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

When we think of gardening, things like planting, watering, and harvesting usually come to mind first. But that’s not really all, including what is happening just below the surface.

Yes, we are talking about soil. And while it may not be as aesthetically pleasing as blooming flowers or plump red tomatoes, soil is an absolutely essential part of any garden. This means that it is important to invest time and effort to keep him in good shape.

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

What is garden lime used for?

Think back to the part of your Science lesson where you learned about acids, alkalis, and pH levels. Wolfe explains that the ideal pH for a garden is 6.0 to 7.0. If you have tested the soil (by sending a soil sample to the Cooperative Extension Service laboratory or using an over-the-counter soil test) and the pH is below 6.0, then you will want to lower its acidity. One way to do this is to add garden lime to the soil.

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

When the soil is too acidic, some of the plant nutrients are chemically blocked or not available for the plants to assimilate, even if they are present in sufficient quantities. This leads to plant disease. Adding fertilizer may seem to help, but it is a costly workaround and can result in excessive nutrient contamination of groundwater and waterways. A better and more efficient solution is to use inexpensive garden lime to free up existing plant food in the soil.

How to use garden lime

When you get your soil pH results and they show that you need to lower the acidity, Wolfe recommends paying attention to the instructions on how much garden lime to add to balance your soil in particular. When adding garden lime, always do it carefully – add gradually, rather than dump it out right away. “You don’t want to overdo it and get too alkaline soil,” explains Wolfe .

According to Wolfe, the best way to apply garden lime is to “spread it evenly over the ground and then cultivate it in the soil.” For small gardens, a garden spreader will help spread the lime evenly. But if you are working in large beds, use a rigid rake or rotary cultivator to gently loosen the top three to four inches of soil after liming.

When to use garden lime

Applying garden lime during hot, dry weather can dry out the soil, so this is not the best option in summer. In fact, Wolfe says autumn is the best time to use garden lime.

“The cool autumn temperatures, combined with the approaching winter humidity, allow the granular lime to do its job without the danger of drying out the soil or stressing the plants,” he writes . “By the time spring gardening season hits, the soil will be an ideal growing environment.”

But if your soil could benefit from garden lime and you don’t have time to add it in the fall, don’t panic – Wolfe says spring is another option. Just apply it “as soon as possible and be sure to closely monitor soil moisture after planting,” he advises .


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