Does Your Lawn or Garden Need Lime?

Blueberry plants.

Lime can harm acid loving plants like blueberries.

Does your lawn or garden need lime? If you live in southeastern North Carolina the answer to this question is a definite maybe. This is because our soils vary so much from one yard to the next. For some yards, lime needs to be added every few years to keep plants healthy. For others, especially those at the beach, adding lime can harm plants.

What is Lime?

Lime is a soil amendment made by grinding limestone, a naturally occurring type of rock that is very high in calcium. Two types of lime are commonly used in lawns and gardens, agricultural lime and dolomitic lime. Agricultural lime, also sold as garden lime, is made from calcium carbonate. This type of limestone can be found in our area and is mined in Pender County at the Shelter Creek Quarry near Maple Hill.

Dolomitic lime is made from dolomite, a type of rock very similar to limestone except it also contains magnesium. In North Carolina, dolomite is found only in the mountains. Both types of lime provide calcium for plants, but dolomitic lime also supplies magnesium, a nutrient often low in soils in our area. Other types of lime you may find for sell include hydrated or slaked lime and quick or burnt lime. These are not recommended for lawns and gardens.

What Does Lime Do?

In addition to supplying calcium, lime makes soils less acidic. Acidic soils, referred to by old timers as sour soils, have a low soil pH. Soil pH levels can range anywhere from 3.0, very acidic, to over 8.0, moderately basic, in our region. Most vegetables, fruits, and ornamental plants grow best when the pH is slightly acidic, between 5.5 and 6.5. At levels lower than this many nutrients become unavailable to plants even if they are present in the soil, while elements like aluminum become too available and can burn roots.

Chlorotic leaf

When soil pH is too high plants may develop iron chlorosis or yellowing between the veins.

If your soil pH is too low (below 5.5), most plants will not grow well no matter how much fertilizer you add. If your soil pH is already 6.5 or higher adding lime can harm plants by raising the pH too high. This makes nutrients unavailable, resulting in nutrient deficiency symptoms like yellow leaves and stunted growth. This is especially true for acid loving plants like azaleas, camellias, loropetalum, blueberries, and centipede lawns which grow best when the pH is around 5.0-5.5.

How to Tell if Your Soil Needs Lime

The only accurate way to know if your lawn or garden needs lime is to have the soil tested. Soil test kits can be purchased at garden centers or online, but they do not provide accurate results or tell you how much lime you need to add. Fortunately in North Carolina there is an easy way to determine your soil pH and get recommendations for how to adjust it, through our state’s soil testing lab in Raleigh.

Operated by the NC Department of Agriculture, North Carolina’s soil testing lab is one of the largest and busiest in the country. To have your soil tested, collect samples from different areas of your yard. You will need to randomly collect three to five samples from each section of your yard where you grow something different, for example, 3 to 5 samples from your lawn, 3 to 5 samples from your vegetable garden, etc. Samples should be taken around 6” deep. For each sample you are going to submit (example – lawn, garden, flower bed), aim to collect a total of about a cup and a half of soil when the 3 to 5 random samples are mixed together.

Boxes and forms for samples are available from your local Extension office. Completed samples should be mailed to the soil testing lab at the address listed on the box. Samples can be submitted any time of the year and results are posted online at http://www.ncagr.gov/agronomi/pals/. Results are usually ready within a few weeks of submitting.

If your soil test results recommend that you add lime, do so the next time you plan to till the soil. Lime moves very slowly in soil naturally so needs to be mixed in to get the most benefit. In lawns or established landscape beds, pelleted lime can be applied using a fertilizer spreader.

Learn More!

Use Extension Search to find research based information from Cooperative Extension systems across the U.S. 

Visit your local Cooperative Extension office to learn more about gardening and landscape care. Go to http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/local-county-center/ to find your county Extension center or call to get expert advice from an Extension Master Gardener Volunteer

Visit the Pender Extension Lawn and Garden webpage to stay up to date with all the latest gardening news, or sign up to receive weekly gardening updates through our email news services:

  • Subscribe to Pender Gardener to receive updates on what to plant and how to care for your lawn and landscape. To subscribe, send an  the email to mj2@lists.ncsu.edu. Leave the subject line blank. In the body of the message put: subscribe pendergardener
  • Subscribe to Food Gardener to receive updates on what to plant and how to care for your vegetable and herb garden. To subscribe, send an  the email to mj2@lists.ncsu.edu. Leave the subject line blank. In the body of the message put: subscribe foodgardener

Written By

Charlotte GlenExtension Agent, Agriculture - Horticulture (919) 542-8202 (Office) Chatham County, North Carolina

Posted on Jan 25, 2013

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