People that love crime dramas and mysteries have probably heard of using lime to dispose of bodies before, but there are actually far better ways to use the stuff in your own backyard. Garden lime, also known as agricultural lime, is made from calcium carbonate and can be a very important amendment depending on your soil's particular needs. You'll find learning about the whys and hows of using garden lime in your soil extremely beneficial, as using it properly will drastically improve the way your plants grow and perform over the growing season.

Types of Lime

calcium carbonate (garden lime) near a hot spring

There are two types of lime that you'll probably encounter in your search for garden lime. There’s the garden lime that’s created by grinding limestone down, which is the same calcium carbonate that this article focuses on. There’s also dolomitic lime, which is created by grinding dolomite down. Dolomite is similar to limestone in that it contains the calcium that’s useful for plants, but it also contains magnesium.

Effects of Garden Lime

Using garden lime in your soil does a few things for your garden. For starters, it puts calcium back into your soil, which is an essential nutrient for growing just about everything and prevents things like blossom-end rot from occurring.

In addition, garden lime makes your soil less acidic in terms of pH. It’s beneficial for your garden to be slightly acidic, but you never want it to be too acidic. Very acidic soil (with a pH between 3.0 and 5.5) can render your plants unable to intake nutrients and can even cause their roots to burn because it allows some elements, such as aluminum, to be absorbed in higher amounts that they normally would be. You may find yourself adding fertilizer to the soil because of problems with growth and yellowing leaves, but if that doesn’t help, there’s a good chance your soil’s acidity is the issue.

Be sure that you don’t go overboard with your garden lime use. Plants that are growing in soil with a pH of 6.5 or higher can often struggle with the same issues faced by those grown in acidic soil in that nutrients can become largely unavailable to them. Of course, some varieties, such as blueberries and azaleas, love more acidic soils, so it’s a good idea to do a little research to make sure you're providing your plants with the best conditions for them.

Testing Your Soil

testing the soil for pH

Since the balance between acidic and alkaline soil is often a delicate one, you’ll always want to test your soil before working any amendments into it. There are soil test kits that you can purchase that’ll be able to determine your soil's pH. When doing so, be sure to collect samples from a few different sections of your yard. Additionally, you’ll want to get the samples from about six inches down. Carefully follow the directions on your soil testing kit to get an accurate result. If you’re not interested in doing your own soil testing or just can’t understand the instructions, you can always look into having your soil tested by a lab. Contact your local garden society or agricultural extension to learn more about where you can send your samples.

What if Your Soil Needs Calcium but Not a Change in pH?

You may find that your soil has the perfect pH for your growing plants but that its calcium is in short supply. While it may seem tempting, you should never apply garden lime just for the calcium, as you’ll inevitably mess up your pH and wind up with more problems that you started off with. A good option for dealing with a lack of calcium is gypsum, which is sometimes also referred to as "lime." This makes it essential to carefully read the labels on the amendments you’re purchasing.

Applying Garden Lime

applying garden lime on the lawn

Once you’ve determined that garden lime is necessary for your soil, it’s time to apply it. Again, pay careful attention to the instructions on the package you purchase to ensure that you're applying the right amount for the size of your garden. It's okay to be over-cautious during this phase, because you can always go back and add more lime later, but it’ll be much harder to adjust the soil if you add too much lime. Also, keep in mind that you should protect your hands and face when applying powdered lime to your garden. Remember those crime dramas and mysteries?

When To Use Garden Lime

Depending on where you live, you may have soil that just naturally needs to have garden lime added to it to achieve the right pH and calcium levels. The best time to work it into the ground is during the fall or early spring. It’s helpful to do it before planting to give your soil a chance to adjust properly. This doesn't mean that you can't add it when you need to, but it's just easier to add before planting.

Garden lime is a beneficial tool that all gardeners should have in their arsenal, but use caution when applying it to the soil. Knowing that too much lime can cause problems will save you a lot of heartache and subsequent attempts to rebalance your soil. Your garden will thank you when you use the right amount.