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How to Tell if Your Lawn Needs Lime?

October 18, 2013

Many lawns in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Southeast, and Northwest are growing in soil that is acidic.  The reason I say that all lawns in these areas are not necessarily growing on acidic soil is because soil chemistry can vary from neighborhood to neighborhood.  Although not as common, you can find acidic soil in other parts of the U.S.

For example, when I first tested my Georgia clay soil I found that it was acidic and needed lime.  After several years of putting down lime, a soil test showed my soil no longer needed lime.  I plan on testing my soil every 2 or 3 years.

So what is a soil test all about?  The most important measurement is the soil pH.  Other info on the test provides values for available phosphorus, potassium, micronutrients and organic matter.  As a former County Extension Agent, who looked at hundreds of soil test results for home lawns in Virginia, I know that the primary actionable number to look for is soil pH.  You can ignore the other measurements unless one of them shows up as being abnormally low.  Soil pH is a measure of how acidic or alkaline your soil is. A pH of 7 is neutral, acidic soil registers below 7, and alkaline soil above 7. Your lawn can tolerate a fairly wide pH range of 5.5 to 7.5, with 6.5 being the ideal pH for growing grass.  When your pH is in the ideal range other nutrients in your soil and in the lawn food you spread are more available to your grass plants.  When the pH is outside of this ideal range, some of the nutrients get locked up by the soil and your grass can suffer.

Most states offer soil testing through their Extension Service. Check for soil testing labs in your state by doing an internet search with your state’s name and the words “soil testing labs”.

Fall is a great time to spread lime since the upcoming alternating freezing and thawing of your soil can help to transport lime from the soil surface down to lower parts of the soil.  If your soil pH is below 5.5, it is not uncommon to need 50 pounds of lime per 1,000 sq. ft. per year over several years. That’s 250 lbs. of lime on a 5,000 sq. ft. lawn.  To spread this much lime, you may find you will need to go over your lawn several times with the spreader set at one of the higher settings.  You will also find that granulated lime is easier to spread than pulverized or powdered lime.


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  1. Joyce permalink

    I did the aerating, over-seeding, lime and starter fertilizer in early September. Had good growth initially. Two weeks ago I put down a dose of turf builder, with nice steady drizzle to follow. I thought I would be all set until early November, but now my lawn is yellowing …. should I put down some ironite or another round of turf builder or what??

    • Hi Joyce… I assume you did not use any of the Turf Builder products with weed control as this would not be good on your young seedlings. As long as you got good coverage without over application, your lawn should be good until your feeding in November.

  2. Joyce permalink

    Hi Ashton … you are right — I did not use any weed control. But, I do plan in the very near future to spray with some Ortho Weed-B-Gone as I can see some chickweed and other weeds starting to pop up. Thanks for all of your guidance and advice!

    • Hi Joyce… Glad you are getting help from my blog posts and comments. Be sure not to spray your weeds until your new grass has been mowed 4 times.

  3. Gary Ray permalink

    Hi Ashton… Are there any tell-tale signs that would indicate you need lime

    • Hi Gary
      The best way is with a soil test. If you are in an area that typically has acid soil and you have not put down lime in recent years and your lawn has not responded to feeding like you think it should, lime could help. Your local garden center can give you some thoughts on this.

  4. Brian permalink

    Hi Ashton, I know this is off topic from the post, but when do you stop watering your lawn in fall?

    • Hi Brian… If you are in an area that is getting regular weekly rains, you can stop now. If you are in an area where rainfall is more hit or miss, you can still scale back your watering as your need for mowing slows. If you are planning to feed in Nov, it is good to water after feeding if there is no rain. If you live in an area where the ground freezes, it is a good idea not to let your lawn go into the winter in a too dry state. Hope this helps.

      • Brian permalink

        VERY helpful. I am in coastal NY. Not much rain lately, so for now I will just scale back. I do plan on feeding in early November again, last feed was Oct 1. Thanks again.

