Nearly every homeowner is aware of the importance of applying lime to the home lawn. However, few probably have a complete understanding of why liming can be an important aspect of the home lawn care program, how to determine if liming is needed.
Lime is applied to the soil of home lawns to increase the soil pH, a measure of the soil’s acidity or alkalinity, can directly influence the vigor and quality of the home lawn. When the pH is below 7.0, the soil is said to be acidic; when above 7.0, it is alkaline.
Several factors cause the formation of acidic soil conditions. One primary cause is the leaching of base nutrients such as calcium, magnesium, and potassium form the soil. This occurs more frequently in areas of heavy rainfall or on heavily-irrigated turf. A second cause is the use of acidifying nitrogen fertilizers. Most of the fertilizers applied to lawns have the potential to cause acidic conditions. However, the extent to which fertilizer application will affect soil pH is dependent on a number of factors, including: type of nitrogen applied, amount applied, types of other nutrients present in the fertilizer, soil type and irrigation frequency. Other factors which may act to reduce soil pH are decomposition of soil organic matter and irrigation with acidic water.
When the soil pH drops below 6.0, a number of nutrients necessary for proper growth become less available for use by turfgrass plant. These include: nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, sulfur, calcium, magnesium and molybdenum. As these nutrients become less available, the lawn’s color, vigor and ability to resist (or recover from) heart, drought or traffic stress will be reduced. Applications of enough lime to raise the soil pH above 6.0 can increase the availability of these nutrients, thus making it easier to maintain the quality and vigor of the lawn.
An excessively high (alkaline) soil pH (greater than 8.0) is just as undesirable as a low pH. When the pH exceeds 8.0, such nutrients as nitrogen, phosphorus, iron, manganese, boron, copper and zinc become less available for use by the turfgrass plants in the lawn. The result may be a less vigorous, unhealthy lawn.