We add a lot of things to our garden to improve the soil and help feed our garden plants.
Walk through a garden center, and you’ll find everything from fertilizers and compost to eggshell tea to perlite and coarse sand. There’s a wide range of products you’re probably familiar with and have used before.
But one important garden helper you might not have used before: Lime.
We’re not talking about the citrus fruit here, but the actual mineral lime.
While not for every garden, lime can be an important addition to your vegetable garden.
So let’s take a few moments to better understand what lime is, what it does, and how to use it. Read on to learn about his well-known garden care trick.
Tips on Using Lime in the Home Garden
Lime is a mineral commonly seen in caves but can also be a product of volcanic activity or even artificial means.
Some forms of lime can be used in the garden, while others can have a very negative effect.
Types of Lime
There are many kinds of lime that contain large amounts of either calcium or magnesium.
However, not all of these are good for garden and landscaping purposes, so it’s important to know which ones to use.
Also referred to as garden lime or aglime, this form of lime is created from either limestone or chalk.
Its primary component is calcium carbonate (the same stuff in your Tums), although it can have additional chemicals that vary from one source to another.
Unlike many other forms of lime, aglime is milled with no need for any other steps.
This type is excellent for conditioning overly acidic soil to more neutral pH levels and is one of the cheapest options.
Dolomite is made from calcium magnesium carbonate .and forms crystals that dissolve in slightly acidic water.
When ground, it can be used to help balance soil pH and provide both copper and magnesium.
It’s a lot rarer these days compared to other forms of lime but can still be purchased for agricultural use if you’re willing to pay a little extra.
This form of lime is known as calcium oxide and is created by burning calcite or calcium carbonate (as found in limestone, snail shells, and seashells) in a lime kiln at more than 1,517 ° degrees Fahrenheit.
Unless slaked, quicklime will revert back to calcium carbonate when it cools, replacing the carbon dioxide molecule that it lost while being superheated with CO2 from the air.
Due to its instability and how it reacts to carbon dioxide and water, this type of lime is a terrible choice for use in the garden.
Also known as Calcium hydroxide or traditionally referred to as slaked lime, hydrated lime is a dry, colorless, or white crystalline powder produced when quicklime (calcium oxide) is mixed with water.
Formed from mixing quicklime with water, slaked lime (or calcium hydroxide) isn’t the best choice for gardens or healthy lawns, but it does have an agricultural use.
This form of lime is often used to make the garden soil more alkaline around livestock to reduce the risk of bacterial spread.
However, it can be used as a form of insect repellent and also a fungicide for orchard plants.
Outside of agriculture, it’s a common ingredient for pickling foods and construction.
Why You Should Use Lime in the Garden
Lime can be a great addition to your garden when used responsibly.
It can increase the soil’s pH, making it more neutral or alkaline soil. This otherwise acidic soil turns into a more compatible material with many plants. It’s most effective when mixed with the top 6″ inches of soil.
Moreover, using lime helps loosen clay soil and binds sandy soils, providing better aeration and allowing the soil to drain more easily.
Next, lime can help improve soil texture and water penetration into the soil, especially in more acidic soils.
Plants such as blueberries that prefer high acidity will also have their plant roots and be better able to absorb the three major plant nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium) when lime is present.
In addition, plants with nutrient deficiency will benefit from added lime to the soil, providing essential nutrients. Adding lime also helps correct the nutrient imbalance.
Finally, agricultural lime provides calcium, while dolomitic lime provides both calcium and magnesium.
WARNING: Before You Use Lime
Because lime affects the soil pH, it’s important to test your soil before liming the garden.
This will help determine how acidic your soil is, as well as whether or not lime will be useful.
You can purchase home soil test kits, but it’s easy to take a soil sample to your local county extension office for testing.
Most plants grow in a soil pH level range of 6.0 to 7.0, so use caution if the current soil pH is above 6.0.
Moreover, it’s important to determine the soil type because it will affect how much lime you need to use for your garden application.
The test results will not only tell you if liming the soil will be beneficial, but it can also help you adjust your fertilizers to provide a better balance of nutrients for your plant’s needs.
Using Lime in Your Garden
The liming process isn’t difficult, but it requires some planning.
However, considering the following tips, you’ll get excellent results for your lime application.
Pellet or Powder?
This is mostly a matter of personal preference. Lime pellets will take longer to break down, providing a longer period of benefit for your plants, but it’s also easier to over-lime.
Meanwhile, lime powder breaks down faster, meaning potentially annual applications, but it’s easy to see just how much you’re adding, so it’s a little harder to add too much.
Dress for Success
Lime dust can be really nasty, so you want to wear some protective gear.
Goggles, a face mask, and gloves are a good idea.
It’s not necessary to wear long sleeves or pants when working with lime, but you’ll probably want to take a shower afterward to wash any lime dust off.
Timing is Everything
Lime takes a while to break down and has any major effects on the soil.
For this reason, the best time to add lime is in the fall, so the garden will benefit the following year.
If you wait until the spring, the lime won’t provide any soil changes until the growing season is pretty much over.
However, it’s still possible to lime in early spring if you don’t mind not seeing the benefits for a while.
Also, applying lime in hot or dry weather can cause the soil to dry out quickly, resulting in your plants becoming dehydrated.
A Little Goes a Long Way
You don’t need to use a lot of lime for it to be effective.
In fact, using too much lime can push the soil pH past 7.0 and into the alkaline range (starting at 7.4), which is harmful to most plants.
Too much lime will have a similar effect as applying in hot weather, resulting in water evaporating from the soil at an increased rate.
Many people spread lime on the ground and till over it. While this can provide some benefit, a rototiller merely breaks the soil apart and doesn’t actually blend it.
Using a cultivator, which mixes already loose soil, is a great way to blend in the lime more evenly. However, if you don’t own a cultivator, you can do the process by hand.
Simply use your drop spreader to dust the ground evenly, then go back and rake the soil with a garden fork down to 3 to 4” inches in depth.
When liming the dry lawn, make sure to aerate it first, so the lime can penetrate into the soil.
Also, if you’re going to add lime to flower beds, lawns, or gardens, it’s best to keep the lime away from the plant roots.