  5. Anthony permalink

    Hi Ashton, when is the latest time of the fall one can spread lime down, I live in Rhode Island first frost is planned for this weekend. Thank you.

    • Hi Anthony… Apply lime before your ground freezes which is not likely until Dec or Jan. Apply anytime in the next few weeks while you are getting fall rains. You can also feed one last time this fall prior to mid Nov if you have not done so in the last month or so.

      • Anthony permalink

        Hi Ashton…I fed in early September with the WInterguard when is the latest I can put down the Winterguard plus weed control again living in Rhode Island. Thank you

      • Hi Anthony… Apply WinterGuard with Weed Control on a day when your mid day temps are going to reach the 50’s or above and rain is not forecasted for 24 hours. It is best to apply first thing in the morning when your lawn is loaded with dew.

  6. Anthony permalink

    Thank you Ashton, if one day high is mid 50’s and the next day drops below 50’s will this harm the results of the product? Living in Rhode Island the weather is unpredictable. Thank you.

    • Hi Anthony… Several days in the 50’s or higher would be better, however one day will be enough for you to get some pretty good weed control.

  7. Ray Rigney permalink


    I live in the Boston area. I overseeded and fertilized a large area of my lawn in early October. The grass is coming in nicely now three weeks later. How much longer should I continue to water and how late in the year can I still apply Winterguard? Thanks.

    • Hi Ray Rigney
      You should be able to water once or twice a week if you are not getting regular rainfall. Lengthen the time you run your sprinklers so you are putting down about a half inch of water (use a rain gauge or glass to measure how much water your lawn is getting). You can feed with WinterGuard in your are up until Mid November. This feeding would really help your new grass fill in nicely.

  8. Chris hale permalink

    Should you always water after putting down lime? The powered form

    • Hi Chris Hale
      You do not have to water after putting down Lime, however watering will help work it down into the soil.

  9. Can I apply lime before winter fertilizing or after everything has been applied thank you

    • Hi Rita
      You can apply before or after your last feeding of the year. It helps to water afterwards to keep from tracking into your house.

  10. Del Faustino permalink

    Hi Ashton,
    We replaced our lawn in spring of 2014. The whole yard was ripped out and sod, loam and irrigation system was put in. The grass was yellowish this spring and we were concerned. We have a row of pine trees on one side of the house separating our property from the neighbors which scatters lots of pine needles which we learned can turn soil acidic. Our next door neighbor reported grubs in her backyard a few weeks ago. We bought the home soil test kit but never used it. Just this week we gathered soil samples and sent for official soil testing at UNH. Results won’t be back in 3 weeks. So based on a hunch but before doing the soil test, this couple of novices went out to apply lime on the yard not really knowing how much to put (wholly inadequate after reading your blog). Three weeks later, we were expecting the lawn to turn magically green from the lime but it didn’t so we applied Grubex suspecting grubs. The yellowing has lessened and we mowed for the first time this season.
    You recommend applying lime in the fall while others say in the spring or fall or even anytime. If the soil proves to be too acidic from test results, then fertilizing is useless. I have learned that it may take a couple of years for the soil to absorb all that lime to achieve the ideal pH. The question is, what do we do then in between that time? Do we not apply anything at all other than weed or grub control if needed? Thanks.

    • Hi Del Faustino
      You can spread lime anytime of the year. I like fall because the alternate freezing/thawing in early winter helps to get the lime down into the soil. You are correct that some nutrients are less available to plants when the soil is acidic. However, you will still see your grass respond to being fed. The yellowish color tends to be the sign of a nitrogen and iron deficiency. I suggest you feed your lawn now with Scotts GreenMAX Lawn Food. Then when you get your soil test results you can begin to bring your soil pH to a higher level if needed. Lawns in your area do best if fed 3 or 4 times a year. Your GrubEX application should provide protection from the next round of grubs that will show up this summer.

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