can also do the test online and through the mail by sending in a sample. Testing services will usually send you the results directly. An authentic soil test will give you better confidence in your results, as well as give you more power to cultivate the perfect, lush, green lawn you envision.
Lawn grasses in states that have cold winters generally do well with a soil PH level of about 6.5 to 6.8. The pH levels measure acidity/alkalinity on a scale of 0-14, with the low numbers to represent items with a high acid content, such as vinegar or lemon juice.
A good soil test also tells you levels of calcium and magnesium. This information will better guide you to either the most popular dolomitic lime that contains magnesium, or the more calcium-rich calcitic lime.
Some people say that you cannot apply too much lime to the lawn, but others argue that it can indeed happen – and that it’s hard to correct if it does. Too much lime is definitely possible, which is why an accurate, inexpensive soil test provides an excellent guide. The results will tell you how much lime to apply and your best insurance against unintentional damage.
When to Apply Lime to Lawns
Liming fits with everything else you do outdoors to prepare for summer or winter. At GEM we suggest fall is the best time because it gives the lime the longest time to work into the soil before the growing season.
Experts agree that you should not apply lime when frost is still a possibility and avoid application during the heat of summer. Professionals advise against using lime at the same time as fertilizer, but they also say when combining lime with grass seed to cover patchy spots, it’s OK to apply a gentler starter fertilizer.
Quantities of lime for lawns are normally expressed in a number of pounds per 1,000 square feet (one acre is 43,560 square feet). For example, a hypothetical-yet-typical application might be 40 pounds of pelletized limestone per 1,000 square feet of grass area you want to treat.
To avoid over liming, do not use more than 50 pounds per 1,000 feet. Again, the pH number revealed by your soil test serves as an excellent guide for gauging how much lime your lawn needs. You can also email us to help interpret the soil-test numbers and order the correct amount of lime for your yard size.
The lime normally comes in 40- or 50-pound bags. Opinions on how often to apply it range from every few months or annually to once every three or five years. So much of when to lime your lawn depends on your individual situation. The best tool you have is knowledge about what’s in your soil and what happens to it throughout the seasons. For example, lime will drain through a sandy soiled lawn and require a more frequent application than a yard with stickier, clay-based soil.
Each type of soil presents a different kind of challenge because lime runs through sandy ground too quickly, especially with heavy rain, and doesn’t mix quickly enough into clay-based soil. You can consider improving the texture of soil by introducing organic matter such as aged manure, finished compost or chopped pine bark. These things can aid the lime in doing its job and work it into the soil faster.
How to Apply Lime
How to apply or spread lime depends on the size and texture you choose. Most seem to agree that the powdered form of lime is harder to handle but can be applied with something as simple as a coffee can.
A rotary-type spreader probably gives the best and most consistent application without much clogging or clumping. Some people say a drop-style spreader is less than ideal, but plenty of others make them work. How you apply the lime depends largely on what form of lime you buy and how much grass you have to cover.
The method of application can be as diverse as the land owner’s imagination. Any way you go about it, avoid spreading powdered lime on a windy day and try to use a crisscross pattern as you work it across the yard.
You can seed and apply lime at the same time, but we recommend applying the lime first to give it time to work.
Speaking of time, it’s natural to want to see improvement right away. Remember, however, that lime is not an immediate-gratification application. It’s more like an investment in the long-term health and beauty of your lawn, but it does pay dividends well into the future.
It will take at least several months for lime to mix well into your soil and create the beneficial balance of nutrients. It may take a growing season or two, or even three, to see significant improvement. Rest assured that you can achieve continued hardiness with consistent lime lawn treatment.