If you can’t get anything to grow in your vegetable garden, adding lime may help solve the problem. Garden lime is a soil supplement that helps improve the health and growth of vegetables growing in excessively acidic soil. However, to truly understand the cause of poor or non-existent growth of plants in a veggie patch, a soil test is required. By following the recommendations given in the soil test results, you can prepare your soil appropriately and look forward to healthier crops.
The lime that gardeners add to their soil is limestone that’s been quarried and crushed into fine particles. The most common types of limestone used in gardens are calcium carbonate and calcium magnesium carbonate, which is also called dolomite lime. The preferred form of limestone as a soil supplement is dolomite lime, because not only does it contain calcium, but it also contains magnesium. Both of these elements are essential to healthy growth in vegetables.
Most vegetables also require a slightly acid soil to grow well. A soil pH between 5.8 and 6.3 is ideal. In areas where the soil is a lower pH and therefore too acidic for growing vegetables, a regular supplement of lime is beneficial. Acidic soil is often found in areas that experience high levels of rainfall. Rain washes calcium out of the soil over time, and lime must be added to replenish the depleted nutrient.
A simple home soil test can tell you if your soil is excessively acidic or alkaline. Dig up a tablespoon of moist soil and sprinkle a couple of pinches of baking soda over it. If you see or hear fizzing, that means the pH of the soil is below 5 and highly acidic. Conversely, if you dig up a tablespoon of dry soil and drip several drops of vinegar onto it, any fizzing indicates the pH of the soil is above 7.5 and therefore is alkaline.
The best way to find out if your garden soil would benefit from a lime supplement is to have it tested. A supplement of lime may improve the growth of the vegetables in your garden, but if you add lime when it isn’t required, you could make the problem worse. Contact your local university extension office and inquire if it offers a soil-testing service. Many extension offices do, and the results of the test will tell you all the supplements your soil requires, including lime.
As well as the calcium in lime, vegetables also require nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus to grow healthily. When nothing is growing in a vegetable garden, the soil could be lacking in any of these nutrients. However, soil test analyses sometimes show the soil is already high in calcium and other nutrients due to over-liming and overfertilization. Vegetables also don’t grow well when the soil contains excessive amounts of nutrients.
Preparing a soil sample for a soil test is straightforward and should be completed about six months before planting your garden. The instructions usually state that you must take samples from several places in your garden and mix them together before sending them off to the laboratory. Most vegetable gardens require lime only every three or four years. However, to maintain the optimum soil fertility in your veggie patch, send off a soil sample for testing every year and follow the recommendations that arrive with the results.
When to Apply Lime to a Vegetable Garden
Lime takes weeks or months to become active in soil, so you must time your application with that fact in mind. Two or three months before you plan to plant or sow your vegetables is the best time to apply dolomite lime. Soil test results will state how much lime to apply your garden, but in the absence of a recommendation, apply dolomite lime at the rate of 1 to 2 pounds per 100 square feet, and mix it 6 inches deep into the soil with a spade or rototiller.
Hydrated lime is a type of garden lime that’s faster acting than dolomite lime, and it can be applied two weeks before planting. There’s no harm in applying dolomite lime this close to planting time, but the results won’t show for several weeks. Apply hydrated lime at a rate of 3/4 to 1 1/2 pounds per 100 square feet, and mix it into the top 6 inches of soil. If the weather is dry, water the soil after applying any type of lime in order to kick-start the chemical reaction that makes the calcium available in the soil.
Is Lime Good for Tomato Plants?
Tomatoes (Lycopersicon esculentum) are vegetable garden plants that particularly benefit from liming the soil. These are perennial plants in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 10 through 11, but they’re usually grown as annuals. Tomato plants suffer from a condition called blossom end rot, in which the blossom end of the tomato fruit rots and makes the fruit inedible.
Blossom end rot is believed to be a physiological disorder, which means it isn’t caused by a pest or a disease, but by inadequate growing conditions. Calcium deficiency in the soil seems to lead to blossom end rot in tomatoes, so if your plants suffer from this problem, supplementing with lime may help. Apply the lime at the rate recommended in your soil test results.
Don’t be tempted to add more than the recommended amount of lime. More isn’t better when it comes to maintaining a healthy balance of nutrients in garden soil. What’s more, adding lime isn’t the only thing you must do to stave off blossom end rot in your tomatoes. You must also water the plants regularly and evenly to prevent the tomato fruits from developing the condition.
How to Prepare a Vegetable Garden for Planting
Applying soil supplements is only one part of preparing a vegetable garden for planting. Vegetables need sunlight, air, healthy soil and water, too. Most plants don’t grow well in shady sites or wet, weedy or dry soil. Before adding lime to your vegetable garden, check that the site and the soil ticks the boxes for healthy plant growth.
Pick a spot that receives at least 8 hours of direct sunlight every day, and where water doesn’t pool after a rainstorm. Vegetables need air in the soil around their roots, and if the soil is regularly soggy, their roots will drown. Remove all grass and weeds from the garden, or they will outcompete the vegetables for light, water and nutrients. Perennial weeds may resprout from small pieces of root left behind in the soil, so remove as many of the roots as you can.
Young vegetable plants must be watered in when they’re transplanted into the garden, and, generally speaking, for the rest of the growing season, vegetables require 1 inch of rainfall per week to grow healthily. When the weather is dry, you must supply your garden’s water needs by watering with a hose, a sprinkler, or by a system of perforated pipes called drip irrigation. To make watering your garden convenient, set up a drip irrigation system in early spring before planting or sowing your vegetables. [external_footer]